Two Sides of a Coin - Chapter five: The Art of Pointless Arguements
author's note: This is a story in which an Ithilien ranger and a Southron must learn how to get along. I do not own Middle Earth, and my concept of Southrons does not nessecarily portray Tolkien's concept (and I acknowledge borrowing from other authors and actual cultures in creation of my concept). "Mumak" is a Middle Earth term for 'oliphaunt' (for those who might be confused). And here are the links to previous chapters:
chapter 1: http://www.theonering.com/docs/18654.html
chapter 2: http://www.theonering.com/docs/18734.html
chapter 3: http://www.theonering.com/docs/18779.html
chapter 4: http://www.theonering.com/docs/18933.html
"Social wit which, never kindling strife,
Blazed in the small sweet courtesies of life." -Anonymous
Ladril's eyes blinked open as shafts of light pierced through the silent woods. The frigid air added to the stillness of the morning, and made Ladril turn over with a shiver. A soft chink caused the ranger to glance down at his wrists, and with a groan he realized they were still shackled.
A few yards away, upon a small boulder, sat Ladril's captor. He seemed to have been up a long while, as there was a fire going behind him and the smell of cooking wafted through the air. Now the young man was idly flipping a gold coin through his fingers.
Ladril just stared as Shastan flicked the coin up and caught it in its descent. One side of the coin was printed the head of some prominent figure; the other side was worn and faded, which made the gold of the coin flicker as it was tossed up, then down.
Ladril watched the coin's motion for a few moments and then looked up at Shastan.
"What are you doing?"
Shastan paused and blankly stared at Ladril.
"I am tossing....a coin....with my fingers," Shastan said slowly. "And you, Laaderil, are lying there doing nothing, and that," He pointed to the fire pit. "Is breakfast cooking."
Ladril glared coldly at Shastan before lifting himself up to stretch. As the ranger rubbed his stiff muscles, Shastan went to the fire to serve up breakfast. Ladril contemplated sticking to a mode of retaliation by refusing to eat, but the smell of food was now too enticing. The captive weakly plopped himself down by the fire, across from his captor, and took his serving of breakfast.
As the Southron bit into the fried bread, he couldn't help but watch Ladril finger his food discouragingly.
"It is not poisoned I assure you," Shastan said dryly.
"I should not have grabbed the rope," Ladril finally muttered.
"Last night. I should not have grabbed your rope and been pulled out of the pit."
"Do not be absurd. If you had not done it you would have died."
Shastan looked up from his meal and saw that Ladril was quite serious.
"Then you would have met the condemnation of an unprepared soul," Shastan said solemnly.
"If you give up too early to let Fate guide you, then your soul is unprepared. And those who have not followed Fate to the end of this life will be rejected in the life hereafter."
"I do not believe in an afterlife."
Shastan gaped at the ranger. "Then what sort of plan do you believe your Maker has set for you?"
"...Gondor has abandoned such superstitions long ago."
Shastan studied the ranger carefully. "...And yet you still wish for death?"
Ladril sighed and nodded.
There was silence for a moment, then Shastan said "Does this have anything to do with...Belegorn?"
Ladril's eyes immediately flashed. "How do you know Belegorn?"
"I don't, but you were calling out for him in your sleep. Who is he?"
"That's none of your concern!" Ladril cried.
"I do not wish to pry," Shastan said defensively. "It is just that you wish for death, but it is clear that you also wish for Belegorn. Could the two be intertwined?"
The question stung Ladril deeply, and he did not wish to worsen the pain by giving an answer. So he remained silent and resumed to eat his breakfast; quite a difficult task when tightly shackled. He glared at the short length of chain in frustration, but he suddenly realized an obvious peculiarity."Where did you get these?"
Shastan looked at the shackles, then at Ladril. "...I am in the army, aren't I?"
"I hardly believe bronze chains complete with lock and key is the standard equipment given to Southron soldiers. So where did these come from?"
Shastan paused, seemingly at loss for words. Then at length he smiled. "This seems to be a morning of questions and no answers, eh Laaderil?"
But the Southron ignored him. "We need to finish up here and get packing. Many miles must be covered before nightfall."
By mid-morning the camp had been cleared, the load of supplies had been split equally, and the day's journey was underway. Ladril knew better, thanks to the outcome of his escape the night before, than to make such a foolish attempt again....not while they were in the middle of a dangerous forest, anyway. So the ranger kept quiet during the first few miles of the journey, until he finally decided to inquire as to what the point of the journey was.
"We are going Home," was Shastan's proud answer. "Back to Western Kisha'rut."
"We are not trying to catch up with your army?" Ladril asked, utterly disappointed.
"If we did, and got ambushed by your troops again, then my fortunes would be exchanged with yours." Shastan looked at Ladril's shackles and slightly shuttered. "No, I have been away long enough. We're going Home now."
