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Falcon, The: The Adventures of Peregrin Took: 8. The Chariots of Sakhara
Pippin sat cross-legged at the edge of the firelight, watching Poclis speak with the survivors of the attack. Na-Bani ka-swarra o gatlamo ni Horkanbanbo. Horkanbanbe, a! Ukehori. That was a name, or an epithet. Horkanbanbo, sky shaman. Ukehori. Demon blue.
Pippin saw one of the old men staring at him with suspicious eyes. Pippin looked away, and resumed sharpening his sword.
He heard a slight crumpling in the dirt behind him, and he said in Bani, “I see you.”
The girl giggled a little. That was good. When he had found her, she had been mute with fear.
They had found the village by following what looked to Pippin like wagon tracks. Their rims left furrows not wider than his wrist in the damp earth and green growth. They led them to the village.
It was a settlement of fourteen huts made of mud and straw, gray-white from the use of volcanic ash and pumice from the Mothers. As Poclis and Pippin walked in, they saw beams and maize drying in the sun, scattered from their well-ordered baskets and blankets; goatskin doors flung ajar at the houses; broken clods of earth, and cold cookery fires beneath burnt porridge and stew. Pippin looked at Poclis, and his companion’s expression was cold and stern.
“Look in the homes,” he said, and Pippin nodded.
He found the girl at the back of one of the huts, hiding behind earthen jars. She was huddled in the shadows, but her eyes were huge, and she quivered like a plucked string when he discerned her.
Pippin quickly sheathed his sword and smiled. “Hello,” he said, then smacked himself mentally and switched to her own language. “Pemen,” he said. “Kibopemi.” Little man friend. He held out his hand to her. “Come on,” he said in Westron, speaking to her as if he were speaking to Farrie. “It’s all right, I’m not going to hurt you. Kibopemi.”
The girl did not move. Pippin suddenly smelled a sharp odor. She had urinated. She was terrified of him.
Heart sinking, he went to the doorway, and called for Poclis. It was Poclis who convinced her to put her arms around his neck and be carried out into the light of the waning day.
The girl said her name was Tiso. She was seven years old. Poclis held her as she cried, saying the strangers had taken her mother and her sisters, and she did not know where her father was. Pippin wanted to hug her and tell her it would be all right, but he did not know that, and in any case she was scared of him. Instead he waited as Poclis asked her if there were any other survivors of the attack.
In the end she led them to the woody groves by the swollen river and called out for the elders who had there taken refuge. One by one they emerged. Tall, but none so tall as Poclis, and thinner than he, they wore robes of roughspun fabric the same red and brown as the markers, dyed from ochre and seeds of flowers that grew plentifully among the slopes of the Mothers. They had come quickly to Poclis once he declared himself to them, but Pippin was another story. One of them, an old man with a long necklace composed of warthog tusks, pointed at him and demanded of Poclis what sort of demon he was.
Now as he sat by the fire and tended his things Pippin kept one ear on the conversation and one ear to the girl who had come to sit next to him, staring at him with her large black eyes. She no longer seemed afraid, but she remained silent, chewing on some roasted maize from the bowl in her hand.
She offered him some. Pippin smiled and nodded. “Why, thank you,” he said. “Kaho.”
The girl smiled. Well, this was an improvement.
Pippin chewed the maize carefully. It was gritty, and saltless, but filling, and the roasting gave a nuttiness that was passably flavorful to a hobbit with a much-shrunken stomach.
Tiso watched him eat. Pippin noticed she was inching closer and closer to him, staring at his hair, his face, his ears.
He smiled again at her. “Want to sit with me? You can stare at my ears all you want, and I can have some more of your toasted maize.”
Between his expression, his tone, and the Bani words for “sit”, “ears”, and “maize,” she must have grasped his offer. She grinned at him and went to sit by his side.
She reached out, suddenly shy again, and looked at him. “Pengi?” she said, pointing at his ear.
Pippin nodded. “You can touch it. I don’t mind.”
The girl’s fingertips were rougher than he expected as they ran up the upswept pinna of his left ear. When they found the point, they lifted for a moment, as if startled by its existence even though her eyes told her it was there. Then she touched her fingertip to it. Pippin squirmed. He was ticklish there.
Tiso giggled, and Pippin smiled at her. “You think that’s funny,” he said, “look at my feet!” And he wiggled his toes, making her laugh harder.
