Lament for a Dying Son|
Summary: Inspired by a conversation between myself and my friend, Nina, in which she described coming across a dying sheep found lying in the rain. The opening sentence is hers and is used with permission.
‘But I say to you, love your enemies.... that you may be children of your heavenly father, for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.’
— Matthew 5: 44-45
No one should have to die like this — all alone, lying in the rain.
Zimrathôr lay there, gasping out his life, the rain mingling with his blood, forming a reddish pool about him. He could no longer feel his lower extremities and there was a darkness encroaching upon him that had nothing to do with the fact that the sky was overcast. He idly wiped the rain from his face, not sure if he wasn’t also wiping away tears, wondering where it had all gone wrong.
He remembered clearly the day his attô had called him into his study....
Zimrazagar, Lord of Pharazkhibil, a small fiefdom of Umbar, was not the most important lord of that land, but neither was he the least. He had the favor of Umbar’s ruler, and that counted for much in a land where loyalties shifted as easily as one exchanged one tunic for another. Zimrathôr was his firstborn and heir, and he had only just turned sixteen. It was a lovely early spring day, cool and refreshing, the summer heat still two months away. The gentle breeze that wafted through the open casements of his attô’s study brought pleasing scents of jasmine and honeysuckle. He could hear his sisters and baby brother, not quite three, playing somewhere in the garden, their squeals of delight bringing a smile to his lips even as he entered the study.
“Did you wish to see me, Attô?” Zimrathôr asked.
Zimrazagar looked up from the document he was studying and nodded, giving his eldest child a warm smile. “Yes, my son,” he said, waving the boy into the room. “I’ve received news from the capital. The Phazagân has given his permission for me to lead the raid against Dol Amroth next month.”
Zimrathôr’s eyes widened in surprise. Lord Belzagar was the ruler of Umbar and only he could declare a raid and appoint the one to lead the fleet. For Belzagar to appoint Zimrazagar to the coveted position of Balak-bâr was a great honor indeed. Zimrathôr knew that there were others at court who would feel that Zimrazagar of Pharazkhibil was not worthy of such a high position.
“A great honor, Attô,” he said. “I am surprised, though, that Lord Belzagar has appointed you to lead the fleet.”
“Oh?” Zimrazagar said with a raised eyebrow, though there was a twinkle in his eyes that told Zimrathôr that he was not affronted by his son’s words.
“All know that Lord Sakalôhîn has been canvassing for that position since the end of the last raiding season after Lord Azrubêl died.”
“And perhaps that is why the Phazagân has appointed me,” Zimrazagar said with a smile. “At any rate, I wished to inform you that I would like you to join me.”
“Truly?” Zimrathôr exclaimed in delight. “I did not think I would be allowed on a raid as yet.”
“It is true that I normally would have left you behind were I just one sea-captain among many on this particular raid, for you are still over-young to be a part of such a dangerous venture, but as I am Balak-bâr for this raid, I would like you to be with me. Your tutors assure me that you can handle yourself well. Time to see just how well you can do....”
Zimrathôr bit back a moan of shame and despair, the memory of that day when everything was bright and warm and full of hope mocking him as he lay there on the beach of Dol Amroth waiting to die.
“I’m sorry Attô,” he sobbed, unable to keep the tears at bay any longer. “I didn’t do well at all.”
He recalled the pride he had felt stepping aboard the flag ship Aglarrâma beside his attô, his ammê and his sisters and little brother waving farewell from the quay. He relived the pride he had felt at the way even Lord Sakalôhîn had bowed to Zimrazagar. He remembered the pride he had felt at the confidence his attô had had in him when he had given his son his own troop of raiders to command. True, it was only a small band of about ten younger men, the youngest still four years older than he, and he was not sure if they did not resent him being their leader. He had the feeling that his attô had given these young men to him so that they could watch over him and make sure he survived.
Zimrathôr chuckled grimly at that thought. If that was their mission, they had failed miserably. He wondered if any of them had survived and sighed, his memory flitting back and forth, visiting first one scene and then another — training with the young men on the deck of the ship as it crossed over to the Bay of Belfalas, watching the dolphins playing around the fleet, swilling the grog that one of the young men had secretly pilfered and then getting thoroughly sick, hanging over the railing for dear life as his insides decided they would rather be on the outside, feeling his attô’s gentle hands soothing him and hearing his attô’s laugh as he begged him to let him die.
He licked dry lips, wishing he had some water or wine or even that vile brew the ship’s crew drank.
Where had it gone wrong? His attô’s plan had seemed sound enough at the time: a small band of raiders, mostly the young men on their first raid, with a few of the oldtimers along to keep an eye on them, would attack a nearby fishing village with the intent on capturing slaves while Zimrazagar led the rest of the fleet to attack Dol Amroth as a diversionary tactic. One ship would remain in the cove to pick up the raiders and their booty, then join the rest of the fleet as it sailed back to Umbar.
