By Gage Colao
The Haradrim were a Southern People from the lands of Harad in Middle-Earth. During the events of The Lord of The Rings this predominantly desert dwelling people were pledged to Sauron in the land of Mordor. On Frodo’s journey the ring-bearer only once comes into contact with this southern people; during a battle with the forces of Gondor in North Ithilien. In the midst of the battle a Haradrim is shot from a cliff and Sam (Frodo’s traveling companion) ponders about the wars of men and how it sickens him. He thinks about this man and whether he desired to march to war, what lies he was told, or if he had a family he left behind. This is the story of that man…
The Final Days of Jerak the Haradrim
Sand was a familiar thing to Jerak. He had been raised in a land full of sand and was used to its chaos. How it found its way into even the most snug of shoes and worked its way between the tightest toes. How it clung to your sweating skin during a long day of work. How it stung when the slightest gust blew the tiny grains into the eyes. Yes, Jerak knew sand well and he was tired of it.
He tired of the long march he had been forced to make from his home of Mûmar, the Breeding place of the blessed Mûmak, over the Burning Ocean to the stone-lands. Jerak missed his family he was forced to leave behind in order to preserve the honor of his ancestors. In fact if it were not for his brother he doubted he would be on the long march and instead would be running to the south with his wife and child.
Sand flew into Jerak’s eyes. He had been marching behind this Mûmak for 6 days and the combined smell, burning sun, and the stinging of the sand that was kicked up into his eyes was close to driving him mad. He reached for his water skin to quench his everlasting thirst but when he brought the end to his lips and tilted his head back there was no cool touch of water, for it was long dry.
Dismayed he cast aside his water skin. He would find no use for it as long as the army walked upon the burning sand. Each step was agony for the heat had begun to melt the bottom of the Haradrims’ boots and the beating sun made armor hot to the touch.
But onwards Jerak marched with the great army from the south. Onward towards war the common soldiers followed the lead of their leaders. They marched until midday and then they stopped and pitched their many tents. Soon the sand was covered with shade as the army rested in the hottest part of the day.
Jerak sat resting with his friends under the shadow of their tent. “How much longer do you think we will march for?” He was tired and missed the touch of his wife and the sound of his children playing about the village.
“I overheard the captain talking with the commander. He said the stone-lands are only a day’s march from where we rest now.” That was Gerat, a Mûmak archer. He travelled on the back of one of the great beasts along with the other officers and some superior officers.
“A day will be as a year without water. I discarded my empty water skin today for it is one less thing to carry over the Burning Ocean. Before long all of the army will be of the same peril and we may never answer the call of this foreign master.” All present nodded in agreement. They too had been been pulled away from their families to answer the summons of a master they knew nothing of.
“Aye you speak the truth, Jerak. My skin has been dry for sometime as well; however, I carry it still in hopes we will find water along the way. I can’t imagine Saren bearing the hardship of no ice for his cup, let alone missing the soothing touch of water for very long!” said Omak, a fellow foot-soldier. The man of which he spoke was the leader of their division who sat in shade of the tent upon the blessed Mûmak. He had not left its shadowy protection since they departed from Heridstan six days ago. He was a weaselly man who enjoyed his vices and ridiculing those who could not afford them. Luckily for him he was born to just the right family for such a lifestyle. The Fuinas family of which Saren belonged owned half of the market district of Umbar and were a very politically and commercially influential family. Unfortunately they thought themselves above all others because of this and treated those they deemed inferior little better than slaves. Many a Fuinas had been given positions of power merely because of their family name. Some, like Saren, couldn’t always manage the power given to them. This made him a rather unpopular figure among the common soldiers.
Gerat grunted, “He bears no hardship. The rat is served chilled wine and sweet dates every hour of the day. He has sat in the shade and been fanned by his slaves since we set out on this burning march.”
Jerak leaned forward earnestly, “I’ve heard he holds ice in a stockpile upon the Mûmak and water enough to survive weeks upon the sand. Is there truth to this?”
Gerat nodded, “Yes, I have seen it. There is a golden chest at his feet longer than a man is tall. It is where the servants take the ice from. How it has held such a treasure for so long is beyond me but I suspect magic. He trusts no one else with it for it is worth more than what the northerners call mithril upon the Burning Ocean. The water is stored in barrels behind his throne. Ten barrels of fresh water from the springs of Abdul.” All present in the tent looked disgusted by the news. For them to suffer as they do and this weasel of a man to know comfort upon the long march was disgraceful and sickening.
