Near Harad

The men of the South marched in thick columns down the Harad Road though the quiet serenity of Ithilien. They had pledged their allegiance to Barad-dur and the Land of Soot and Flame. The infantry of hardy, dark-skinned soldiers walked proudly to war, bright decorations on their armor jangling musically, the flickering shadows of the trees making the wild, painted streaks on their faces look almost monstrous. The soft soil felt unfamiliar under their boots; the trees seemed to stare menacingly at these desert warriors. Some glared coldly back, suspicious of these strange plants with their abundant green leaves and branches that were arms raised in praise to the sky.
One of the Haradrim, a little shorter than the rest, stumbled over a root. It seemed he was a boy in a man’s body. His big, brown eyes were innocent and inquisitive under their lids, darkly lined to keep out the cruel brilliance of the sun. His long, black hair draped in tight curls; a few clung to the sweat on the side of his deeply tanned face. The armor that hung on his broad, sinewy shoulders was like an intricate collection that told the story of a family; a land. Around a golden circle representing the never ending sun, radiated a design of metal beads that testified the sacrifices of the kinsmen that had gone before him. In images that flashed as quickly as lightning, he saw his mother making the beads, her weathered hands pounding the metal into thin, shiny sheets which she dexterously rolled into shape while chanting a prayer for the dead. Her raven hair, streaked with grey, was swept away from her face by a simple wooden comb.
She smelled like fresh basil leaves.
He had answered the call to war. The West Men were their sworn enemies. They thought themselves so mighty with their fine cities and learning. With their great armies they had tried to subjugate his people, make them pay tributes and homage to their greedy lords. When they refused, they flung disgraceful insults in their faces, calling them savage and primitive and evil. But the West Men did not know true evil; they could not recognize or accept the wickedness of their own hearts, so they were consumed by their weaknesses. They had cursed themselves. The Haradrim knew; the Haradrim saw. They saw that the civilization of the West Men teetered on the brink of destruction. They knew the mind of the Western Lord was in despair. The Haradrim rejoiced in the humbling of this proud people.
Then the servants of the Great Dark Lord had come, asking for their allegiance. The orcish diplomats told them of the glories that they would receive by helping the Great Dark Lord; that they would have prestige when the world of the West Men fell. The Haradrim did not like the orcs; they did not like their filthy flattering and lies, but their hatred for their enemies was too alive in their hearts. And so they united under the banner of the Red Eye, for they would not fight under the banner of the White Tree. And now they marched in this alien forest road full of thoughts of revenge.
But the boy did not know hate in his heart. He had come because he had been called and he had been so curious about these lands to the North and West. Tales told by the flames of a campfire had kindled inside of him a desire to see these places, to know these people whom he had vowed to slay without mercy. But now that he was so far from home, he missed his homeland of craggy, bleached rocks and hard sand. He missed his land of sun and hardship and passion, where surviving in itself was a test of strength and endurance.
The trees frightened him; he did not think that they were honest things. Who could imagine the creatures that lurked under the sanctuary of its shadows? But he knew that their army was strong; behind him plodded the deadly Mumakil cavalry that could not be defeated; he could vaguely hear the snorting and braying of these beasts that were such powerful weapons.
There seemed to be some sort of commotion ahead of him. Men were shouting and shooting their arrows at the trees. A warrior lay on the ground, very still, his eyes questioning the sun. A man next to him whispered, ‘The trees are attacking us!’ He heard a stealthy whizzing sound.
The boy did not cry out as the arrow pierced his heart. Nor did he see the West Man who fired it. All he could feel was the grit of sandy ground against his cheek. In the distance he heard the drums beat their familiar rhythm, the faint voices of the women raised in song. His mother smiled. He knew that he was somewhere near Harad.

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