He thought back to the early morning when he set out to join with the raiders and his attô’s words to him....
Zimrazagar gave Zimrathôr a fierce hug while all around them the crew busied themselves with their tasks. “Fight well, my son,” he whispered into his son’s ear. “Make me proud.”
“I will, Attô,” Zimrathôr said, hoping the butterflies in his stomach would not give him away. He did not want his attô to think he was afraid, even though deep down he knew he was.
Zimrazagar smiled at him. In the predawn darkness it was hard to see anything, for the lights on the ships had been doused long before they had ever reached the cove where the fleet was anchored. Zimrazagar had chosen the site well. It was a small cove about a mile or so east of Dol Amroth. In spite of its nearness to the Prince’s capital, it was empty of habitation. There was not even a single fishing shack, making it an ideal place for landfall.
“Remember all that your tutors and I have taught you, my son, and you will do well,” Zimrazagar said, giving him a kiss. “I will be here, waiting for your triumphant return....”
Zimrathôr moaned as the memory swept over him. There would be no triumphant return for him now. He wondered if his body would even be recovered. He half hoped it would not be, for he felt the shame of his failure. He swiped futilely at the rain still falling about him. It had not been raining when they came ashore. In fact, the day had dawned fair. He remembered how strange his legs had felt when he first stepped ashore after weeks at sea. The land had lurched in disconcerting ways and he noticed the smug grins on some of the young men in his group as he attempted to walk with some dignity, following the older raiders in their band of about fifty men whose objective was the fishing village which lay in the next cove over. He thought of his attô’s promise to let him claim one of the captives for himself. He had smiled at the thought as he trudged through the dunes toward the higher ground that would lead them around the headland to the next cove. He would like to have his own personal slave instead of having to make do with those of his attô’s household. He thought if he could capture a likely looking lad of about nine or ten, he would be able to train him up into a proper slave. Any older and the boy would have to be beaten constantly until he either resigned himself to his lot or died.
In spite of himself, Zimrathôr snorted in derision at that thought. No slave for him. Instead, if he managed to live, he would most likely be sold into slavery.
He might as well be, useless as he was as a raider. That thought stopped him and he felt the hot tears coming again. He, the son of Lord Zimrazagar of Pharazkhibil a slave! Better to die than to bring such shame to his family.
Yet, the venture had started well. They had reached the outskirts of the village in good time with the sun just beginning to rise behind them, which was as his attô had planned. Zimrathôr and the others looked down on the village, drawing their scimitars in readiness. The leader of their band, a grizzled old salt by the name of Imâr, who was missing an eye and two fingers, testaments of a lifetime of raiding, stared down at the village still apparently asleep, for there was no movement or sound anywhere, not even the barking of dogs or the crowing of cocks. No one was about and he now realized that that was their first clue that something was not right....
Zimrathàr wondered impatiently why they didn’t just go down and start taking captives, but the old raider who led them held them there while the sun rose higher. Zimrathôr watched the man as he frowned down upon the village.
“Too quiet,” he whispered.
“Aye,” one of the other men said. “Do we chance it?”
“I would say nay, but these youngsters will want to try their mettle,” the leader replied and Zimrathôr noticed that he was not the only one of the younger men to bristle at the implied insult.
“To go back empty-handed would be shameful,” one of the younger men muttered.
“To go back dead would be even more so,” the leader retorted.
Zimrathôr wasn’t sure what to feel. He wanted badly to prove to his attô that he was as capable as the next man in a raid, but he knew that as the youngest, his voice would carry little weight, for all that he was the son of the Balak-bâr. He hoped, though, that the raid would go on. The thought of returning to his attô without ever lifting his scimitar did not set well with him. He feared his attô would not let him go on another raid for a very long time.
Finally, though, after what seemed like hours, but was only a few minutes, the old raider decided they would risk it. “Keep your eyes open,” he admonished them. “Remember to keep yourself between the sun and your target so that they are fighting blind.”
With that, he signaled for them to follow him. Zimrathôr felt someone nudge him and looked up to see Ulbar, one of the young men assigned to his troop. He was a swarthy-looking man and Zimrathôr suspected he had Haradi ancestry somewhere in his background. “Don’t do anything stupid,” Ulbar whispered in a not unkindly voice and Zimrathôr nodded, afraid to say anything right then as they made their way as quietly as possible down the headland, spreading out to come upon the village from different angles. Zimrathôr and his troop were heading towards one particular cottage on the outskirts of the village, using trees and bushes and even the occasional large boulder for cover. There was still no sign of any movement within the village and now Zimrathôr was beginning to feel concern, wondering if they were about to raid an empty village, for he could not detect even the faintest evidence of life.
