Notes: Very AU, because I'm messing around with quite a few things. I've been doing some reading up on the Harad since this idea came to me, and though some of the information I got fit my purposes, not all of it did. So this story is going to use parts of how Tolkien wrote Harad and its people.
Notes2: People of Harad speak Haradaic, which I cannot find a dictionary for. If anyone knows of one, let me know. But for now, I'm employing a lot of Hindi and Punjabi terms and names.
Notes3: Title from the Evanescence song "Tourniquet"
Notes4: Forgot this the first time, this story is heavily inspired by the real life story of the Bandit Queen from India. Make what you will of her, the lady is definitely interesting.
It was spring and the days were mild at most, the heat of summer still some ways off. It was a pleasant day, one that she would rather spend at the river side, playing with her friends. Actually, she would prefer to spend the day indoors, doing her chores, rather than doing what she was doing at this current moment.
She huffed, brushing clumps of her brown hair off her sweaty forehead, mouth turned downwards in an unhappy frown. Her brother merely scoffed at her look, pushing forward with his attack, his own expression unhappy with her performance. It didn't take long for him to kick her weapon away and send the girl falling backwards.
Ashur shook his head, ignoring the wounded pout on her face. Lalita watched as her older brother merely picked up her wooden sword and handed it back to her, signalling that he wanted her to try again.
"I don't want to," she muttered sullenly, folding her arms across her chest and remaining seated on the ground.
"You have to," was the curt reply from her brother.
"Why?" she demanded, still refusing to take her weapon back. Her brother scowled, stomping his foot and glowering.
"Lalita, stop being such a child and get on your feet!"
"No!" she retorted hotly. "I don't want to. It's stupid and pointless! What do I care for swordplay?"
"Lalita, on your feet before I call father," was the terse reply. She set her chin stubbornly, glaring at her brother with unbridled rage. It seemed a full out shouting match was on the horizon before the soft sounds of someone coughing broke through the tense silence. She looked up to see her other brother emerging from their cottage, an amused grin on his face.
"Maybe it has been enough for one day," Amrik suggested to his twin. "She has been practicing since the early morning hours."
"Her method is sloppy," Ashur objected. "She doesn't stay focused on the task. She's easily distracted, prone to getting angry and then making silly mistakes. She'd be dead in under minute if we were truly under attack-"
"We have never been under attack," Lalita protested, scrambling to her feet and slapping the dirt off the back of her dress. Ashur just shook his head at her, stopping only when Amrik held up his hand for silence.
"You've never seen us under attack," he calmly corrected his younger sister. "But that does not mean we have never been in danger. Khand is a land of turmoil, little sister. Many times armies have marched through our lands, pillaging and burning as they go. The Corsairs of Umbar have little use for us, other than that we stand between them and the Dark Lands."
"The Corsairs of Umbar are in Umbar, not Khand."
"The Corsairs are moving," Ashur interjected angrily. "They're moving towards Mordor again, and we are going to get caught in the middle again. Open your eyes little sister, dark days are coming and if you had any sense in you, you would take these lessons seriously. We cannot always be there to fight for you, especially not if the evil of Mordor is set loose again. Days are coming in which it will be Khandrim against Haradrim-"
"We are Haradrim," Lalita corrected peevishly.
"No sister, we are anything but," Amrik responded before Ashur could lose his temper. "We were never truly part of the Haradrim, not in the past and certainly not in the present. The Tower Lords hate us and we hate them. They are not our true leaders, they have no right to rule us as they do. I know you don't realize that yet sister, but the day will come when the true king of the Khandrim shows his face and everyone in this land will rise up behind him."
"You've been speaking with that Caim again," Lalita commented dryly. "You know Mama doesn't want you near him. She says he fills your head with crazy ideas."
"And yet Mama agrees that you should learn how to use a sword lest you fall prey to one," Ashur reminded her. "And don't speak of Caim in such a way. He is a great man-"
"Sonum's mother says he is a deserter," Lalita insisted, her face angry. "She says that if the Corsairs do come into the Khand, it will be so they can find him and kill him for his cowardice."