Torsan, usually a quiet man, was red with anger at what he heard, “We suffer in the burning heat while this rat sits like the king of Umbar upon his throne! He needs not even walk for the Mûmak carries him wherever he wishes! I would give my left eye for a sip of that water and a touch of ice.”
“You need not give your eye my dear Torsan,” a voice came from behind the tent wall, “Only lend me your ears and hear what I say.” All present jumped unexpectedly. They had been so lost in their mutual loathing for Saren they had forgotten to be aware of their surroundings.
“Who is there? Show yourself spy! It is dishonorable to listen uninvited,” Omak said. He had risen to his feet with his hand resting upon the dull hilt of his scimitar.
“No more dishonorable than speaking ill of a superior officer.” A man slipped into the tent. He was tall with dark skin like most Haradrim. He had a large curved nose and a scar running down his left eye. On his armor he bore the mark of a captain in the army.
Jerak shook his head, “Kerak, did not mother teach you it is rude to listen to other people’s conversations?”
Kerak, Jerak’s brother, smiled mischievously, “She tried but I’m a slow learner. Now what’s this I hear about Saren?” Everyone relaxed seeing it was Jerak’s brother, who was not a man known for following the rules.
“Nothing more than the usual grumblings of the common soldier,” Jerak replied,”Gerat was telling us Saren is sitting like a fat Umbarin cat with a chest of ice, barrels of water from the spring of Abdul, and wine from the fields of Pashaar.”
“Yes I’ve heard as much. The Fuinas rat has a way of pinching the nerves. Perhaps it is time we pinched back?” Kerak smiled evilly looking among his brothers assembled friends.
“What do you mean? What would we do?” Gerat asked with a furrowed brow. He could not imagine what they, simple foot soldiers, could possibly do to even out the scales with Saren.
“That’s easy. We take what he holds dearest. His vices.”
“Steal from a man born to one of the most powerful family in Harad?!” exclaimed Jerak. “You really are mad, Kerak!”
“Perhaps, but we may all be driven mad if we do not get some water soon. I was just making my rounds among my men. Most have more sand in their skins than water. If we do not find some source of water soon then we will never make it to the stone-lands.”
Both Torsan and Omak nodded in agreement. “You speak true Kerak, if we were to fight the men from the north today we would not be able to hold our weapons nor fire our arrows. Water is life here on the Burning Ocean and I will not bear another day without cool water to wet my lips.” Omak stood, prepared to do whatever Kerak needed. Torsan rose with him spoke not, as was his way.
“And if we are caught? What then? We will be stealing from Saren. He is not known for his mercy,” Gerat challenged. He rode upon the Mûmak with Saren and so was not subject to the torture of walking over the hot sand. Such a position of privilege was not one he was eager to give up.
“It is a choice of possibly getting caught or certainly dying Gerat. Which do you prefer?” Kerak reasoned. Gerat for his part could not find a better argument so he rose from his seat. Prepared to sacrifice his position for precious water. Now all eyes were on Jerak. “Well my brother, what do you say? Water or death?”
Jerak sighed and shook his head before rising from his comfortable seat, “Always dragging me along on some hopeless cause. What do you need us to do?”
Kerak smiled again, his scar giving him a maniacal look. “Nothing more than be extra eyes, ears, and arms. Hasten with me to the Mûmak. That rat Saren will have long ago fallen asleep as he often does to pass the midday rest.” With that he disappeared outside the tent. The four friends followed him out and towards the great beast. The hot sun beat upon them and they began to sweat profusely even though they had only been beneath its light for little more than a minute.
They reached the ladder that hung from the mounted fortress upon the Mûmak’s back and climbed one by one with Gerat leading the way. When they reached the top they jumped softly down to the wooden floor. The shaded platform was empty of men. Only buckets of arrows and Mûmak fodder lay on the floor. No man was allowed on the Mûmak during rest hours in order for the beasts to rest. That is, no man but Saren.
“Gerat, where does Saren’s throne sit?” Kerak whispered.
“Just up on he next platform, under those sheets. His seat faces this way and the barrels lie behind him.” Gerat replied in hushed tones.
Kerak nodded, “Good, then we won’t have to bring the barrels down far.”
“Bring the barrels down?!” cried Jerak, forgetting to quiet his voice. But a shush from Gerat reminded him. “I thought we were just bringing down a few skins.”