“Nubna!” she called him. “Enokasi ni kibo nubnane.”
“Young lady,” said Pippin haughtily, “did you just call me a jackal? Why, I may have to spank you!”
“Nubne a.” Poclis stood above them, addressing the girl. “I kibo akaso kisihoru.”
Tiso looked at Poclis, and then at Pippin, and nodded, her smile growing more serious. “E,” she said, nodding. “Kisihoru.”
“Tiso!” came the sharp voice of one of the elders, a woman, beckoning her. Tiso looked apologetically at Pippin, and then went to the woman, who bent close as if to scold her, and glared at Pippin.
“They have not seen anyone like you before,” said Poclis. “You must forgive them. We are not very fond of strangers.”
“It’s all right,” Pippin said. “I don’t care.” He nodded his chin at the departing elders. “What did they say about a battle?”
“Chariots came from the northeast,” said Poclis, “early this morning, before the sunrise. They attacked the herders who were out with the grazing, and then came here. They took all the able-bodied men and women, killing those who resisted. It happened swiftly. Afterward the elders fled into the woods with the children, except for one, apparently.”
Pippin agreed. “What do you know of these Sakharians?”
“Sakharim,” Poclis corrected. “I have told you that they live in the valley of the Long River, the only green land in the Great Desert. Their boats ply the River, sometimes all the way to the lake beyond the Elder Mother. We used to trade with them for their fine cotton cloth.”
“They don’t usually go around taking slaves.”
“No. That is what is different. I never knew them to do so. This has been happening only in the last ten years.”
“Do they trade the slaves with Umbar?”
“We would have known about it,” Poclis said, and Pippin thought of Morelin and the other pirates. Poclis went on, “I do not think Umbar has ever traded much with Sakhara. Their only contact must be through the wanderers of the desert, who are unwelcome.”
“They are zealots,” Poclis answered. “They worship fire, and it is said offer human sacrifice to it upon a desert mountain. They are fierce warriors.” Poclis glanced behind him. “These people are still very scared, but they do not know what to do. I have convinced them to seek the aid of our chieftain in the village at the foot of the Elder Mother.”
Pippin recognized the location. “Your village,” he said. “Your father, then?”
“If he is alive,” said Poclis. “I have not asked them. I do not wish them to know me, yet.”
“I understand,” Pippin said. “We’re going there next then, I take it.”
Poclis nodded. “With the morning. Tonight, I have promised we shall keep a watch on this village.” He threw Pippin’s sleeping roll on him. “It is time for you to sleep, before your dreams wake you.”
“How kind of you,” Pippin said. “I don’t suppose I can sleep inside one of those nice huts tonight?”
“I do not think they would be willing, yet.”
“Thought not. Ah, well, the life I’ve always wanted.”
Pippin and Poclis left for Ngiranemo, the main village of the Bani, at dawn. The elders and the children watched them go with silent eyes and a few upraised palms. Poclis turned back and promised them to return with aid from the chiefs.
The little girl, Tiso, was holding the hand of the old woman who had taken her in. She watched as silently as the others as the two travelers walked east toward the gleaming dawn. Then the sun rose, and a first lance of light happened to strike Pippin’s face, making him wince and look away. It lit his hair copper and gold.
“Kisihorunebi!” Tiso suddenly shouted at him. She broke free from the old woman’s grip and ran a short ways and pointed at the hobbit. “O Sihorunebi m’Hobengo!”
Pippin looked her way in surprise. Seeing him, the girl smiled, and waved, before her guardian caught hold of her again and forced her back to the line. But still she beamed at Pippin.
Pippin returned her smile.
The trail to Ngiranemo ran around the tumbled slopes of the Younger Mother’s south side, where an ancient lava flow had hardened into harsh boulders of great size rising like walls and fortifications above the rolling plain, and on through a brief vale to the older, greener slopes of the Elder Mother. It was a good three-day walk.
On the third day they came upon a tributary stream that sprang out of another of the old flows between the two mountains. Pippin and Poclis stopped there for a bit to drink. The water was bitter with minerals, but potable, as they shared the spring with a herd of impala, some washing widow-birds, and a sullen maribou stork.
