All right, so this is another "past" chapter, continuing what happened in chapter 1…don’t get confused! 🙂
When Laurelina opened her eyes, she thought she had died. All around her, stretching out into the horizon and beyond, was sand. Miles and miles of blinding white sand. As she looked up, her eyes became blurred with the palpable heat of the sun, scorching down on her. Such a heat Laurelina had never known in all her life. Where am I? she thought, dizzy and confused. Something on her head was throbbing. She touched her face with shaking fingers, but it felt raw and sunburnt.
"Well, looky-here, it’s wakin’ up."
Laurelina gasped as she turned around to see the owner of the cruel voice. She recognized him immediately, but for some reason she could not remember exactly where she had seen him before.
In one hand, he held a black whip, and in the other, a scimitar, glittering in the sunlight. His face was smeared with blood and sweat and war paint, and that disgusting smile seemed to be permanently pasted on his face. Behind him were more of his people in a camp, but they were all busy, carrying black baskets and riding upon huge grey creatures.
Laurelina backed away from him, wizened and scared. The man approached. I must be dead. she thought again.
"Where you goin’? Heh? There’s nowhere to run."
She tried to respond, but could not put together a coherent sentence.
"Stop your blathering, you fool!" With a crack, the whip came slicing down on Laurelina’s back. She shrieked, and the sting made tears pool in her eyes.
"What are you doing, boy?" Suddenly another warrior came running over from a red tent to the extortionist.
"Captain Dalamyr! I was just takin’ care of this prisoner."
"You hand prisoners over to the Serpent Lord! Idiot!" He whacked the extortionist on the head with the handle of his own whip. "Who do you think you are?"
The extortionist said nothing. Clearly, he was embarrassed at being corrected.
"Get over here, and stop your crying. I can’t stand weaklings." Captain Dalamyr grabbed Laurelina by the arm, and half-dragged, half-carried her into the largest pavilion in the camp, jet-black against the blue sky.
* * *
Past many sheer veils went Laurelina and Captain Dalamyr, until she was thrown on the sandy ground. Peering through her hair, she saw a man robed in scarlet, black, and purple seated on a luxurious chair. Even though he wore a golden mask on his face, she could see his eyes: black, beady, and devious. He had a shaved head, and underneath his ashy-coloured skin, Laurelina could see little red blood vessels pulsing through his scalp.
However, in his hands he held something which made all the memories come flooding back: little baby Sûlwen.
"Sûlwen! Sûlwen! Give her to me!" Laurelina cried, rising to her feet and rushing toward the man.
"Stay back!" commanded Captain Dalamyr, and he struck Laurelina to the ground.
The Serpent Lord, on the chair, looked at the quaking Laurelina, then at the baby in his arms.
"Leave me," he commanded, then waved Captain Dalamyr out of the tent. To Laurelina’s utter surprise, he began to rock the baby slowly, gently. "What is your connection with this child?" he said, his voice low and hissing.
Laurelina wiped a tear from her face with her dirty hand. "I am her-her…I knew her mother."
"She looks very elflike, as do you. Are you Gondorians, or are you elves?"
Laurelina panicked. Both Gondorians and elves were sworn enemies of the Haradrim people. If she said either one, she and Sûlwen would probably be killed instantly. But then again, was she not already dead? "We are elves."
The man’s dark eyes squinted at Laurelina, then he fixed his gaze on the baby. "I should kill you both."
Laurelina bent her head low. "Sir, I cannot help my ancestry, and neither can she."
He rose from his seat, the child still in his arms, and pulled a massive shining scimitar from his belt. He pointed it at Laurelina, who knelt on his beautiful rug. She could not bear to look up, and he took heavy steps toward her.
Laurelina shuddered as she felt the cold blade touch her neck, and she fought back more tears. Above her Sûlwen began to cry, as if she knew their peril.
"I want this child," he said, his hot breath making Laurelina’s hair rise.
She looked up in disbelief, her eyes moving past the mask, and locking with his eyes, while her heart fluttered in her chest.
"I have no heirs of my own. Take care of this child and I will spare your lives."
She nodded slightly, very astonished.
The Serpent Lord withdrew his sword, and turned back toward his chair. "You will raise this child when I am not here, which will be often," he said, pacing about. "Cunning is the most important thing in the land of Near Harad, not that ‘honour and valor’ nonsense they swear by in Elvendom," he sneered. "If you are not able to teach her her place among the Southrons, as a woman, you may as well consider yourselves as good as dead to me."
"Yes, sir," Laurelina squeaked.
"You will also tutor her – teach her the history of the Haradrim, of the Haradaic language, of our lands, our power. And none of what you’ve heard from your elven friends."
"But sir," Laurelina protested, "I know nothing of the Haradrim."
"Well, then, you’d best get studying."
"But please…can we not just return to our own lands? We-we don’t belong here."
"She will belong here, in time. You, on the other hand – you will just have to get used to the fact that you will spend the rest of your unnaturally prolonged life in the Southlands."
Laurelina sighed. "I don’t look anything like you people."
"That can be fixed. Captain Dalamyr!"
The captain came running into the pavilion. "Yes, my lord?"
"Dye this girl’s hair black. Deep black. Like my pavilion."
"Yes, my lord."
Laurelina squeezed her eyes shut. I’m sorry, Súliën, she thought.
"Oh, and one final thing," he said, looking over his shoulder at the terrified elf. "Tell this child, or anybody else, anything of her true heritage – anything – and your head shall be a decoration for my camp. Is that quite understood? Or should I make myself clearer?"
Laurelina shook her head.
"No sir, it is understood," said Laurelina chokingly, and she couldn’t help but let the tears fall all over again as she was forced to her feet by Captain Dalamyr and hauled out of the Serpent Lord’s pavilion.