Kerak shook his head, “My men need water, and I should be banished to the deepest pit if I should leave a barrel for that privileged swine and let my men waste away.”
“Fair enough brother, just guard against your greed. As it has been your downfall before. What is your plan?”
Kerak nodded, “Omak and Torsan, go back down the latter and line yourselves up with the next platform. Jerak and I shall lower the barrels to you with ropes. Gerat, keep watch from here. If anyone should scale the ladder that isn’t Torsan or Omak let us know.” Everyone nodded with understanding and moved quickly to complete their task. Torsan and Omak scaled down the ladder to their positions as Gerat set up next to the ladder to keep watch. “Let us go Jerak, the sun is beginning to descend.” Quickly they glided silently to the next ladder.
“After you oh great Shan,” whispered Jerak bowing mockingly to his brother, his hand raised in invitation to Kerak to climb the ladder first.
“One day you’ll thank me for all the trouble I put you through,” said Kerak smilingly, “Let me see if he is still asleep.” The Haradrim captain slowly crept up the ladder, careful to make no sound. He peeped over the edge of the platform to see the lavishly clothed Saren fast asleep, his head lolled back and his feet propped upon his priceless footrest. Kerak looked down to Jerak, “He’s asleep, come on.”
Jerak followed him up and looked in disgust at the privileged man.” He sits up here like a king as we suffer and toil down below like insects,” he said to Kerak who was already moving silent as a shadow to the barrels behind the throne.
“We shall suffer no longer if you would be silent and help me get these barrels down,” replied Kerak as he gently tilted the first of the barrels over. He had planned to ease it down ever so slightly to avoid any sound. However, he miscalculated how heavy the water-filled container was and the barrel crashed to the floor.
Both brothers froze looking in anticipation towards the sleeping commander. But Saren didn’t utter so much as a snort before turning onto his side, his legs still resting on the chest of ice. “That was close,” whispered Jerak.
“How astute of you. Now help me get this thing down,” retorted Kerak as he rolled the barrel towards the edge. Together they tied the rope securely to the ring on top of the barrel and let it down softly to Omak and Torsan waiting below.
They repeated the process of tilting, easing, rolling, tying, and lowering eight more times till all the barrels were lowered off the Mûmak fortress to the waiting arms below. The two brothers were lowering the tenth and final barrel, eyeing the wine barrels off to the side when Gerat peeked his head over the platform. “It’s almost time to break camp. They archers will be returning any moment.”
“Go Jerak, I will finish lowering this one. I’m right behind you,” Kerak took the rope entirely away from his brother.
Jerak looked at his brother suspiciously, “Don’t do anything stupid Kerak. You are the reason I am out here away from my family. If it were not for you I would not be marching to a war I do not want, in a land I have never been, for a master I will never know.”
“Yes yes I know a Jerak. Now go.” he said hurriedly. Jerak glided across the platform to where Gerat was waiting at the ladder.
“Is he coming?” Gerat asked somewhat frantically,
“He’s lowering the last barrel. He is right behind us. Let’s go.” Swiftly the two descended the ladder and crossed the bottom platform to the next ladder.
Up above Kerak had finished lowering the last barrel of water and let the rope fall with it. He then turned towards the throne. More specifically the priceless gold chest that served as a footrest for the weasel Saren. Slowly he crept towards his prize. He had told Jerak he wouldn’t be greedy but the prospect of ice was to much to resist. Slowly he slid his arm under the legs of Saren and raised them ever so slightly. He paused now searching for some kind of reaction from the sleeping man. He found none though, only a soft snore escaped his lips.
Continuing with the action Kerak began to push the chest out of the way of Saren’s feet. But as soon as he rested his hand on the golden chest to push, the privileged Haradrim bolted awake! Faster than either man had time to process Kerak had his knife drawn in an instant and without any thought slit Saren’s throat. The whole sequence took no less than half a second and left Kerak staring as the light was snuffed out from Saren’s eyes. He would have stayed there for hours had he not heard the soft call of Jerak, “Kerak we must get this water to the men.”