Pippin chewed on a strip of dried meat as they rested, sitting on a table-topped boulder he had found particularly pleasant to climb. He was in a thoughtful mood, and though the possibility of imminent violence was ever present in his mind, he paid it little attention for now, intent instead on the landscape about him and the taste of the food in his mouth.
“Poclis,” he asked suddenly.
“Yes?” said his companion, sharpening his knives.
“Did the Bani ever fight for Sauron in the War? Or any war with the West for that matter.”
Poclis glanced briefly at him before answering. “Some,” he said. “Those who are friendly with the jungle peoples. Those who worship the Eye. They trap young mumakil and raise them as battle-fortresses. I have heard a great train of them passed through Umbar for the great battle before the White City.”
Pippin nodded. He remembered seeing the dead beasts after the battle. “But these charioteers,” he pursued, “they never did?”
“No,” said Poclis. “Not that I have ever heard spoken of. The Valley is well-protected, and there are few roads for such an undertaking. The Long River is their only highway, and it empties into the eastern sea not the Bay.” He gestured. “No, the mumakil-riders take their young mounts through the jungle to the havens by the Grey Mountains, old havens founded by the men of the sea who followed the Eye in the dark ages. The coastal route is long, but passable. The Valley is closed. East of it is hard rock and ash from the earth. And between the mountains and the valley is the Great Desert where none can pass.”
“Except the sand people.”
“Except the Erites, yes.”
Pippin thought of the veiled woman in his dream, the one he mistook for his wife though for no apparent reason why. Leah. Somehow he knew she was one of these Erites.
Suddenly, as if struck by a gust of wind, Pippin saw her. She was in an alley among golden houses of brick and mud. Her breath was swift and her hair disheveled where it fell from the lip of her veil.
Soldiers surrounded the entrance to the alley, soldiers in blue armor with the blue spiral on their brows. They held their arced swords and advanced on her.
The woman raised her sword, curved and keen as a river-reed.
“I will not be taken.”
Pippin cried out as the soldiers attacked her, but he was swept away again, to a round space surrounded by the whitewashed huts of the Bani, before a raised altar of stone, beneath the hideously graven image of a figure with outstretched arms. Instead of a face, it had a single burning Eye. A youth was bound upon a pyre, struggling, wide-eyed in terror, the ropes cutting into his flesh as he struggled. Other bound figures, all young and terrified, waited bound to the idol’s arms. A figure in a lionskin robe, with the lion’s skull and mane on his head, raised a dagger.
“A life for the Great Eye, that he may deliver us!”
A halfhearted murmur from a crowd of people, and an anguished cry from a woman screaming in grief.
Pippin looked back as the lion-robed man raised the dagger high into the setting sun. The dagger flashed and fell.
Pippin cried out again. He was being shaken. Suddenly he saw Poclis. They were still by the spring. The dried meat had just fallen from his fingers.
“Razàr! What is happening?”
Pippin couldn’t say. He wasn’t dreaming, he wasn’t asleep. But he had seen it, and somehow he knew it, he knew it was real. The sun was high above them, the same sun that glinted at sunset on the dagger in his sight.
“We have to go,” he said. He hopped off the boulder and started to run. “Come on! Ngiranemo is just a few hours away, isn’t it, if we run?”
“Yes, but why—”
“Come on! We can still save the prisoners!”
“Razàr! What are you talking about? What happened to you?”
“I don’t know. I’ll explain. Hurry!”
Ngiranemo was built into a sheltered hollow among the brushy foothills of the Elder Mother. Thirty-eight families occupied thirty large, dome-shaped huts and adjacent smaller structures and lean-tos arranged in broad paddocks where dairy cattle were kept and chorework was done, clustered around an open courtyard where feasts and councils had been held in previous days. Those days were gone. Now the courtyard was the site of the altar of the Eye, built on a mound beneath the image of the Eye, and the people of Ngiranemo no longer held happy feasts.
To the side of the courtyard nearer the rock of the mountainside was built the paddock of the chiefs. There surrounded by smaller huts was the chief’s house, a large mud building with a high domed roof and many windows. The smaller huts housed wives and children of the chief, or chiefs as it were, for two brothers now ruled Ngiranemo and by extension all the People of the Plains.
