We were young, we were merry, we were very, very wise, And the door stood open at our feast, When there passed us a woman with the West in her eyes, And a man with his back to the East.
-Mary Elizabeth Coleridge
The words West and East are often used in the works of Tolkien. Write a story or poem or create an artwork that uses these words as the central focus, whether as cardinals, regions, or as metaphors.
Title:Brothers under the Skin
Author: Linda Hoyland
Characters/Pairing: Aragorn, Faramir, OMC
Warnings: mild nudity,fleeting mention of mutilation
Word count: 1484
Book/Source: LOTR book-verse
Disclaimer - These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain.
“Must we do this?” Aragorn groaned. “Could not a hoard of Orcs turn up so we could go and fight them instead?”
“I like it no more than you do, mellon nîn, but it would be ill mannered to refuse,” said Faramir. “Tahir is honouring us greatly with this invitation.”
“I wish he would honour someone else then,” said Aragorn. “Legolas, perhaps. I doubt he would feel so self conscious.”
“Tahir hardly knows Legolas,” Faramir pointed out. “It is he who would feel uncomfortable with an Elf in the hamam. You are familiar with the ways of the East, Aragorn, have you not experienced it before? I believe the hamam is an important part of the culture of Harad.”
“I have so far successfully avoided removing my clothes and roasting myself in front of others,” Aragorn said tetchily. ”To have done so would have meant instant death as a spy as the men of the East mutilate and decorate their bodies in ways we Men of the West would never dream of. I have, though, once attended a merchant, whose service I was in for a while. I had to wash his back in the hamam.”
“Was the unfortunate man infirm and unable to perform his own ablutions?” asked Faramir.
“Quite the contrary, but in the East, it is a sign of status to have someone to wash you as well as having the luxury to use water for bathing,” Aragorn explained.
“At least the Ambassador assured us there would be no attendants so we will not have to undergo that indignity,” said Faramir.
The two arrived outside the imposing residence of Ambassador Tahir and his lady in the sixth circle. They dismissed their guards when one of Tahir’s servants admitted them and ushered them into the tiled hallway.
Tahir himself came to greet them. “Welcome to my humble abode, esteemed friends,” he exclaimed, embracing them. “You do me great honour by joining me today in the hamam. Afterwards we shall truly be brothers!” Though his welcome was warm, he seemed somewhat ill at ease. “I know you value your privacy,esteemed friends,” he said. “Therefore my body servant will not bring us sherbet tea while we are in the hamam. I thought we might take refreshments afterwards with my fair blossom.”
“You are as always, most considerate, my friend,” said Faramir.
Aragorn and Faramir forced themselves to smile. They followed Tahir to the back of his residence feeling as if they were being led to their doom. Aragorn could feel it getting hotter as they approached the steam rooms.
Tahir led them first to the disrobing room, which contained several empty shelves and one, which was stacked with fine quality silken cloths. “These are peştemal, my friends,” he said. “You can use them either to cover yourselves, which I believe is your custom, or to lie upon, which is ours. Take freely as many as you desire. You can leave your clothing here on one of the shelves.” He turned his back to his guests and started to undress.
It was so hot that Aragorn was almost relieved to remove his outer clothing. He wrapped a couple of silk cloths around his body before discarding his linens. Faramir did likewise, but folded his discarded clothing more carefully. When they turned around to face Tahir, they noticed he was covered from head to foot with only his hands and face visible beneath the silken folds of cloth.
Aragorn and Faramir followed Tahir into a large room filled with steam. They could just about make out a large marble stone in the centre. At the four corners of the room were fountains which they could hear rather than see clearly.
“We sit or lie on the göbek taşı” said Tahir, leading the way to the stone through clouds of mist.
King and Steward settled themselves down awkwardly, pulling their silken cloths tightly around themselves. It was not as unbearably hot as Aragorn had feared, but the steam was so dense he could hardly see his hand in front of him.
