Hey, sorry this took so long…you know how school is. But if you’ve forgotten anything, you can read the prologue and chapter 1 in the RR. Please comment if you liked it / would like more! 🙂
* * *
The whole place is astir.
I wake up this morning, rise from my red pavilion, and see everybody running about, with linens, cups, banners, spoons, and goodness-knows-what-else. In the endlessly blue sky, the white desert sun beats down hard on the Harad men, their tanned backs shimmery in the profuse heat. They are felling trees from the jungle, hauling them across the sand around the blackened Fire Circle. And that only happens when there is going to be a celebration. Or a feast. Neither of which happens very often. And I have no prior knowledge of what we are celebrating or feasting about, and that makes me wonder. As the chieftain’s daughter, I ought to know what is going on. And that would only happen if he let me in once in a while. No matter, though. I am used to him brushing me aside, looking over me, at times pretending I do not exist. I made up my mind a long time ago that I do not care anymore. I will let myself in. That is, into his pavilion.
Five times. Last night would be the fifth night he has met with those strangers from the south. And the time has come for me to know what is going on. If there is anything going on.
There is little need for disguise. Everybody is so busy, and they will hardly notice if I step inside my father’s quarters and don’t come out for a while. I step around the cook tents, and the smell of something rich and spicy and sweet fills my nose. Ah, yes, there will be feasting tonight, and not that type of feasting my father once told me about. Not that kind where they drown themselves in beer and gorge themselves on apples and cheese and bread. Oh no. Our food is as exotic as they come.
I continue to drink in the scents until suddenly I see him. My legs go numb and my heart beat quickens.
He shouts orders to the men in that voice, lovely and cool and deep, like the oasis waters of Mjoba. His lithe body does not wear the black and red tunic, the traditional dress of the Haradrim, anymore because it has become too hot. But I am not complaining. I gaze on, and I suppose he looks handsome. After all, he is not wearing that hideous war paint.
I first began to like him when he came back from one of the Ithilien battles with his father. I don’t remember which one, of course, for they are too numerous to count. But I remember him on that night of celebration. He was younger then, in his teenage years. He was leading the victory dances around the Fire Circle, and I watched on at his joyful smile, his quick feet. Suddenly, as I got the urge to dance for him, he pulled me into the ring, and I whirled, spun, and fell under his spell as we danced and laughed together. Ever since that night, I have been waiting for my chance to dance with him again. Because I know that Captain Morul and I were meant for each other.
If only we spent time together these days, I know he would realize it too! He is so occupied with everything that bores me to the bone – politics, law-keeping, wars. Ever since his father died in battle, he became a new man. A man that is (a great deal of the time) grave, tight-lipped, and aloof. It is evident he’s trying so hard to follow in his father’s footsteps. Perhaps that is a goal I knew I would never achieve, and that is why I gave up that idea a long time ago. But there is one thing that I know about Captain Morul: deep inside him, hiding in a dark corner somewhere, the carefree, joyful man lives. And I plan to help him find his old self – when I ask him to dance with me tonight.
* * *
I turn my face away from the crowds, and steal into my father’s pavilion like a serpent. Parting many black veils to enter into my father’s inner chambers, I remember that the whole place is richly decorated, with intricate rugs on the floors, and old tapestries hung on the walls, telling of my ancestors deeds in battle. Perhaps, one day, I will see battle myself. After all, every single one of those hushed midnight conversations must have been about war. I wonder if he would keep any records of these meetings. Perhaps hidden away in one of these chests or bureaus is a token of another land, or a letter of aid from some distant realm of Middle-Earth.
A wooden chest lays near my feet. I pick it up, but it is locked, and a key is nowhere in sight. So I turn to the bureau, opening shelves hastily, but nothing of interest strikes me. Where would he keep something important? Something secret?
I glance at his bed on the sandy floor. Underneath it, is it possible that he would keep things buried away in the golden sands, where no man would dare look?
It’s a good thing I’m not a man.
I push his pillows and sheets aside, and peering around the pavilion, I begin to dig. I try my best to not make too much of a mess, just in case I need to make a quick escape. But I haven’t gone very far down when my nails scrape against something hard. My heart fills with delight and I dig faster, faster, until I am staring at nothing but a medium-sized ivory box, shaped like a mûmak.
With trembling hands, I pick up the box, open it, and look inside. There is a dark something inside, and I pull it out. It is a little grey blanket, tattered and worn, but as I am about to put it aside I smell something. Caught in the very fibers of the blanket is a herby, fresh sort of smell. Somehow it is very familiar, as if I smelled that scent far away in a dream, or in a long-forgotten memory. I look at the box again and see something sparkling on the bottom. What is it?
Thump. My eyes are averted from the sparkling object to the black veils. I could swear I saw one flutter. But then again, maybe it was simply that dry desert wind ruffling the pavilion.
Thump. I hear it again. Someone is coming. I shove the blanket into the ivory box, drop the box in the hole, and dump handfuls and handfuls of sand into the hole.
The thumps are footsteps, coming closer and closer. I am working on smoothing over the surface of the sand when suddenly I look up and see a face behind the sheer veil. Startled, I throw the sheets over the sand, straighten them out, puff the pillows, and stand up straight, proud.
The veil parts. He can probably see my astonishment as I utter his name. "Captain Morul."
"Lady Sûlwen. I am sorry to intrude. I was looking for your father, but I see he is not here."
My face is burning already, and I begin to find it hard to breathe in here. And not just because I was sneaking around. With forced calmness, I manage to utter, "He is probably outside somewhere, making preparations for tonight."
"It should be interesting, shouldn’t it? I mean, I cannot recall the last time there was a celebration. Can you?"