“Co-coming!” He called, the word catching on his throat. He had to get rid of the body fast. He looked around frantically but there was no where for him I hide it. Until he looked down and the answer was literally at his feet. Quickly he grabbed an arrow bucket and dumped the arrows onto the floor. He ran to the gold ice chest and opened it up. He was hit with the glowing cool sensation of ice for the first time in his life and if it weren’t for his immediate fear he would have fallen into the chest with bliss. Quickly he scooped out as much as as he could into the bucket. Then he took Saren’s body and set it into the ice chest and closed the lid over him, then slid the chest back into place. “There, none of his servants will dare touch the chest out of fear of his wrath were he still alive,” he said. Then he turned around me grabbed his bucket of ice and descended the ladders of the Mûmak fortress as quickly as he could.
Jerak was marching again over the Burning Ocean. Except unlike yesterday, he had a water skin full of water and ice. It was amazing what the addition of fresh water from the springs of Abdul had done for the armies morale. Just those ten barrels they had commandeered from Saren had been enough to divide among the thousand men in the Jerak’s company with water to spare.
Jerak was not surprised by the water. He had helped bring it down from the Mûmak after all. What he was surprised about however was the ice Kerak brought down with him. When he had asked his brother how he had managed to get so much ice out from under Saren’s feet Kerak had merely shrugged it off hurriedly, “We could have gone to battle and the fat weasel wouldn’t have so much as rolled over.”
“Very true,” Jerak noticed something down on his sleeves, “What is that stain on your sleeve? It has the look of blood.”
Kerak looked down but brushed it off, “It may be from the wine barrels, I tried to sneak a bit before you called to me.”
Strangely Kerak was very short and not so boastful as Jerak had come to know. Jerak knew he was hiding something and he tried to press his brother more but he could get no more from Kerak and he had been very distant since then. Strange behavior indeed, for his brother rarely left Jerak in peace a single day of his life.
Even more strange Gerat had come down from the Mûmak last night for midnight’s rest and said Saren had been particularly silent the rest of the day. “Maybe he had too much wine,” he said with a chuckle. But Jerak wasn’t so sure.
The more he thought about it the more Jerak started to think Saren’s silence and Keraks ability to steal ice unnoticed, and the splashes of wine were not disconnected. But before he could think much more on it a shout came from farther ahead up the column, past the Mûmak that led them. “Stone! The stone-lands lie ahead!” cried the spotter in the crows nest of the Mûmak. Muttering went around the ranks before the captains barked at the men to quiet down.
Anticipation took hold of Jerak’s thoughts as they drew closer to hostile land. As sand turned to grass and stone the order came down the line “Close ranks!”, shields were raised and spears were held at attention. The Haradrim were ready for battle.
The Haradrim army marched on into the stone-lands and and walked on past the midday break. For they were no longer upon the burning sand but walked on grass and rock. They became ever watchful and wary of enemy attack as they marched towards the looming mountains of Mordor. When night fell they halted to make camp.
After they had finished pitching the tent Jerak, Torsan, and Omak sat in the tent. “Where do you suppose Gerat has gotten off to?” Jerak asked his friends.
Torsan merely grunted and gave a shrug of his shoulders. Omak however held more information. “I heard shouts coming from the mounted fortress earlier today. I asked my captain what he thought it was and he laughed, ‘No doubt Saren has spilled some of his precious wine’ he told me. But I was not so sure. So when we stopped for the night I made my way to the Mûmak only to be stopped by a guard. ‘Mûmak is off limits. By order of Commander Ûmar.’ he said to me. Something is not right, Jerak, and I don’t like Gerat getting caught in the middle.”
“You’re right. Maybe they finally noticed the water missing. If he is in danger we can’t leave him up there. I’ll find Kerak, maybe he has enough authority to get Gerat off the Mûmak.” Jerak said as he rose to find his brother.
“Yes, I am sure Gerat would love marching down here with the common folk,” jested Omak.
Jerak smiled faintly, “I care not for what that Mûmak fodder would love.” Jerak exited the tent and made his way among the tall tents, heading towards his brothers company. When he got there, Kerak was nowhere to be found. “You there soldier,” he shouted to one of the men, “Where is your captain?”
“Some men came to take him away not five minutes ago sir,” said the soldier.
Jerak’s heart stopped, he finally began putting the pieces together, the ‘wine’, the ice, Saren’s silence. It all made sense now, “Which way did they go?” he asked.
“Towards Commander Saren’s Mûmak sir. The-” but Jerak wasn’t listening anymore, he was sprinting through the tents, racing back towards the Mûmak. His armored weighed him down and the toll of the long march across the Burning Ocean began to weigh upon him but he needed to get to his brother before he got on that Mûmak. Up ahead he could see four soldiers now and in the middle of them, being escorted, was Kerak.