“I am surprised that you accepted my invatation,” said Tahir. “I know that you Men of the West dislike the heat as well being too modest to enjoy public bathing.”
“That is true,” said Faramir, “We come because, as your friends, we are honoured to share this with you, even though we find the custom strange.”
“You tell me,though, esteemed friend, that you and Lord Aragorn will swim together in the cold river wearing only your linens?” said Tahir. “I find that a strange custom too.”
“It is most pleasant when the weather is hot,” said Aragorn. “Maybe one day you would like to join us for a swim?”
“If it would please you, I will, my esteemed friends,” said Tahir. “I find many of your traditions curious. That you have only one wife most of all. My one fair flower pleases me for she has given me many blossoms, but what if a woman is not fruitful? The line of your esteemed ancestors would then be broken.”
“We trust the Higher Powers when we choose one spouse,” said Aragorn. “It is prophesied that the line of Lúthien will never fail.We believe if our lines are meant to thrive then man and wife will be fruitful.”
“East and West are very different,” said Tahir. “Our climate,our food, our rituals.”
“We are all Men, though,” said Faramir. He felt surprisingly relaxed and almost embraced by the clouds of warm steam.Beside him Aragorn no longer sat stiffly,but was stretched out like a contented cat.
After a while it became unbearably hot and Aragorn sat up, shrugging the silk cloth from his upper body.
“We should go to the soğukluk now, esteemed friends,” said Tahir. “There you can wash the sweat from your bodies and emerge cleansed and refreshed.”
Aragorn and Faramir felt their apprehension returning. They would have to remove even their peştemal now. They were so pale compared to Tahir, while thanks to Elven treatments, their skins were unmarked. Nvertheless they followed their host into a second, much cooler chamber, which contained only a deep marble pool filled with clear water. Tahir cast aside his cloth and prepared to enter the water.
Aragorn and Faramir bit back exclamations, despite not wishing to stare; it was impossible not to notice the elaborate markings that covered almost all of Tahir’s body. Some were tattoos, while others were formed by the healed scars of many cuts, not random wounds, but in a regular pattern. The merchant Aragorn had once attended upon had not prepared him for this. He had had only a few such markings compared to Tahir.
“You are curious, esteemed friends?” Tahir turned to face them. His expression suggested that were his skin paler he would be blushing scarlet “The marks on my back were my initiation as a warrior. You were only deemed fit to fight when you did not cry out. Now these tattoos,” he pointed to his right arm, “show that I am a son of the Wakil tribe, and that I have one wife and five children. These here,” he pointed to his legs,” are battles in which I was victorious. The scars from them speak for themselves. The tattoos of my left arm represent my allegiance to the Great Khan. “But these give me the most pride, look!”
Aragorn and Faramir noticed that above his heart was a tattoo of a rising sun, while on his right breast was a representation of Gondor’s White Tree. “Those of us who refused to bow down to the Dark Lord bear this mark, rather than the Great Eye,” Tahir explained. “Our enemies knew not what it meant, but it shows that we believed the sun would rise unclouded over our land one day. This symbol of your land I had written on me the day you accepted me as a guest in your realm.”
“You honour us greatly,” said Aragorn, his voice choked with emotion. Faramir blinked away a tear.
“I feared you would mock me,” said Tahir."I have not shared the hamam with any not of my tribe before. Now you are my brothers and fellows of my tribe!” He stepped into the water.
“The Men of East and West may be different, but true friendship knows no bounds,” said Faramir. ”We bear no markings on our skin, but carry all ours on our clothing. We are proud to be your brothers too.” He cast aside his peştemal and entered the water. Aragorn did likewise.
No longer ill at ease they splashed around happily with Tahir as comfortable together as brothers.
A/n According to my research steam baths were popular in the ancient world. Tahir's haman is meant to share some features with an ancient Roman or modern Turkish bath,but is not meant to be identical to it, but something unique to the culture of Harad,though I have used Turkish terms. Tahir's tattoos are inspired by Viggo's in “Eastern Promises”.
Haman – Turkish bath