Dedication: This is for my beta and friend Ashlyn Night who puts up with my endless rambling and all my little quirks. Thanks!
I see a river of blood beneath my feet.
My serving-lady, a rotund, ruddy woman named Nelar, pokes me in the side. "Really, Lady Vilnez, a river of blood!" she chides. "'Tis only the sun shining off the red tunics of the soldiers. You do tend to let your imagination get away from you."
Apparently, I had spoken my thoughts out loud.
However, I cannot hear her. Flickering images move past my eyes, commanding my full concentration, as the people of Harad wave scarlet banners and cheer at the lines of soldiers marching towards the north where the barbarians of Gondor and Rohan await.
I shiver even though the ever-burning sun is baking the flat sand-colored roofs of the city of Zahir. In my mind, I see men dripping with blood falling to the ground and noble mumakil rampaging and trumpeting with pain. I hear dying screams tearing the air, horns blowing shrill battle-notes, and voices screaming war cries, both familiar and foreign. And ever present, the crimson river of blood aimlessly meanders but feels sinister in its deceptive peace.
Just as suddenly as the vision appeared, it disappears as those desert sandstorms do - blowing seemingly out of nowhere, then fading back into the endless sky from which they sprung. I slowly shake my head, push the vision to the back of my mind, and concentrate on appearing noble and aloof yet amiable and approachable to the crowd under the baleful glares of favored slaves, courtiers, and numerous members of my kin, the Imperial Family of Harad.
At least the legitimate ones.
The broad line now changes from the scarlet of the Imperial Guard into different shades of blue, purple, green, yellow, and more colors than I can recall. Every time a division reaches the long, wide platform draped in the scarlet and gold of Harad, the few well-trained, well-attired troops, sworn to protect the wealthiest tribes and noblemen, turn in perfect unison. They then bow, spring back up, kiss the flats of their swords or whatever weapon they carry, and lightly tap their foreheads with their weapon in a salute to their Emperor and his family. The legions of peasants hastily put together for the coming war try to imitate the veterans but fail miserably. As the ragged soldiers turn every which way, they stumble over their weapons and each other, slap swords and spears against themselves and their fellow men, and often draw blood in the process. I cringe as I think about the demon armies of the barbarian kings waiting for them in the north.
My brother, the Emperor, smiles and inclines his head in acknowledgment of the respect paid to him, but I note the pulsing of a vein in his forehead and the tightness of his smile. My brother often claims he does everything for the well-being of our people, but I know in the depths of my soul he cares not that babes and elders lay starving and cold outside our front gates while we noblemen feast on hearty meats and luscious fruits and sleep in luxurious palaces of precious wood and fine stone. While the troops in the North beg for reinforcements and supplies, he simply settles back in his throne and calls for more wine.
I am ashamed to say I have not done a single thing to alleviate their suffering. 'Tis a wonder I know about such things at all since I am a princess of the Empire of Harad and not privy to such information. How I came upon this knowledge is not to be said aloud for I made an oath never to tell many years ago.
The majestic mumakil, carrying their handlers and soldiers on their backs, pass by, and the image of panic-stricken mumakil comes into my mind. I attempt to push the vision back before a courtier notices my glazed, unfocused eyes. My foresight, a gift from my dead mother Azraphel of Umbar, is more a curse than a gift at times. I often hear whispers of "witch" and "demon child" behind my back. Was not my mother from the race of the Numenoreans? Was not that a people descended from the demons who oppose our god and savior, Dasata who is called Sauron by the northern barbarians? It is of no matter that her branch of the Numenorean folk were the most fervent followers of Dasata. Hence, I am forced to keep quiet about my visions and dreams.
Dasata. Just the sound of his name fills me with dread. I often try to reason with myself. Dasata is our friend, I repeat to myself. The other gods had left us to rot in our vast, hostile land. We would all be dying, not just the common folk. It is more my family's and other noblemen's fault that everyone else lives in such abject conditions.
My mind turns again to the vision I recently had. Men falling. Blood. Screams. Battle cries. Then my mind turns to something my brother told me this morning.
"The world will be ours, Vilnez," he said with rare affection in his voice. "No northman will force us to take scraps like dogs. Instead, they will be the ones groveling at our feet while we live off the riches of their land," he said. I remember the greedy, hateful look in his eyes as he said this.
Are we truly innocent in this war? Is it Dasata as I fear it is? Does it come from something darker within ourselves? Or is it a little bit of both?
One thing I do know is that my people suffer. I know that many women's lovers, fathers, brothers, and sons never return from the strange North where fighting rages. I know that the average family in Harad barely survives off the unforgivable land. My foresight is also attempting to tell me something though what it is I am not certain.
The sky, once a bright hard blue, turns a steely gray. Big droplets of water fall through the air. Rain. It has been so long since it rained last that I nearly panic when I feel the drops hit my veiled head.
My brother turns to us all. "Tis a good omen,"he says. "The sky is pouring luck on our men's heads. They will return to us victorious."
Suddenly, I know what my foresight is trying to tell me. We cannot win this war. Those men, whose eyes are shining with hope, and their feet are marching with pride, will never return. The sky is not pouring fortune on our heads. The sky is weeping for us, for our folly and foolish pride.
I feel tears not of the sky fall from my eyes as we slowly march to our doom.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.