"And what will happen to me once we reach 'home'?"
Shastan thought a moment. "Well, can you cook?"
"...A little," Ladril said honestly.
"Can you wash?"
"Dishes, yes. Clothes, no."
"Good enough," Shastan smiled cheerfully. "You will be an enormous help to Mother."
Ladril stopped dead in his tracks. "I am going to be a slave to your mother?"
"Oh yes. She needs a lot of help, being on her own and all." At this Shastan's gaze turned far away. "...She'll be so thrilled."
"If you think I am going to serve your mother, let alone any Southron at all-"
"Will you please stop calling us that?" Shastan groaned. "It really sounds degrading."
Ladril arched a brow. "We've been calling you "Southrons" for hundreds of years."
"Not with my people's approval, I imagine. Anyway, I call you "Gondor-man", after your tongue, so I deserve the same respect."
"Fine," Ladril was not about to argue again. "What do your people call themselves?"
Ladril blinked. ".......What? That's it?"
"'Us', 'Our People', yes that's it." Shastan nodded.
"Then how you tell yourselves apart from other folk?"
Shastan looked at him blankly. "....Because we look different...."
"What do you call your land, then?"
"How ridiculous," Ladril muttered.
"When you are the only people existing in five hundred leagues of desert, you do not bother with racial identity."
"But you're not in a desert anymore," Ladril insisted. "You are in Gondor, and here differentiation.is required."
"Fine," Shastan huffed. "Just give me a name other than Southron."
"Very well, Haradrim it is then."
Ladril continued walking, and it was not until after a moment before he realized Shastan was giving him another blank stare.
"Oh what?" Ladril said exasperated. "Haradrim is the more eloquent version of Southron."
"It's the more confusing version of Southron," Shastan wrinkled his nose. "Haarad---Haaradeer--"
"Alright! Valar forbid I give you a name you cannot pronounce!"
Shastan tilted his head and slightly paused. "...What's a Valar?"
"Oh never mind."
There was a space of silence, but after some thinking the ranger finally came to a conclusion. "How about Swerting?"
"That's it," Ladril said, relieved that Shastan finally came close to rightly pronouncing a name. "It is what the folk in the North call you."*
"Se-werting," Shastan repeated. "I like that. Especially the 'ting' part. Se-werting is a fine name."
"Well now that we've got that settled," Ladril said in a pretense of pleasantries. " We can get some other things cleared up."
"Such as how you know the Common Tongue!"
"What? Is that so strange?" Shastan asked innocently.
"When you are the foreign enemy, yes that is strange."
"Perhaps we Se-wertings endeavor to be cultured."
Ladril huffed. "Only when it profits you, I'm sure."
Shastan was about to shoot something back, but suddenly stopped. Ladril looked up to see the Swerting studying him intently.
"...What?" Ladril asked, feeling slightly uncomfortable.
"I've seen your face before," Shastan said, squinting at Ladril's features.
"Yes, I think we were under the same log at one time."
"No seriously. I've seen you before that," Shastan contemplated a moment. "Where were you during the battle?"
"You mean the ambush?" Ladril thought back. "I was on the Eastern side of the highway, next to the slope. Why?"
"Now I remember!" Shastan cried. "It was you!"
"Yes!" Shastan pointed a finger accusingly. "You killed Nefima!"
"The Lady of our battalion! You killed her near the end of the battle!"
"I did no such thing!" Ladril said appalled. "I do not go killing ladies. And I never saw any on the field."
"She was there," Shastan said in a firm, icy tone. "And you did kill her."
Ladril desperately tried to think back. He was so caught up in the heat of battle, swinging his sword so carelessly, perhaps it was possible...
"I am...so sorry." Ladril started.
Shastan simply snorted in disgust.
"Truly I am sorry," The ranger could feel the blood draining from his face. "If I did kill your lady, I swear it was purely by accident!"
"Accident? You put an arrow through her eye!"
Ladril hesitated in puzzlement. He never shot anyone during the ambush. The only time he fired an arrow was when he aimed for the...
Suddenly it all registered for the ranger. "You call that hulking war-beast a Lady?"
"She was the finest Mumak to ever leave our land," Shastan sighed reflectively. "She was the pride of the battalion, too. Nefima had such a sweet spirit about her."
"When I drew my arrow, I didn't realize she held such sentimental value," Ladril nearly laughed.
"Well she did," Shastan said sourly.
"Alright...I am sorry for shooting Nefima. Can you forgive me?"
With a cold glare Shastan looked the ranger dead in the eye.
"You owe me a mumak."
Ladril was about to laugh again, but he saw that Shastan was quite serious. There was silence for a moment, in which Ladril wisely decided that how a slave could possibly procure a new mumak was a discussion for another time.