"Sonum's mother is wrong," Ashur growled. "Caim wants to help us, people like Sonum's mother are too blind to see that we need that help. Melghan and the other Tower Lords are keen to join with the Dark One again, and they will attempt to keep the passage through Khand by any means necessary. They will rampage through here little sister, it's only a matter of time. Already Lukthil has been spotted terrorizing the western borders of Khand. It won't be long until they are here."
Lalita huffed at her brother's words, reluctantly taking back her sword when he held it out to her again. Pouting, she stepped back into position and tried to work her way through all those moves the brothers had taught her.
She was more than a bit upset with her brothers. Just because she was a mere thirteen years while they were eighteen did not mean that she was some stupid child. Whether or not the Tower Lords were marching on Khand, it still did not mean that Caim was right. Lalita never believed a word that the man said about anything, Tower Lords or otherwise. He was a deserter, a former Captain of the Guard that fled his post when he failed to properly serve his lords. Sonum's mother had told her this just the other day. And even if Ashur was right and Sonum's mother knew nothing, Lalita could not make herself believe that Caim would bring the salvation of Khand. All this talk about the royal house of Khand was nonsense. The last known descendant of the ancient royal line had been killed just five years before. The Tower Lords had caught up with him in the Haradwaith and executed him on the spot. The royal house of Khand was no more and Caim did nothing for the people by leading them to believe that their king still survived.
Mama had been the one to say it before, and Lalita believed her entirely. Caim just caused trouble wherever he went. He would lead all these impressionable young men to their deaths if he acted on all his promises. And as annoyed as she was with her older brother, she did not want to see Ashur, or any of the older boys, dead because of that crazy old soldier.
"Pay attention!" Ashur barked at her. She snapped to attention but it was useless at this point. Again her sword was knocked out of her hands and she was sent sprawling to the ground.
"You really do need more practice," Amrik sighed, helping her to her feet. Lalita just scowled at him, picking up her sword without being told and sullenly facing her other brother once more.
"All they ever do is bother me about it!"
Lalita stomped her feet as she led the way down to the riverside, finally being granted a reprieve from her brothers. Her friend Navir followed behind her and his little brother Shakti trudging alongside them. Shakti has laughing silently at the fuss Lalita was making and Navir was trying desperately to quiet him. Lalita was in a bad mood right now and Shakti did not want to end up being the focus of her anger. Navir knew from experience that that would be bad.
"They act like the whole country is ready for war," Lalita continued. "And that there are Tower Lords and Corsairs lurking around every corner when everyone knows it a ridiculous idea. Why would the Corsairs wage war on us?"
"Because of they're afraid that the Khandrim king is still alive," Shakti answered quickly before Navir could shush him. Lalita just snorted at this comment, picking up her pace.
"The Khandrim king was killed," she muttered darkly. "There's no one left. Next you will be telling me that the King of Gondor is on his way home."
"Funny how similar those stories are," Navir mused.
"They aren't really," Lalita retorted. "The King of Gondor was been heralded to retake the throne for centuries now. All this nonsense about the Khandrim king only started once Caim and his followers started causing a racket about it."
"That's not fair Lalita," Navir chided her. "You know that Caim is a well respected man in these parts-"
"And for what?" Lalita demanded, spinning around and placing her hands stubbornly on her hips. "For causing everyone to jump into a panic? For making my family so paranoid that my father insists I sleep with a dagger under my pillow? For bringing Lukthil and his men here in the first place? Caim has brought more trouble to Khand than the Corsairs ever did."
"That's your mother talking," Navir glowered.
"And just what is wrong with talking like my mother?" Lalita demanded, spinning around with her hands on her hips. "Have you something to say about my mother, dear Navir? Please, do tell."
"Uh-oh," Shakti muttered under his breath, taking a decisive step away from his brother and out of Lalita's sight.
