Julian from The Better Game is the winner of a signed copy of MMO Evolution. The book was donated by the author, our own Nicodemus aka Robert Rice. The book is on it’s way Julian. For everyone else, we have one more signed copy to give away, the method of which will be announced soon.
Following the jump is Julian’s story.
Hee’jam niabem, jaleila niabem, kon-te niabem.
“Love the desert, fear the desert, be the desert.”
Anonymous Haradrim proverb from the Second Age.
The scorpion bit my father in the morning. By nightfall, he was already dead. Such is the way of the desert.
I could only catch a glimpse from behind the veils in the room. The old warrior, the fierce raider, as strong and stern in death as he was in life; laying on his bed, hands crossed over his proud chest, whitened fingers grasping at the hilt of his favorite sword, the curved tip pointing straight at Wanam-mi – the depths and heart of the ancient hell at his feet. He was already prepared for his passage. Mother and my uncle had taken care of that as soon as heart stopped. His eyes were blindfolded with black cloth, so his spirit wouldn’t be distracted by the lost souls in the way. The charms of his father and grandfather around his neck, shining and showing him the way home. He was ready, and I wasn’t.
Twenty-five years ago he had raided with our clan and kin, deep into the northern lands of the white men of Gondor, past the great river. As deep as they could go, trying to get as much as they could. They had descended one night upon this unsuspecting village, in the quiet of a moonless dark… wild and untamed, as if riding with the wings of the Shammari, the demons from the underworld. Hacking, burning, cutting, killing… lusting for blood and gold. The party took whatever they could carry. Some of the men did away with bundles of young wheat, some others with round shields, axes, some took a few of the villages pigs and goats.
My father took a woman. My mother, Kenna. He ripped her from her life in Gondor and rode back south with her. Twenty-five summers ago.
I looked at her from across the room. Her age just now starting to show in her movements, as she was packing a few things in sacks, as if oblivious to the death in the house. She was Qu’shim now, of course. Property and wife of my father, in that order. Had been since she got here to the village. And for twenty-five years she was made to show a black stripe of the darkest tar, running along the middle of her beautiful long, yellow hair, from her forehead to the very tips. It was the law. She was less than Haradrim, and that had to be shown.
“I want to see him”, I said as she walked past where I was sitting, carrying small sacks and things.
“There is no time”, she simply replied, without stopping or looking at me. I tightened my fingers into a fist between my knees.
“I am his daughter. I want to kiss his forehead… it’s my right.”, I countered.
She stopped and turned, walking back towards me and kneeling to face me, “Takki… there’s just no time for that.”, she said as she caressed my cheek, “Your uncle is at the town halls right now, trying to delay them. But he can’t hold them forever. You know this.” I didn’t reply, I only lowered my eyes. She continued, “You are just of age now, and they will want you as the law says. They will want you as they will want me. I am older now, Shahari… this is the life I now call mine. You can do better. You must do better, daughter.”
“Father… he would have stopped them.”, I said.
Mother looked at me sweetly, “Your father is dead, Takki.”
I lost it. I fell over her and grasped her tight, as if she was the only safe rock that would keep me from falling to an abyss. I buried my face in her shoulder and my eyes exploded with streams of warm tears. I felt her hands, her motherly embrace caressing me, her fingers running through my hair, and her lips kissing and humming lovingly on my ear. Those same lips that flowed every night when I was a child, telling me stories about her Gondor, and its people. Of the tall white city with the white tree of kings… of the king that would one day return. Those lips put me to sleep every night and filled my dreamy mind with visions of faraway lands. Now those same lips were hushing and comforting, the perfect music to complete the love of her embrace. Mother and daughter.
I peeked over her shoulder and saw my father, motionless on the bed where he was. “You hate him, don’t you?”, I asked, “Even in death you hate him.”
