Format: Short story
Genre: general, angst, hurt/comfort
Warnings: Adult themes
Characters: Aragorn, OFC
Summary: A woman from Harad plans to avenge her family
Disclaimer: These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain
Why had she been born a woman? Uzza had lost count of the times she had asked herself this question. Were she a man she could have ridden into battle beside her father and brothers and been slain as they had been slain. Perhaps she could have even have somehow saved them from the great slaughter. Only a burning desire to avenge them had kept her from falling upon the sword that her father had given her in her youth. She had not wept. Better by far to plan revenge than waste energy in futile tears.
She was a big strong girl with no looks that could charm a man, so she had asked her father if she might become a darwisa, a wise woman. He had agreed, and had given what would have been her dowry to Lina, an old woman who had promised to share her knowledge with her eager pupil. Uzza had immersed herself in the study of healing herbs and powerful poisons. She had made a good living and been content until the Men of the West snatched everything from her that she held dear.
Uzza had come now to the land where her father and brothers had been slain to avenge them. She was certain their deaths had been of the cruellest kind. These pale faced Men of the West were savages, who showed no mercy to their captives and slaughtered them to honour the tree that was their god. So she had been told. One woman of her village had heard that her son had been butchered to feed to the Tarks' pampered hounds, while an old man had learned that his young grandson had been tied to a tree and used as target practise by his captors. They were led by a cruel king who used evil magic to raise up the dead to be his soldiers and slaughter all who challenged him with an enchanted sword.
She had travelled to the Tark's city of stone with a merchant caravan laden with spices and the poppy syrup and seeds, for which war and its aftermath had produced a great demand. The men tolerated her presence in exchange for her salves and potions. They did not seek to molest her, having brought a pleasure woman to satisfy their needs. Vega was young and still pretty. She bore her lot patiently enough. She was a pale faced slave who had been captured when little more than a child. Uzza regarded her with a mixture of pity and contempt.
The City, a vast edifice carved out of a mountain, so it seemed, was unlike anything Uzza had seen before. She was surprised to find there were a fair number of her folk in the city, mostly merchants plying their wares. She was disgusted to learn that an Ambassador from her land dwelt amongst these Men of the West in some splendour, in exchange for fawning upon their tyrant king. A merchant from whom she bought food actually boasted that the Ambassador's wife was one of his customers! She enquired of him where she might find lodgings and he had offered her a shabby room at an extortionate price. Uzza did not care. She would not need it for long.
She planned her vengeance carefully. She alone was left to avenge her kin. She was determined not to fail. At first, she thought to poison the cruel king, but she presumed he would be too well guarded to approach. A better idea came to her. She would poison the god of the Men of the West. Then they would lose heart, and wither and die with the tree that they worshipped. Even gods could be killed, for had not the Men of the West destroyed the Lord of Gifts?
She brewed a poison deadly to all living things when the moon was dark and spoke powerful incantations as she worked. Lina had taught her that healing potions should be brewed when the moon was bright, so that the Goddess would smile on her endeavours, but poison could only be brewed when her silver face was turned away.
The next morning, she poured her mixture into a small bottle and made her way to the Court of the Fountain where the god dwelled. She knew it was guarded, but she could bide her time. Something would surely distract the guards for the brief instant she needed to pour out the poison upon the tree. It mattered not to her that she would most likely be caught and put to torment. Her kin would be avenged.
She passed the guards at the gates easily enough as they gave only a cursory glance as the many folk who came to venerate the tree god. She found a bench near the tree and sat down, waiting to seize the right moment. She was surprised how small and slender it looked, a lovely thing, she had to admit, covered in fragrant white blossoms.
"What fools these pale faced folk are, to worship a puny tree!" she said aloud in her own tongue, secure that none would understand.
"We revere the White Tree, but do not worship it!" said a deep male voice in the tongue of Harad.
Startled, Uzza looked up and beheld a tall man with shaggy dark hair flecked with grey. He bore the emblem of the tree embroidered upon his tunic. He seated himself at the far side of the bench. The guards turned their gaze towards him. Maybe they thought he threatened the god as he spoke in a tongue strange to them?
"I thought it was your god?"