"Traitor," Navir hissed at him, watching his friend uncertainly and wondering if there really was anyway for him to smooth things over.
"Well?" she demanded, tapping her foot angrily on the ground. Navir rolled his eyes, his own irritation flaring up once more as he finally answered.
"Your mother is frightened and she refuses to see what is right before her eyes. Whether or not Caim had come to Khand, the Tower Lords would still have rampaged through our lands. Something evil grows in the north, the Dark One is stirring. The Tower Lords will not waste any time in rushing to his side."
"The Dark One is gone," Lalita insisted. "We all know that. The stories-"
"There are other stories," Navir cut her off. "Stories your mother hasn't told you yet. You know those traders who came into the village about four months ago? Do you know where they came from?"
She glowered and reluctantly shook her head.
"They came from the north," he told her. "From the mountain terrain. They saw it with their own two eyes and the shock of it sent them flying back to Khand for safety."
"Saw what?" Lalita demanded peevishly.
"Smoke, coming from the Dark Land. The Mountain of Doom is stirring again, the Orcs are marching through there in large numbers, and the tower . . . They said they saw the tower being rebuilt."
"Gonder would not stand for it!" Lalita denied vehemently. "Gondor would stop such a thing from happening-"
"Gondor cannot pass the Black Gate," Navir reminded her. "The Dark One is rebuilding his strength slowly and surely. If you really think Gondor would be able to stop him, you have been putting too much faith in those stories your father tells you. We are not children anymore Lalita and we have to face facts. The Dark One is gaining strength and he will probably return before our time here is done. And the Tower Lords will pillage their way through Khand before the end comes."
Lalita shook her head at his melodramatic tone. "It sounds to me like you are the one who puts too much faith in stories dear Navir. How could anyone recover from what the free armies did to the Dark One all those years ago?"
"The Dark One can and will," Navir shot back at her.
"Could you two stop fighting already?" Shakti snapped suddenly. "We have to return home before sunset and it is already midday and we have not yet reached the river. I want to swim, not listen to you two fight like idiots. I can do that everyday."
"Watch your mouth little brother," Navir warned him, giving the younger boy a push down the trail. "Fine then, let's move."
Lalita gave her friend a hard look before falling in line. Silently the three youths made their way to the water, Shakti jumping and splashing his way in almost immediately. Navir gave him a good wallop for his rashness, reminding him that he could only go so far away from shore. Lalita ignored both brothers, settling herself down on a nearby rock and gathering some dried up leaves in her hand.
Navir joined her shortly, a sharp eye kept on his brother as Shakti waded about in the shallow end of the water, bending down here and there to examine something interesting below the water.
"I am sorry for arguing," he told her without looking at her. She grunted slightly in response, taking a leaf by the stem and twirling it listlessly before her face.
"You're going to join Caim, aren't you?" she whispered sadly. Navir stiffened and then nodded.
"Father agrees with me," he shrugged. "When I am old enough, I will join him."
"Father has joined him, Amrik and Ashur have joined him, and now you," Lalita shook her head and let her leaf fall to the ground. "Why are all boys so stupid? He is going to get you killed."
"But at the very least we will take some of the Corsairs with us," Navir replied shortly.
"Perhaps it is in the blood of men to be stupid," Lalita mused quietly in response. Navir held his tongue and continued to watched Shakti in the water. After a bit, Lalita went to join his brother, wading in the water with her dress gathered up to her calves.
When Navir joined them, she was actually smiling again, seemingly deciding to leave the problems of home at home for the time being. This was their special area, the place they can to play and to relax. Anxiety and fear could wait for them in the village, but for a few hours today, they would play like the children they were once not too long ago.
"Is that smoke?"
Lalita stopped and looked to where Shakti was pointing. And sure enough, there was smoke rising up towards the sky, just beyond the edge of the trees. It was black smoke, burning smoke, the kind of smoke that did not come from a mere campside fire. For them to see it from the trees meant that something very large was on fire.