The sun was westering over the plains and setting afire the curve of the river when the two chiefs appeared before the gathered crowd. They both wore lionskin mantles, the tokens of their office, and their faces were painted with white ash and red ochre. The elder’s robe was black-maned, the younger’s gold. Behind them, the sacrifices were led out and bound to the outstretched arms of the idol of Sauron. Before them, upon the altar, bundles of thornwood were being laid and drenched in rendered oxfat. A guard of young men armed with spears stood between them and the crowd.
At length the elder of the two brothers stood before the people. He raised his arms and spoke.
“The Eye has turned from us,” he said, loud and hoarse. “The Eye is displeased with our worship! For twenty seasons now He has cursed us with the scourge of the slave-takers and raiders from the north. Cursed be the blue soldiers and cursed be their light.”
“Cursed be their light,” responded the people wearily. They had heard this all before. It had never helped.
“Cursed be it and cursed their Star that sends it,” said the chief, “for the only light is that which comes from the splendor of the deathless Eye!”
“May the Eye find us worthy,” was the bitter response, overlying the anguish of those in the crowd whose sons and daughters were bound to the idol’s arms. Even the armed guards looked sick of it.
The chief looked to his brother in the golden-maned mantle. “Banlis.” The brother nodded and motioned for one of the captives to be brought forward. The prisoner chosen, a youth, stared in disbelief as he was led forward to the fire. He began to struggle and kick, but the older man summoned guards, who held him fast and propelled him to the altar.
The cry came from a woman weeping in the thin part of the crowd behind the mound, near the chief’s house. She wore a necklace of polished stones and beads, and her robe was fine red cloth. She plead with the chief with the black mane. “Naglis, I beg you, spare him.”
“The Eye makes no distinction between highborn and low, Nibo,” said the man named Naglis imperiously. “Our son will plead for his people before the naked Eye!” The boy Ablis was bound to the altar and held there by three men. He begged them to let him go, but they feared the power of the chiefs.
Naglis approached. From beneath his robe he pulled out a dagger made of knapped flint, jagged and sharper than any knife, with a handle made out of mumakil ivory, stained with old blood.
“Turn your gaze upon us, O Abezoni, Red Eye of Death,” he intoned, raising the dagger. “See the offerings we place before you. Send your mighty Gaze upon the invaders who steal our people and slay our kine!”
He gripped the knife handle with both hands, arms upraised, and shouted, “We offer a life for the mighty Eye!” The boy’s mother keened.
Like a cloud, the long shadow of a man fell over the altar and the sacrifice. The people gasped and cried out at the apparition standing upon the roof of a hut, his form a shape in the sunset in the west.
“Who is it who speaks when the chiefs of the People speak?” cried the one named Banlis.
“A man who has come home!” And Poclis showed his face to the people.
They murmured his name. They recalled his father. They remembered his mother, the beautiful one, beloved of the people, and they began to call his name.
The chief named Naglis’s face also showed recognition, and hate. He jabbed the knife in his half-brother’s direction.
The armed men gazed at each other, and then rushed to the house. Three threw their spears.
Poclis leapt aside from the flight of one and with his staff slapped the other two away. Then he leapt down into the courtyard and spun the staff so quickly and powerfully that it raised a breeze. The men stopped, daunted.
“Do not obey them,” Poclis told them. “They are your enemy, not I.”
“Kill him! The Eye commands!” Banlis cried.
Fearful of retribution, they raised their weapons, and attacked Poclis, and Poclis met them with his staff. He spun it, gripped it, thrust and parried with it, left, right, spiraling through their number, catching their jaws, their sides, laying them low like a wind in the reeds, until none were left standing.
Now the prisoners still bound to the idol found that their ropes were being cut from behind. Naglis and Banlis spun around and stared in disbelief as, one after the other, the youths and maidens ran from the mound into the crowd and the arms of their loved ones, who were now gazing upon the chiefs in hate and vengeance.
Naglis saw the gaze of the woman Nibo, and remembered the boy on the altar.
“Banlis!” he shouted. “Burn him!”
Banlis nodded and picked up a burning brand. The boy Ablis now struggled to free himself from the ropes, his eyes showing terror as his uncle advanced on him, set to burn him alive.
“Hey, you! Lion-head!” The voice came from the idol.
Banlis looked up in shock.
A small hand passed over the carven orb of the Eye, followed by another clutching a sword that gleamed like fire in the sunset, as Pippin revealed his perch atop the statue of Sauron.
