"Let me see the boy's arm, please honoured friend." Tahir's usually calm voice was trembling.
"Very well." Aragorn recovered the boy's feet. He then pulled the blankets aside that covered his upper body, and rolled up the sleeve of the over-large nightshirt Fikri was wearing to expose his uninjured arm.
"This is the mark of my tribe!" cried Tahir. "See, some villain tried to obscure it with the accursed mark of the eye! And look at the boy's skin. It is too dark for him to be a son of Suhayb."
In Aragorn and Faramir's eyes, the Haradrim all shared the same dark olive skin, but as it seemed there were close ties between the Suhayb tribe and the Black Númenóreans, they might well be paler if there had been considerable intermarriage.
Tahir was now staring at Fikri as if he had seen a ghost.
"Are you well, my friend?" asked Faramir. "Come, sit down." He ushered the Ambassador to the chair that Aragorn had just vacated. Meanwhile, the King poured out a glass of water and felt Tahir's pulse. It was racing.
Tahir took a long drink of water, his eyes never leaving Fikri while he drank. Aragorn and Faramir waited patiently for him to speak. "I believe this boy my kinsman to be," he said at last. Then he started to weep.
Faramir placed a comforting arm around the ambassador's shoulders. Aragorn turned his attention back to the still sleeping Fikri, tucking the blankets around him and feeling his brow.
"Your pardon, esteemed friends," said Tahir once he had recovered his composure.
"Do not trouble yourself," said Faramir.
"You know this boy? "asked Aragorn.
"My father, may his soul forever dwell in the celestial oasis, had many concubines as well as many wives," said Tahir. "I have so many brothers and sisters that some I hardly know. One of my father's lesser concubines bore him a daughter, Dima, who was married to Badar, a good man of our tribe once she came of age. They had not been married long when she bore him a son whom they named Fathi. Before our boy children are fully weaned, we dedicate them to the Lord and Lady of the Moon by tattooing the markings on the soles of their feet, together with the sign of our tribe on their arm. It is our custom."
Aragorn and Faramir nodded. They had learned to respect what often seemed very strange customs of other lands.
"I saw the boy but once. It was at the wedding of one of my brothers," Tahir continued. "He was a comely child, well worthy of our tribe. During that time, the Dark Lord's power was at its height and war was looming. My tribe lived in fear of the then Kha Khan who was a son of Suhayb. His men harried our tribe without mercy. They came one night to where Dima and her husband dwelt and slew the whole household without mercy. I know not exactly what torments they endured before they were slain, for I was serving with the great army at that time. I know only what I was told. My kinsfolk buried my sister and her household, but of the child's body, no trace was found. We believed he had been taken to sacrifice on Sauron's altar. It seems now that they let him live. I am certain that Fikri is Fathi, my sister-son!"
"One of the soldiers must have taken pity on the boy," said Faramir, who had listened in amazement to the story.
"Maybe it was a man who had no son of his own," said Tahir. "If a man did not give sufficient boys to Sauron's host, he could be punished. We lived through dark times. Alas that my sister-son should be bearing arms against you! What do you plan to do with him, esteemed friends?" Tahir slid from the chair and dropped to his knees. "Please, of you I beg not to slay him!"
"Please, my friend, you have no need to kneel!" Aragorn gently raised Tahir to his feet. "We sent for you because we seek your counsel what to do with the lad. He has suffered enough already for he is sore wounded and may never use his sword arm properly again. I am at a loss, though, as I cannot send him back to Harad. I would be happy to deliver the boy into your keeping. "
"Fikri has good in him and tried to help me," said Faramir. "I believe he was led astray, especially now I learn that he was as much a captive as I was."
"May you forever dwell in a peaceful oasis, esteemed friends!" said Tahir. "I shall take Fathi into my household and teach him to turn towards the light of the Lord and Lady of the Moon."
"It might be a hard task," Aragorn warned.
"Fathi is of my tribe so I must succeed," said Tahir.
The last rays of the setting sun were streaming through the window when Fikri next opened his eyes. He groaned and glared at the occupants of the room. Aragorn was immediately at his side. The King raised a cup of water to the boy's lips. Fikri swallowed, then turned his head away and closed his eyes tightly.