She pulled me away from her and wiped my tears with a smile, “Hate him for what he did to me so long ago? Sure. Why not? But how can I not love him, even just a little, if he gave me a daughter like you?”
I smiled, and she kissed my forehead. She continued, “Your father may have been a harsh man, Shahari, but that was only because these are harsh lands, and the weak do not thrive here. Inside, he had a good heart. He kept me, and you, and your brothers safe. While they were here, at least. Never forget that. He would have wanted you safe, I am sure of it. He would have wanted you to do this.”
“But… how?” I asked, “You’re sending me away, and what you call safety is nothing but uncertainty to me, Mother. I’ve never been in the wild by myself. Never been… by myself.”
She looked at me seriously, “You are the daughter and granddaughter of Haradrim warriors, Shahari. It is in your blood to face life and death and remain standing, even if you don’t know it just yet. Your father taught you many of the things he knew, did he not? Heed those lessons well, and you will be fine.”
“Fine without you, Mother… how is that fine?”
“Would you rather stay here and be given to that pig Hoshan as his wife? Or how about Neshamman, that deviant and pervert? Hmm? They have laid eyes on you and wanted you since you were a child, takki. Your father knew it full well, and did all he could to stop and deny them. But now he’s gone. The shield that protected you is no more. You must leave.”, she stated severely.
“But where to?”
She smiled softly, “Make for the north. Try to reach the lands of Gondor, but keep your wits about you once you are there. You will never be other than Haradrim to their eyes, no matter what tales you tell them and how many times you mention your mixed blood. In fact, Shahari, it would be best if you do not mention it at all. Keep invisible, and keep to yourself. Do not make friends that would stab you in the back.”
Then we both turned to look outside. We could hear many steps coming, making a racket down the street. They were coming.
Hastily, she wrapped me in a cloak and hood, laid upon me as many bags and sacks as I could carry and whisked me to our small stables in the back of our house. There were no goodbyes, no long teary-eyes embraces. She helped me up one of our stallions, and just as I had turned and looked down to say something… anything… she slapped the rump of the horse hard and it took off galloping, as I quickly held on to the reins, darting away from the home and life I had always known through the narrow streets of my village.
The next morning, when I woke after a rather sleepless night in the wild, I examined the contents of my bags. She had given me everything I could ever need. Rations, maps, instructions, directions and names to contact in Gondor, a couple of old books in Mannish to practice my second language… everything. I realized then she had been preparing for this day for who knows how long. I realized it was something of my destiny to leave. She had foreseen it, probably for years, and to me it just seemed as a burden that was suddenly and surprisingly dropped on me.
The journey to the north, and Gondor, took many years at my pace, twisting, turning and deviating to avoid danger or indiscrete eyes. On the way, I met and traveled for a long time with a party of hunters from Lasshem, close to the northern borders. It was with them that I crossed the rivers north and finally set foot on the lands I had only dreamed about as a child. And it was from them, and their kindness, that I learned and practiced the craft of the hunter, and the getting by in the unforgiving wilds. Once we reached the fabled white city, we parted company.
Gondor did not receive me well, but thankfully I managed to escape imprisonment or death as a Haradrim. The places my mother wrote to me about, most were no longer there. The people? My old other half of my family? Most dead, after twenty-five years, some others didn’t remember her, or did not want to remember her. Only one distant relation I found, one second cousin of my mother took pity of me and my tale, gave me a few copper pieces and told me to leave Gondor. Said there was nothing for me there. How much of that was pity and kindness, and how much was just him trying to get rid of a crazy Haradrim that showed up at his home… I don’t know. And I don’t want to think about.
Since then I had been traveling north, alone through mountain, hill and river. It’s a life I’ve come to embrace, and I believe it suits me well. My travels made me wiser, and stronger, and there’s nothing like being forced to practice one’s own craft every single day to get a bit passable at it. Some might say I live an aimless life, but I just say I have not found my aim yet. It’s out there. Exiles can’t be choosers.