“You shouldn’t do that,” Pippin said, and leapt.
With a kick that sent the idol teetering, he flew into the air, and crashed into the man, knocking the brand from his hands. The man was taller, but soft and unprepared, and Pippin kicked and jabbed him with his fists and knees, flinging him onto his back with a great heave. Banlis tried to stand. On his knees, he lunged for Pippin, and received a hard blow to the back of his head from the solid steel counterweight at the pommel of Pippin’s sword. He fell motionless onto the ground.
Pippin leapt onto the altar and sliced through Ablis’s ropes.
The boy stared in disbelief at the creature standing above him, who looked like a man, but was half as large, and seemingly twice as fierce.
Pippin held out a small, hard hand. “Get up,” he said in Bani.
But into their path stepped Naglis, gripping a spear tipped with a blade of hard flint. Pippin pushed the boy back and held Trollsbane at the ready. Naglis roared and lunged at him with the spear. Pippin leapt back.
He pulled his cloak off his shoulders. Naglis swung again, but Pippin had only to dip his head for the spear shaft to pass over harmlessly over him. Crouching already he flung his cloak towards Naglis and at the same time jumped toward the spear.
The elven-cloak flew upon the head of Naglis, allowing Pippin to seize the spear and wrench it away with the hurtling strength of his whole weight. Disarmed and blinded, Naglis stumbled and fell upon his back.
Struggling to get up, he found the cloak lifted from his head, and saw Pippin holding Trollsbane to his throat.
Poclis ascended the mound and stood next to Pippin. “Good work,” he said in Westron.
“I try,” Pippin replied jauntily, but his eyes were grim.
“Poclis,” hissed his brother. “You were supposed to be dead!”
“I am not,” Poclis replied. “And I had hoped for a better welcome than the chariots of Sakhara at our fences, and murder in our homestead!”
Naglis spit and tried to rise.
“Ah-ah,” admonished Pippin. “Head, blade, dead.”
Poclis called to the people. “Bind their hands and place them under guard!” At his command many did his bidding without objection.
Pippin noticed, stepping away and sheathing his sword. He remarked, “I think they’ve found a chief they prefer. What do you think?”
But Poclis was staring at the idol, left unbalanced by Pippin’s maneuver. “This should not be here,” he said, and took up the spear Pippin had taken from Naglis. As Pippin and the people watched, he thrust the spearhead into the soil beneath the base of the idol, grasped the end of the shaft with both hands, and pulled.
The idol creaked, as if in protest, and then began to topple. Built of wood and stone, graven in the image of a god who was not a god and who indeed no longer had any power in the world or any other, it fell to the ground with a dull crash and broke into many meaningless pieces.
Pippin remembered his own meeting with Sauron. He had burned in the gaze of that Eye. His soul shredded to pieces, he had wished to die, but Gandalf stitched him whole again: whole, but not the same. He watched the toppling of the idol with satisfaction, happy to know the erstwhile Dark Lord was still being repaid for his tyranny, and that he, Pippin, continued to have a hand in it. That’s still for Frodo, he thought with a smile.
They slew a fat calf for a feast that night, to celebrate the overthrow of Naglis and Banlis and their evil Eye. But Poclis ordered men to bring food and weapons to the outlying village by the Younger Mother. It turned out that several families in Ngiranemo had kin there, including one who recognized Tiso as a cousin. Pippin, when he grasped what was being said, was pleased by that.
After the feast Poclis and the men gathered closer around the fire to drink barley beer and talk. Their talk was dominated by the raids of the charioteers from Sakhara. Sakhara’s soldiers spread wide throughout the southland and the desert and even into the hill-tribes of the inhospitable rift valley to the east. Slaves who escaped told of being made to build a mountain out of stone, a stepped mound high as a hill, around the ancient silver tower that held the mysterious Dawnstar.
“Dawnstar?” Pippin piped up. All eyes turned to him. Pippin felt like a fool for interrupting, but then asked, “What is this star?”
Some said it was a true star, come down from heaven. Others said it was a flame of some sort, a beam of sunlight mixed with moonlight. Others said it was a living thing. There was no common answer, except that its light was regarded as magical and unrivaled in all the world, and that it entranced all who gazed upon it.
Poclis was more interested in who was doing all this. “Who is building this stepped mountain?” he wanted to know. “Is it this ukehori, this blue demon?”