He smiles warmly for a moment, perhaps in recollection. "I can." Suddenly, his smile vanishes and he looks about the pavilion, then fixes his eyes on me. "It was not that important, you know – what I had to tell your father. Perhaps…would you like to go riding with me? There is some time before the celebration tonight, and there’s something I must tell you, my lady."
He smiles again. "Sûlwen."
"It would be my pleasure," I say, hiding enthusiasm. Seriously, though, it would.
"You know where I’ll be, right?" he asks, and before I have time to respond, he leaves the pavilion with a short bow.
* * *
My heart is racing even as I approach Captain Morul on my black stallion, Odesso. I have not gone horseback riding in weeks, and I have not spent time with Captain Morul in months. All around, I can tell that this is going to be either very awkward, very embarrassing, or a lovely combination of the two. But what worries me most is what he "must" tell me. Is it about tonight? Is it about us? All these wonderful and horrible possibilities spring into my mind like a flood, and by the time I lead Odesso beside Captain Morul’s horse, my mind is drowning in emotion.
Keep it cool, I tell myself. Be calm. "Of course I remember. This is the starting line. Our starting line. Back in the days we used to race across the desert."
He looks at me mischievously, and I can tell what he wants. "Are you afraid of resurrecting the past?"
Heck, yes. I barely remember how to ride a horse, let alone race one! "Of course I am not afraid," I say boldly, adding a scoff at the end for extra effect. Hopefully it worked.
"Then prepare to be beaten, like back in the day."
I glare at him indignantly, strangely. I have not seen this side of him for some time. But I will not stifle his spirit. Not when he is so close to stepping into the light. "Hey, I couldn’t help it if your horse was younger than mine."
"And I couldn’t help it if your horse was a compulsive eater," he snickers. "Or if you compulsively fed him."
"Oh really? Well, why don’t we see which of these old fellows still has some fire left in him?"
"Fire? In your horse? I don’t even think he could get a spark!"
"Oh, just you get ready." I grip the reins tightly, peering out over the endless sands ahead.
"One…two…three…go!" he yells, and at once we are off. Through the clods of sand flying up in my face, I can already see that he is ahead, and getting steadily out of my reach.
"Hyah! Hyah! Come on!" I spur Odesso on, and he gains speed. It feels like we are flying over the sands, like Odesso’s hoofs are simply being carried by the wind. As if Odesso, the wind, and I have merged into one spirit. The feeling is so refreshing, and as I toss my dark hair in the wind, I wonder what made me stop going horseback riding. It is a wonderfully competitive sport, and somehow very freeing, in a way I can’t really describe. But that’s not important now. I am closing in on Captain Morul!
He looks back to see me gaining on him, and a flash of alarm streaks across his face. He shouts at his horse, but he does it in vain. For soon enough, I am neck and neck with him. As each of Odesso’s hooves pounds the sand, I get a new surge of adrenaline, of determination. I glance at Captain Morul, and by the look on his face, I know he can feel those surges as much as I can.
"You know, Sûlwen," he says between breaths, "you can’t change the past."
I almost smile in confidence, for I can see he’s getting tired. Not to mention his horse, foaming at the mouth. But as I look up ahead, the sun suddenly blinds my view. "No…but I can certainly change my path. Hyah!" I pull hard on Odesso’s reins and he rears abruptly, kicking his legs in the air. Completely startled is both Captain Morul and his horse, because to stop a horse going at full speed is either very risky or very stupid. And as Captain Morul tries to avoid Odesso’s legs, Odesso drops down and I veer him straight across Captain Morul’s path and race for the finish – a lone palm tree, sharply to the left of us.
I laugh in victory as I pass the tree, and don’t bother looking back.
* * *
"Well done," says Captain Morul, galloping past the palm tree. "That was some chance you took back there."
I smile. "Let’s just say that chance was on my side today."
"I guess all that overeating finally paid off, no?"
I chuckle, and we bring our horses beside one another, trotting back. There is silence for a good while until curiosity stifles me, chokes me, constricts me, and I must ask the question I’ve been dying to find the answer to since morning.
"What’s going on tonight, Captain Morul?"
"Ah, I meant to talk to you about that." He pauses ominously.
"Should I be alarmed?" I ask, trying to make it sound as if I’m joking.
"A celebration is a time of happiness, not of fear."
"You did not answer my question."
He sighs, a twinge of impatience in his voice. "How about I tell you about it, and you can decide that on your own?"
"Your father is conducting some very important business tonight with the men of Far Harad. They are coming to the celebration, and if all goes well, you will not be seeing your father or myself for a very long time."
My heart sinks. Not so much for my father, because I am used to him leaving all the time. But Captain Morul too? We had just connected, I felt it, and he did too – I knew that feeling between us. But as a shadow, it has past, and now I must wait for him to come back from…from where?
"Where are you going?"
"I cannot say."
Suddenly, I can’t bring myself to look up at his face, for I know he is staring directly at me. "Are you going to battle?" I mumble.
"Eventually, I suppose. There always is a battle to be fought."
"But what about tonight? Are you going to Far Harad?"
"I cannot say."
I don’t know if it is the desert heat, or the fact that I am completely tired and frustrated, but suddenly I hear myself say, "I am the daughter of Lord Suladân. Tell me where he’s going, for it concerns me just as much as it concerns you."
"If you were to know, don’t you think your father would have told you?"
Right. Like my father would tell me anything, even if it concerned me. "My father is a mysterious man. I don’t always know what he is up to."
"I am sorry, Sûlwen. I made a promise. It’s to be a surprise."
"A surprise for who?"
"You will see."