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A Middle-earth Short Story: “Il Kab ät Rhûn-Jalai” by Brad Daes

The Honors Imaginative Literature class challenges each student to compose a short story that grows the mythical world of Middle-earth created by JRR Tolkien. Below is one of three superior creative pieces. Enjoy.

 

Il Kab ät Rhûn-Jalai

By Brad Daes

 

Rhashal squinted, grasping tightly to the rope in his hands. The sun beat down upon the plains of the Empire of Rhûn with the relentlessness of a waterfall, an endless shower of burning light. The tall, yellow grass shimmered at its tips, blowing in the wind like waves. Far below, Rhashal’s men waited prone in the grassy sea, hidden, and ready to strike at his command.

The earth shook. The mûmakil were coming.

The plan was in effect.

The crescent-shaped hill vibrated as a herd moved past its mouth. Rhashal watched on as riders on dark horses weaved between the mûmakil’s legs, poking at them with iron spears. Slowly, the riders grouped around a solitary member of the herd, encircling its gargantuan legs. They stabbed at its ankles and knees, steering it towards the mouth of the crescent-shaped hill. The monster threw back its head and bellowed, trunk flailing wildly as its tusks caught the midday light. Just as it ran into the crescent’s narrow mouth, Rhashal released his grip, sending the rope flying out of his hands. A large, blood-red banner unfurled, draping the hill side in color. Men rose out of the grass near the crescent’s mouth, and secured each end of a thick rope to each of the crescent’s jaws. The mûmak’s legs caught the rope, sending it tumbling into the dirt. The rope snapped beneath the massive power of its legs. It flew through the air, hitting men and knocking them to the ground. In a flash, more men rushed out from the hillside. They ran at the downed beast, embedding tethered javelins in its wrinkled skin, and securing the rope to the ground. Others brandishing long, curved swords ran for the legs, chopping and slashing at the mûmak’s ankles, hoping to sever its tendons. The beast roared, shaking its head and driving its tusks into any man who ventured too close. Rhashal watched eagerly. The creature would soon give out.

Slowly and deliberately, he brought a dagger to his hand. The steel cut deep, releasing a creek of blood. He sheathed the dagger and brought an arrow to the fresh wound, grasping the head, dousing it in blood. Red slithered down the straightened wood. Rhashal stood up straight, took hold of his dragon-horn bow, and drew the blood-soaked arrow. The string sang as he loosed the missile, striking his arm-guard with a loud thwack. The arrow sailed through the air leaving a crimson arc in its wake, and finally landed on target, embedding itself deep into the skull of the mûmak.

Rhashal grinned. He hurriedly made his way down the hill, shouting at his men in the eastern tongue. The felled beast grunted still, breathing heavily and dragging its trunk from side to side in the dirt. Rhashal walked up to the mûmak’s head, leaping onto its tusk and walking along it in perfect balance towards his arrow. From his belt he drew a long, slender, black-metal hammer, and began to speak. “For the glory of Rhûn-Jalai, Salmalaìk, and the Lord of the Hunt, Rhashal slays this mûmak in the name of House Tali-Kabar!” Rhashal rose the hammer above his head, allowing it to set ablaze as it caught the sun’s light, and brought it down upon the arrow, driving it into the mûmak’s brain. It moaned once more, its trunk jerking with slight spasms, and then fell silent.

The mûmak was transported with haste. A whole herd of oxen was brought to drag the titan’s corpse back to Salmalaìk-Jor, capital city of the Empire of Rhûn, and home to House Tali-Kabar. Rhashal rode ahead of the herd, in a rush to return to Salmalaìk-Jor. Within the hour, he had passed through the wooden gates, and was riding up the steps to Oromë-Lor, the great tower in the center of the city. He hitched his horse at the base of the spire, and began his journey to the top.

Upon arriving at the height of the tower, Rhashal knocked on the black-metal doors leading into the throne room. They opened on their own, inviting him in. The throne room was large, and more resembled a laboratory than a hall for a ruler. Shelves holding jars and artifacts lined the room from floor to ceiling. Cauldrons bubbled in corners, and skeletons of exotic creatures sat on tables. And in the center of the room, with one hand hovering above a clear sphere of glass, and the other holding a staff, stood a tall man draped in deep blue.

Rhashal kneeled and spoke. “Salmalaìk, I have returned from the hunt.” The man turned to face Rhashal, his blue cloak dragging behind him.

“Rise, Rhashal of House Tali-Kabar.” Rhashal obeyed, his bandaged hand still clutching his bow.

“You sent word to see you after the hunt ended, Salmalaìk.”

“Yes, Rhashal, this is true. There is much that we must discuss.” Salmalaìk spoke seriously, the words passing over his ornate, braided beard. Silver chains hung from rings, and reattached themselves to his enormous turban at the other end.

“Is something wrong?” asked Rhashal.

“I’m afraid there is,” Salmalaìk said, looking back towards the glass sphere. “I’ve finally been able to gaze into the Palantir. The Dark Lord of the West seeks aid from his old friends in Khand.”

Rhashal’s eyes widened. “But… Surely we can stop them? Did you not do it in the second age? Is that not how you rose to power?”