Meanwhile, the Swerting had begun weaving through the trees and brush in an irregular manner.
"...Could you slow it down?" Ladril said at last. "My feet are still sore; in fact why don't we have a rest? It's not as if time is really pressing, and you are probably lost anyway."
Shastan suddenly tensed at this.
Ladril stared at the Swerting and realized that his half-hearted comment struck a nerve.
"...You are lost aren't you?"
"No I am not," Shastan quipped back.
"You are!" Ladril said thoroughly delighted. "How long ago did you lose direction?"
"I am not lost!"
"Come now, just tell me."
"If I was lost, I would tell you. But Se-wertings never lose their sense of direction."
"That's another thing," Ladril said. "How could a Southron- or Swerting, know their way through a forest? You have probably never even seen one before!"
Shastan's eyes shifted to the daunting trees.
"Out with it," The ranger demanded. "How long have you been lost?"
"...Three hours," Shastan said miserably.
"Well," Ladril whistled for emphasis. "You are over your head here. Lost in enemy territory, eh? I do wish I could help out, but I am not too fond of ever seeing Western Kisha'rut."
"Well unlike your disastrous attempt last night, I am going to actually find my way through!" At this Shastan plowed ahead.
"...And how do you propose to do that?" Ladril asked.
"All I have to do is find the highway," Was the reply.
"If you can find it," Ladril muttered.
Shastan turned on the ranger. "Would you like a bet, Laaderil?"
"I really wish you wouldn't mangle my name."
The Swerting's fingers flicked up his gold coin. "I bet you this I'll find the highway before dark."
Ladril looked at Shastan incredulously. "You dare bet with me?"
"You find that offensive?"
"I find that foolish. I've never lost a bet."
"You will now."
"You're on. And I bet you my belt you will not win."
Ladril gestured to his belt, which boasted a buckle of fine silver. Shastan nodded in consent and continued walking. He looked as if he had direction now, but it was plain to Ladril that they could not be more lost.
"How can you be sure where you are going?"
"Trust me," Shastan said in an aggravated tone.
"But how do you know...?"
"You want to raise the stakes?" Shastan turned on his heel. "I bet you ten gold coins I'll find the highway before dark."
"I do not believe you even have ten coins."
"Then how are you going to pay me if you lose?"
"I am not too worried about that."
Shastan leaned forward. "Because I am not going to lose."
Ladril glared at the smugly confident Swerting. He could not let Shastan get the best of him. "Fine...I bet my sword."
Shastan laughed. "Your sword is still on the battlefield!"
"I'm betting on it anyway."
"And when I find the highway, you are just going to trot back and retrieve it?"
"I won't have to," Ladril leaned forward in a mimicking fashion. "Because I am not going to lose."
Now it was Shastan's turn to glare.
"Alright. If you are so confident, I'm betting a stallion of royal blood that you'll lose."
Well Ladril would not be outdone.
"I bet a mumak," He declared.
"You already owe me a mumak," Shastan stated.
"Do you realize how much debt you'll be in?!"
"Only if I lose."
"Then I bet the ring of the Tisroc!" Shastan declared.
"And I bet the boots of the Steward!" Ladril cried.
The betting continued at this ridiculous rate until the heavy clouds in the West glowed with a brilliant hue and all became darker. It was past dusk and Shastan was no closer to finding the highway than he was that afternoon.
"...I get an extension," Shastan said.
"You get nothing of the sort."
"But it's overcast," The Swerting looked up at the forlorn sky. "It's making the light fade more quickly."
"Then that is too bad for you," Ladril stated. "Admit defeat already."
"Just give me one more..." As Shastan said this he tripped over a rock. Stumbling through the brush, Shastan soon regained his footing on...
Both men stared dumbly at the sight. After a long moment, they pushed at the road's white pebbles with their feet, as if in disbelief that the road was real. After it sunk in Shastan let out a resounding whoop and danced about.
"I win! I win!" He happily sang. "Now we can go South! Back to Western Kisha'rut! And you must serve my mother and be indebted to me for life!"
Indeed, by the time Shastan found the road, Ladril had bet on his sword, two mumakil, the Steward's boots, the Tower of Ecthelion and half of Belfalas. But Ladril remained strangely calm.
"I am not indebted to you," He said plainly.
"...Yes you are..." Shastan replied, a bit off guard. "I found the highway, so I won the bet."
"The bet is still on," Ladril looked at the highway and the clouded sky with a smile. "...Because I bet you can't find which way is South."
Shastan opened his mouth, looked in either direction of the road, and left his jaw hanging. He stared in one direction, then the other, and after a while all he could do was throw his pack down and loudly curse while the ranger became weak with laughter.
*See the fourth to last paragraph in "The Black Gate Is Closed", The Two Towers.