“Seth,” said the most vocal of the men, a man of rank who had been a hunt-leader under Poclis’s father, named Dyomu. Pippin remembered he was the father of the woman Nibo, wife of Naglis and mother of the boy he’d saved. “Their god of the desert storm that brings death.”
“Sakhara has no gods,” Poclis said. “Only idols.”
“It is not the god Seth,” Dyomu responded, “but the magician who speaks in his name.”
“And who is this magician?” Poclis asked.
“None know his name,” Dyomu reported, “but they say he is of great power, and he holds the mind of the king Zosir; and that the armies wear blue in his honor, for his clothes are always blue.”
The evil of Seth spreads south. Pippin remembered the words of Leah from his dream, which he now had to believe was no dream, but a vision of long sight. Blue, he thought. That sounded familiar.
“How many of the People have been taken to Sakhara?” Poclis asked.
“Who knows. Many homesteads have been emptied all across the plains over these dark years,” said Dyomu.
“How have we fought them?” Poclis asked Dyomu.
“We have not,” Dyomu answered darkly. “Your brothers would not allow it. They said the Eye would deliver us.”
“The Eye is dead,” Pippin interrupted. “He had no power to bestow life, only power to kill.”
Many pairs of suspicious eyes fell upon Pippin.
“Who are you?” Dyomu asked with a frown. “What are you? Where do you come from, and what sort of man are you? We are all grateful for what you have done, but I must tell you I do not know what to think when I see you.”
“Razàr is my friend,” Poclis said. “I guided him here for he is on a great journey to seek all the knowledge in the world. He is a brave warrior and a seer who finds many things in his dreams.” Pippin colored; he had explained his visions to Poclis before they arrived, and Poclis had interrogated him mercilessly.
“Then he should speak with a shaman,” said Dyomu. “She will tell him many mysteries.” He turned to Pippin. “No one but men may sit in this circle and speak. Are you a man?”
Pippin was about to protest, when Poclis raised a hand.
“He is,” Poclis said. From a pouch he produced a long daggerlike tooth, relatively new, its roots still creamy, bound to a leather cord. “This is proof. Here is the tooth of a lion, as all can see. Two months ago, as we lay upon the shore of bones far to the west, a lion came upon us. But for Razàr, the lion would have devoured me. He killed it with his blade and his courage.” He rose, and walked to Pippin, holding the fang-tooth aloft. “I have kept it for this moment so that the People may know that Ràzanur Tûk, little falcon of the sun, is a man in our ways.”
He knelt, took Pippin’s left hand, and placed the tooth upon it, closing the fingers tight upon the totem. To Pippin he added in Westron, “I should have given this to you sooner. They would not have asked.”
Pippin accepted it, speechless, and gazed at it in the firelight.
Poclis stood and addressed the men. “I see you have accepted me as chief. I take the burden to honor the People and my father. I say to you as chief that we must now make a defense against the chariots of Sakhara. We must unite all the villages and homesteads, all the herd-lands and hunting grounds, and defend our homes, our kine, our children and ourselves. If we must walk the Long Valley to Sakhara itself and bring war upon them, then we shall. I say to you what I learned from wise men in the north: Heaven grants blessings upon those who act, not those who wait.”
Dyomu stood. “I agree with this. Lead us and I will follow you.”
All the men stood. “We will follow you.”
Dyomu let out an deep, ululating cry, and began to leap up and down in the firelight. The men joined him in the dance, bouncing upon the hard balls of their bare feet, singing in their deep voices, like the sparks that leapt from the flames to the stars above.
Pippin watched, entranced, as Poclis joined them.
Pippin woke from a vivid dream of the past—the Black Gate, and Barad-dur toppling from sundered foundations broken by the events that transpired at the Crack of Doom.
He was glad he did not wake the young woman who lay next to him, one of the maidens he had rescued from the altar of the Eye. She had approached him after the meeting with the men and asked him if she could thank him for saving her life. Pippin, feeling like a knight, answered gallantly, “My lady, I am ever at your service,” except he said so in Westron, which made her laugh. Then she unbound the cloth of her robe and showed him her breasts. Positioning later proved a challenge, but Pippin surmounted it to mutual satisfaction.