"Navir," Lalita muttered shakily, fear seizing her heart for reasons unknown to her. It seemed to her that she should move, should push on to find out what caused that smoke. But some part of her told her that she did not truly want to know.
"It's coming from the village!"
Navir's words cut through her and Lalita felt a numb sort of feeling enter her limbs. Navir shot past her, running through the bushes and the trees at great speed, his younger brother right behind him. She followed on shaky legs, stumbling through the woods in the direction of her home. She couldn't see her friends but she could hear them. She followed the sound of their voices right to the edge of the woods before she found them huddled behind a bunch of bushes.
"Get over here!" Navir whispered to her. "They're still there."
It did not occur to her to ask him who 'they' were. She ran to him, sinking to the ground and laying as flat as she could. The left side of her face was pressed to the cold earth, leaving to look directly into Shakti's eyes. The younger boy's breath came in ragged gasps, his dark brown eyes filled with some unnamed terror. He reached for her hand and she gave it to her, squeezing his smaller hand in comfort.
Navir sank down on her other side, a hand on her back keeping her pressed to the ground. She couldn't hear anything other than his loud breathing, blinking back tears and wondering what on earth they were hiding from.
She heard the horses so suddenly that she almost jumped. Navir gripped her shoulder tightly and forced her to stay down. The sounds of stampeding hooves got louder and louder, mingling with the sounds of cruel laughs and jeers, before very slowly dying out.
Lalita shifted, wanting to move almost right away. But Navir held her still once more, motioning for Shakti to stay down. He kept them there for quite some time, an hour or so by her guess, until he thought it was safe for them to emerge. Navir led the way out the trees, eyes open and alert for any sign of trouble. Lalita stumbled alongside him, the fear in her heart growing for very second that she was away from her home. They made to the clearing in record time, stumbling out into the sunshine.
At first she did not see the carnage around her. She blinked once or twice under the blinding light of the sun the scent of smoke so heavy on the air that she nearly choked. When she did realize what lay before her, a shocked scream erupted from her legs.
"Mother! Father!" she shrilled, scrambling towards her burning home. Navir followed her, Shakti trailing behind with tearful whimpers. She ran to the front door, getting it open before Navir was able to pull her back. A cloud of smoke flew into their faces and she choked on the fumes, still struggling to get out of her friend's hold.
"You can't go it there!" Navir shouted at her. "You can't-"
"Mother!" she shrieked in response, grabbing at the side of the doorway and searching what she could see of the inside desperately. She saw nothing other than smoke and flames before Navir yanked her away. He pushed her some distance from the house, ignoring the curses and demands she flung at him.
"My home is on fire too!" he shook her. "But we can't go in there. It's too dangerous!"
"Where is everyone?" Shakti wailed from beside his brother. The young boy held onto the hem of his brother's shirt and bawled hysterically, shouting out the names of his family much like Lalita.
Lalita screamed in anger, tears pouring down her cheeks as she watched her home burn. Navir ignored her screams, propelling both her and his brother away from their homes and towards the village.
He had not been expecting the bloodbath that awaited for them there.
Lalita took one look at the bodies littering the ground between the burning cottages and felt her stomach begin to churn. She fell out of Navir's arms, retching violently onto the bloodied grass. Shakti was screeching now, pointing to the bodies he recognized. She heard him scream her brother's name, looking up to see Amrik dead with a straight red slit aross his throat. The front of his clothes were soaked red with his blood and his dead eyes remained open, the shock at the moment of his death still imprinted across his face.
Navir's legs gave out from underneath him, tears flowing down his own cheeks as he fell to the ground. He did not move to calm his brother, he did not move to check for his family among the bodies. He did not respond when Shakti shook him, he did not move when Shakti flung himself into Lalita's arm, heart-breaking sobs coming from them both. He did not move at all.
He just sat there in the dirt and watched the houses burn.