He laughed. "Some Men might pray to the Valar in a time of need. For my part, I would call upon Lady Elbereth, or even the One."
"Why then is this tree guarded and revered so?"
"It is a symbol of who we are and where we come from. This tree is the very image of Nimloth that grows in the Blessed Realm. We thought a living scion was lost to our folk, but behold, a new sapling grows and flourishes! I enjoy coming here to gaze upon the wonder when I have a few moments to spare."
"But you sacrifice your captives to this tree?"
The man laughed. "You have been told some strange tales, mistress. All of your folk who surrendered were spared and the wounded were cared for. Most of them have been given leave to return home in peace. Sadly most preferred to fight to the death."
"You slew the Lord of Gifts!" Uzza said accusingly.
"No Man did that great deed, but Halflings from a distant land," said the man. "Yet, what treasures did this Lord of Gifts bestow upon those who worshipped him in return for the blood of their bravest and best?"
"Nothing!" Uzza spat out the reply.
"You lost someone you loved in the War?"
"My father, and all my brethren." Uzza said tersely. Suddenly, to her shame, she found tears forming in her eyes and spilling down her cheeks. She drew her veil about her face and got up to leave.
The man reached out and gripped her arm. "I grieve for your loss."
Uzza fumbled with her free hand beneath her robes. This was her chance. The guards seemed strangely interested in the man beside her. He would be the distraction she needed. "You slaughtered them!" she cried breaking free of his grip. "Curse you, your tree and all your kind, Tark!"
Before she could uncork the bottle, the man had gripped both her arms. The guards moved closer.
"The Men of the West acted only to defend themselves," the man said. "We desired no slaughter. Had your kinsfolk surrendered, we would gladly have spared them." He said something in a language she could not understand. The guards backed away.
She wondered fleetingly who he was. An off duty captain perhaps?
"You are distressed, mistress," the man said. "Let us go somewhere more private."
He looked at her with a piercing grey gaze and for a moment, she felt as if he could see into her very soul. For the first time, she was afraid. She wanted to struggle and flee, but could not. Her limbs felt as if they had been turned to lead.
The man led her to a nearby building. It appeared to be a guardroom as several soldiers were lounging there. The man gave what sounded like and order and they left.
The captain gestured to her to sit down and poured her a cup of wine from a flagon on the table, but before handing it to her, he gripped both her hands and looked deep into her eyes. Uzza wanted to look away, but could not.
"You carry such hatred and lust for vengeance in your heart, mistress, that it poisons the very air around you," said the captain.
Uzza shuddered. Somehow, he knew! She was very afraid now. Why had he sent the men away if not for some nefarious purpose? Her brother had been a captain and he only sent away his men when he wanted to be alone with the women he had captured to have sport with them. She tried to blink back her tears. She was strong. A well- aimed kick could disable a man; one of her brothers had ruefully told her when he had requested one of her potions.
"You need to weep," said her captor. "Grieve for your kin, then live for them; remembering that you will one day meet again in joy beyond the circles of the world."
Uzza could no longer contain her emotions. Great heaving sobs racked her body. Her captor made no move to assault her. Instead, he placed one over her heart and the other upon her brow. She felt the band of iron that for so long had surrounded her heart, break asunder and then dissolve with her tears.
The man remained silent until her tears were spent. Then he smiled at her and handed her the cup of wine. "What is your name?" he asked.
"I am Uzza. In my land, I am considered a wise woman, a healer."
"Many of your people are settling here in Minas Tirith, Mistress Uzza. Should you wish to stay here, they will have need of such as you. I must go now, stay here as long as you need to recover and drink your wine. The men will not bother you." He smiled at her again and clasped her hand in farewell. Then he was gone.
Uzza took the bottle of poison from her robes. She had failed. The desire for revenge had left her; it would not restore her kinsfolk to her. For a moment she hesitated and gazed at the bottle. Should she pour it into the wine and drink it? No, she wanted to live. There was a blazing fire in the hearth. Uzza hurled the bottle into its heart and listened to it spitting and hissing before it was utterly consumed.
Then she drained the glass of wine and walked out into the spring sunlight.
A/n. This is a revised version of a story I posted here in March.