Now he slipped quietly from the maiden’s bed and tiptoed past her sleeping siblings and parents out of the hut. He dressed quickly. What rags he wore. If his mother saw him she would weep, and Vinca would scold. Pippin smiled and pulled on his breeches and the remnants of his shirt. He fastened his sword-belt around his waist, tying it off with a knot. He shook out his cloak and looked at it. It was dirty, but otherwise whole. It had been the most useful piece of clothing he wore throughout the long trek across the plains of the Sun. He folded it up and carried it under his arm.
In his pocket he found the lion’s tooth necklace. He looked at it for a moment; and then he put it on, letting its brief but perceptible weight settle against his chest.
He took a walk around the sleeping village, pausing to gaze at the remnants of the idol. The wood had been burned for the bonfire at the feast; the stone remnants would be used for other purposes. He kicked some dust on a fragment of the Eye. Who’s in pieces now, Mr. Peeper?
Feeling thirsty, he went to the village well, and drew a skinful of water into which he dunked his head to drink. Refreshed, he threw off his cloak and shirt and threw the rest of the contents of the skin over himself. The sting of the water as it vanished from his skin into the warm night was cool and bracing.
He heard a noise and turned. Something was moving beyond the last hut of the chief’s stockade.
Pippin dressed quickly, not bothering to dry, donning his cloak and fixing it with the brooch. He pulled the hood of his cloak over his head. Slipping into the shadows cast by the bright yet waning moon, he silently snuck after the sound he’d heard: two sets of footsteps in the dust.
At some distance he saw them: the brothers, Naglis and Banlis, hands still bound, but legs free, running into the east over the slopes of the Elder Mother.
Now part of Pippin, a still-young but full-fledged hobbit of forty-one, told him to go quickly to Poclis and rouse him, so that they could form a pursuit party to go after the escapees. But Pippin, was Pippin. All his age and experience could not quench his rashness; only reinforce it with boldness.
“I can always double back,” he told himself, and it was all the convincing he needed, before he set out alone in pursuit of the brothers.
It was too late to go back by the time Pippin admitted to himself this was a bad idea. Dawn was nearing, and the brothers had run, stumbled and walked many miles around north and east over the low slopes of the mountain. Pippin had followed, pausing only to wish he had brought some food for a midnight snack.
Now he saw the brothers run faster down into a small blind valley whose grassy floor was sheltered from wind and sight by bald ridges of old flows. Pippin stopped by a rock when he heard unfamiliar voices raised in anger.
He hid and peered out. He could not see much, but he heard the voices of the brothers, crying out in alarm, and then Naglis’s voice, hoarse and ugly, rising up in a shout and then suddenly stilled. Pippin knew there were Men down there. Many Men. And then he heard horses as well, and he knew what the brothers had stumbled into.
Banlis appeared, running for his life, his cruel face distorted in mortal fear. Pippin shrunk back against the rock as the man ran past. A whistling in the air made Pippin duck out of habit, and Banlis fell, stuck with several blue-feathered arrows.
Pippin hugged the rock against which he hid, flinging his elven-cloak over himself so that he was almost unnoticeable in the shadows and moonlight. He watched through the weft of the cloak as men dressed in the blue armor of Sakharim picked up Banlis’s body and carried it away.
Pippin waited immobile until he was certain the Sakharim had gone. Then he rose and stole his way through the rock and grass to a better vantage over the box valley.
He saw fifty chariots, each drawn by a light-limbed horse, and nearly a hundred soldiers. They were armed with spears, swords, and bows. There were also several wagons drawn by teams of four. Pippin realized the wagons were cages filled with people.
These were the slave-takers. He had to return to Ngiranemo now. Maybe there was a chance for the Bani to come upon the Sakharim and surprise them…
In his haste he failed to notice the soldiers approach him from behind until it was too late. Pippin found himself caught in a net held by three armored soldiers.
“Let me go!” he shouted, and tried to get to his sword, but already he was entangled in the tightly-woven web.
A soldier in slightly different garb, with a headdress tipped with a golden serpent, appeared. He held an arrow in his hand. Pippin glared at him in defiance.
He grabbed Pippin’s hair and pulled his head back and nicked his neck with the wet tip of the arrow. Pippin felt heat and then a strange numbness. His vision blurred and his head began to swim. The last thing he saw was the men lifting him up and taking him to the waiting chariots. Then the world went away and he saw no more.
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