“It is not that simple, Rhashal. I was not alone then. Balaaz and I worked at each other’s side. Balaaz was still a servant of men, then. There was a time when being worshipped was only a means to an end for him. When the cults we built were built to undermine the Dark Lord’s allies. That time has long since passed.”

Salmalaìk walked out onto the Oromë-Lor’s principle balcony. Salmalaìk-Jor stretched out before him, bustling and thriving like the great city it was. Lining the city’s outermost wall was the Great Garden, home to every plant from across the continent. It was the greenest, most colorful part of Rhûn at any time, kept alive by Salmalaìk’s powerful magic.

“Rhashal,” he began again, “what does Tali-Kabar mean?”

“Cunning hunter, great wizard.”

“That is correct. And it is exactly why yours is the only house in the east to know the truth of my presence on this world. When Balaaz and I built the cults, persuaded your people into worship, many powerful men resisted. And their swift, silent death was the only way to ensure our rise to power remained unimpeded. We confided in your family, and have continued to do so for millenia. Is this not true?”

“It is, great wizard.”

“It is. And now you stand as the most powerful house in the east, the only house that regards me as Servant of Arda, and not God of the Free Peoples. But even our combined power may be unable to defeat Balaaz. He is stronger than ever before, now that he has been fully corrupted by both The Enemy and his own narcissism. This will be a religious war- a great struggle between my followers and his. And I fear that the consequences of this may last much longer than the merits of the struggle will be worth.”

“Great wizard,” began Rhashal, but he was cut off before he could continue.

“In Valinor, I was called Alatar. After-comer. One of only two to volunteer as a Servant of Arda. I brought Balaaz in good faith. He was my friend. I wished to bring him because in truth, I was scared. I was fearful that I would be unable to combat the Dark Lord alone. And then he betrayed me. My friend betrayed Middle-earth.”

“Salmalaìk, I implore you to listen.”

“Speak.”

“House Tali-Kabar stands beside you as it always has. It stands against those who seek ruin for Middle-earth as it always has. And your city, the people of Salmalaìk-Jor, the men of the Rhûn-Jalai, this great Empire in the East, are ready to follow you into war with the oceans and sky. You are their god, great wizard.”

“The Khandish peoples see Balaaz as their god.”

“Yes, Salmalaìk, they do.” Rhashal placed his hand on Alatar’s shoulder. “But what Balaaz lacks is a friend.” Salmalaìk turned. He faced Rhashal, sea-blue eyes glimmering. “I am Lord Tali-Kabar, great wizard,” continued Rhashal. “The head of a house of assassins is a good friend to have in war.”

“That he is,” said Salmalaìk. “And I am glad to have him, for the war in the east will not be swift, nor will it be without pain. Saddle the mûmakil. Bring together the riders and warriors of Rhûn-Jalai. Tomorrow, we meet Balaaz’s forces on the southern tip of the Sea of Rhûn. Tomorrow, our empire will prove its might.” Rhashal left the throne in haste. He jumped on his horse and rode out to Salmalaìk- Jor’s training camps. By the next morning, Salmalaìk-Jor’s army was mobilized, and would be set to meet with the rest of Rhûn-Jalai’s fighters on the battlefield.

In Khand, Balaaz had received Salmalaìk’s declaration of war. He had known this would come. His armies were ready, and bearing his seal on their banners, they rode out to the next day’s battlefield. Both armies traveled at incredible speeds, pushed by their wizards’ magic. It was as if the earth folded beneath them, shortening the distance to the southern tip of Rhûn.

By the time they were a battlefield apart, the sun was beginning to sink below the horizon.

Each army bellowed. Mûmakil trumpeted, barbed wire and nets wrapped between their tusks, spears tied to their feet. Saber-cat-riders drew their bows while rhinoceros-riders readied their swords. Horns blew, and feet stomped. The deafening sounds of war rang through the hot, Rhûnish air. Salmalaìk stood atop the largest mûmak, his cloak a violent blue against the blood-red sky. With a shout and a thrust of his staff, clouds gathered, and lightning struck the middle of the field, setting it ablaze. Khandish forces charged. Rhûnish archers fired. The War for the East had begun.

Salmalaìk continued to shout. The wall of flame in the middle of the field grew taller, rising into the sky and blending with the orange-red clouds. Then he began to charge. His army followed, the earth shaking beneath the stampede of iron and muscle. Many of the Khandish turned and fled from the wall of flame, while others were pushed into it by the forces behind them, instantly incinerated by the impossible heat of the blaze. Just as his mûmak approached the wall, Salmalaìk said another word in language of the Valar, and the wall vanished.

The armies collided like mountains. Mûmak skulls bashed together, the mighty beasts savaging each other with their tusks, the towers on their backs firing arrows and spears. Saber-cat pounced on rhinoceros, and rhinoceros shattered bone. The air was thick with arrows and the stench of blood as men maneuvered their beasts into one another. From atop his mûmak, Salmalaìk was casting spells, confusing Khandish beasts, and setting the enemy’s mûmak towers ablaze. Rhashal steered the mûmak, dropping the reins occasionally to fire arrows in the name of House Tali-Kabar. The battle would rage on through the night until finally the last Khandish warrior retreated.

The war to win the East had only just begun, but Sauron’s allies had been shown the price of evil. Balaaz had been shown the price of straying from his righteous path, and Salmalaìk was once again serving the free peoples of Middle-earth.

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