“Wait! Halt! Kerak!” called Jerak. Kerak looked back towards the sound of his name and saw his brother barreling towards him. Unfortunately so did the guards. Two of them dropped back and faced Jerak with their long spears as he came up to them. The other two pushed Kerak forward, trying to get him on the Mûmak.
Jerak ran up on the two guards facing them and without a word of warning grabbed one of their spears and turned, flipping the guard over him. He then pivoted with the spear and smacked the other guard in the temple of the head with the butt. Both guards were heaps on the ground before they knew what hit them. Jerak advanced with the spear in his hand on the other two guards. “Jerak brother! Stop!” Kerak yelled to him, “It is pointless, we are surrounded.” he gestured behind Jerak. More guards had moved to flank them and they were now sorely outnumbered.
The two brothers looked at each other and a silent agreement passed between them. Jerak lowered his spear and surrendered it to the guards as Kerak moved towards him. “A lookout in the watch tower of the Mûmak saw me kill Saren. I am to be held in the mounted fortress until Commander Ûmar passes sentence on me. I am sorry, brother.”
“No, I am sorry Kerak. I should not have left you. You greedy cur.” Jerak, “So much for the promise of honor and glory you gave me all those days ago.”
“Now you can have all the honor and glory without having to worry about me stealing any of it.” chuckled Kerak softly. He had to be strong, always so strong. The guard behind him nudged his back with the spear. “I must go now brother. Take care of yourself on the field.” He said before touching his forehead to Jerak’s in the traditional Haradrim familial fashion.
“Goodbye brother,” Jerak watched as Kerak scaled the ladder.
The next morning the southern army met the the last river before Ithilien. The first source of drinkable water they had seen in many days. The men were beyond thankful for the fresh water to fill their near empty skins and for a while they were distracted from the the past week’s hardships and looked forward to the future that awaited. All but Jerak that is.
He found no sleep the previous night for his mind was full of thoughts. He thought of his brother, now held prisoner in the Mûmak only a couple meters away. How he would most likely face death as consequence for his crime. But he did not feel saddened by this, only angered. Kerak was the one who had convinced him to join the march. He had begged Jerak to come with him and painted pictures of honor and glory for the both of them. Virtues that would transcend their family and improve their lot in life. He, Kerak, who now would most certainly be executed and dishonored had dragged Jerak from his family on a foolish quest for glory.
His family. He had barely thought about them since the day he threw his water skin away. But now that he did he missed them more than ever. The thought of his wife and children made him homesick. He did not want to be in this terrible rocky land answering to the Lord of Mordor. He wanted to turn around right away and run back over the Burning Ocean and never worry about sword or arrow again. But he could not. He was there now and to desert was to be put to death. He must brave the coming battles and make it back home to his family.
The army reformed its lines once more, having finished refilling their skins. On they marched into South Ithilien. They followed the Mountains of Shadow making good time. At midday they crossed the road to Minas Morgul. Dark was the presence of that road and every man that stepped upon its way shuddered in fright. They thought not that they marched for that evil which they felt, they only marched on under orders.
As they climbed a cliff Jerak had a chance to look out onto the land of North Ithilien. Though he missed the sand and the red sunsets of the land of his people he could not help but admire the northern land in the shadow of the mountains. Flowers whose names beyond his knowledge bloomed in the fields and among the trees and the smell of herbs reached his nose and reminded him of his wife’s scent, he breathed it in, at peace with the memory of his love. He thought that if they won this war, then he may bring his family back here, to live out the end of his days.
Suddenly the sounds of great horns filled the air. Arrows began flying this way and that and chaos ensued. Jerak looked to the trees on his left to find the archers but his eyes could only see flashes of movements in the trees. “Archers! Archers in the trees!” He shouted but in the confusion no one was listening to him.
From the right another set of horns were blown and cries of men came forth. Out of the brush charged tall fair men clothed in green and grey. They fell upon the surprised Haradrim with deadly force. They devastated the right flank. Desperately the captains tried to wheel the army around to face the onslaught but there was only cliff where they needed.
Following orders Jerak moved about the cliff, trying to push the new right flank of the stone-men. He got no farther than a couple meters when an arrow slammed into his neck. The force driving him over the cliff where he fell into the dark.