"I have someone here for you to meet, lad," said Aragorn. He beckoned Tahir to come forward.
"Leave me be, tark!" Fikri muttered without opening his eyes.
"Do not speak so disrespectfully to my chosen brothers, kinsman," said Tahir.
Fikri's eyes opened wide at the sound of his own tongue spoken by a native speaker. "You are no kinsman of mine, tark friend!" he protested.
"You are wrong, boy," Tahir said sternly. "It ill befits a young man to show so little respect for the elders of his tribe."
"Who are you?" Fikri repeated. "You cannot be of my tribe if you mingle with these enemies!"
"I am Tahir, son of Nasih, of the tribe of Wakil; Ambassador from the Kha Khan of all Harad to Gondor," said Tahir. "And you are my sister- son, Fathi."
"No!" screamed Fikri. "I am Fikri son of Aaghaa, of the great tribe of Suhayb."
"That is what they wanted you to believe," said Tahir. "You were taken by men without honour when you were very young. They slew your true mother and father."
"Lies!" cried Fikri. "Lord Zafir was my kinsman who took me in when my parents died of fever. These tarks have slain one who was as a father to me. He will be avenged!"
"Zafir most likely slew your true sire. You bear the mark of our tribe on your arm and of our Lord and Lady on your feet. Just like I do and all the brothers of your tribe," said Tahir.
"You lie!" Fikri repeated. "No man knows another's markings unless he be a brother of their tribe."
Tahir turned to Aragorn and Faramir. "Could you stop any other from entering this room for a little while, esteemed friends?" he asked.
"Of course," said Faramir. He went to speak to the guard at the door then came back inside, turning the key in the door behind him.
Tahir was already pulling off his boots and stockings, swiftly followed by his robes until he stood before them wearing only his drawers. Fikri gaped at him in astonishment.
"There, boy!" cried the Ambassador, thrusting his upper arm towards Fikri. "Behold the mark of our tribe." He sat down and stretched out his feet. "And there are the signs of the Lord and Lady who protect us both! I bear too, many other markings showing my allegiances."
Aragorn again pulled aside Fikri's sleeve, revealing the identical tattoo to Tahir's. Fikri burst into tears.
"It is not so bad, lad," said Tahir, pulling his robes back on. "You are kin to the Kha Khan, as well as to me. His father's uncle and your grandsire, were brothers, may their souls dwell forever in the shade of the celestial oasis."
"I have nothing left, nothing!" Fikri sobbed. "I possess not even a stitch of clothing and you tell me even my name is not mine own!"
"You have a family who will welcome you and a chance for a new life." Tahir drew Fikri into his arms. "Welcome home, sister- son. Long did we believe you were lost to us."
Fikri continued to sob piteously, but he neither struggled nor pulled away.
Aragorn and Faramir looked at one another, then at Tahir.
"We have work to do," said Faramir. "We will leave you two to become better acquainted, but will be within earshot if you need us.
The two left the room and went into Faramir's study.
"Fikri might well have a future now," said Faramir.
"I hope so," Aragorn sounded far from convinced. "Tahir will have to watch the boy like a hawk, or he might well take his own life. He will find it very hard to become accustomed to a completely different way of life, a new name, a new family, and a new faith."
"Tahir is a patient man and will help him. I believe he will succeed," said Faramir. "Strange indeed are the ways of the Valar that my capture led to the discovery of Tahir's kinsman."
"It gladdens my heart you are both free now," said Aragorn.
In a sudden change of mood, Faramir laughed and gestured ruefully towards the heap of papers on his desk. "These documents will now hold me captive," he said. "I had better ensure that I am free of them before Éowyn returns on the morrow. Yet, after believing I was about to burn on the pyre even perusing state papers will feel like bliss!"
"I still would prefer fighting Orcs to reading trade agreements!" said Aragorn, but he was smiling. "You have more patience than I, ion nîn.
The importance of the ritual markings is further explored in "East is East" and "Brothers of the Tribe." I did intend to conclude the story here, but my Muse had other ideas!