“Old Imâr was right,” he whispered to Ulbar as the two crouched behind a large flowering bush. “This place is much too quiet.” Ulbar nodded but said nothing. Together the two scanned the area before them. The house that was their target lay only a few short feet away and they could see the back door that must lead to the kitchen. Ulbar pointed to the door. “When Imâr gives the signal, I’ll take some of our lads through the back door while you and the others go into the front.”
Zimrathôr nodded and then he heard the call of the magpie that was the signal to attack. He and Ulbar rose at the same time and stepped around the bush from opposite directions with the others following. Zimrathôr had taken only a few steps when he heard a strangled cry and looked up in time to see Ulbar falling to the ground with an arrow through his throat.
“It’s a trap!” someone screamed and immediately, men wearing the liveries of Gondor and Dol Amroth began pouring out of the cottages and arrows began to fly.
Zimrathôr stood rooted on the spot, staring in disbelief at the sight of the young man lying dead just a few feet from him. Then, someone grabbed him, shouting something incomprehensible, and he was moving again, though not away from the village, but towards it, raising his scimitar in defense as he spied a Gondorian soldier running towards him with death in his eyes. Even as he yelled something in defiance, or perhaps fear, meeting the soldier’s attack with his upraised scimitar, he wondered whose death those eyes portended....
Zimrathôr started coughing, pain wracking him. That had been his death that he had seen in the man’s eyes. He was not even sure when he was struck down. He couldn’t remember if he ever got the chance to blood his scimitar. He wondered if any of the other raiders had survived and if his attô would ever learn of his fate. What would he think if he knew that his son had been unable to wield his scimitar properly and had been struck down almost at the first? He did not know....
Another coughing fit swept through him and the pain was excruciating. How long had he lain there? He felt hot and cold at the same time and he found it difficult to focus his eyes properly. How long would it take for him to die, alone with the damnable rain, and what would happen if the Gondorians found him alive first? He shivered with more than fever at that thought and then a third spasm of coughing caught him and in the haze of his pain he felt more than saw someone kneeling beside him, holding him gently and pressing a beaker against his cracked lips. Cool water flowed down his throat, easing the rawness brought about by his coughing. When the water was gone he opened his eyes to see who held him, but it was difficult to make out details. He had the impression of dark hair and grey eyes but not much more.
“A-attô?” he rasped, speaking hesitantly. “Attô?”
“Hush. I am here, my son.”
Zimrathôr frowned, for the voice did not sound much like his attô, but the pain he was in prevented him from thinking too clearly. He started weeping again. “Oh, Attô, I’m so sorry.”
“What are you sorry about, zirân?”
“I... I didn’t fight very well,” he admitted, hating to sound so weak before his attô.
“Shh. It is well. I know you fought as best you could.”
“But it wasn’t good enough,” Zimrathôr insisted. “I’m n-not worthy to... to be your son.”
He felt his attô holding him closer, rocking him as if he were no older than his little brother. “No, my son. You are full worthy. Do not fret. I know you are very brave. Now, can you tell Attô your name?”
“Wh-why?” Zimrathôr glanced up in confusion, trying to see his attô’s face, but the darkness that surrounded him prevented him from seeing anything clearly.
“Often when someone is hurt as badly as you, the shock causes them to forget who they are,” came the curious answer.
“Oh,” Zimrathôr said meekly. “I didn’t know that.”
“And now you do. So, tell me your name, my son. Tell me who you are and whose son you are.”
“Zi-zimrathôr, son of Zimrazagar, L-lord of Pharazkhibil, and... and Balak-bár,” he answered, then went into another bout of coughing. He felt his attô hold him tight and then more water flowed down his throat. He started crying again, weeping softly out of a profound sense of weakness. “I w-wanted you to b-be proud of me, Attô, but I di-didn’t....”
“It’s all right, Zimrathôr. Attô is very proud of you. You are my beloved. I could do no less than to be proud of you and to love you.”
“Even though I’m n-not a v-very good raider?” Zimrathôr asked meekly.
In answer his attô held him closer, planting a kiss on his forehead. Zimrathôr tried to open his eyes, but the effort proved too much. “Ni-zira, Attô,” he whispered.
“Ni-zira, thôr ’n ni,” his attô said and then he heard him humming a lullaby, one that was not familiar to him, yet it was soothing and comforting and it followed him into a darkness that nonetheless seemed very bright....
“He’s dead, then?”
Thorongil looked up from where he knelt, holding the young Umbarian, and saw Prince Adrahil standing there and nodded.
“Just as well,” the prince said with a sigh. “I would only have had to hang him otherwise. What was he mumbling about?”
“He was calling for his father,” Thorongil replied, gently brushing the hair out of the youngster’s eyes. The rain had finally stopped and the sun was beginning to peep out from behind the storm clouds. “He thought he was a bad raider and wanted reassurance that I still loved him.”
Thorongil gave the Prince of Dol Amroth an amused smile. “He thought I was his father. I decided not to disabuse him of that notion. He was dying. There was nothing I could do to save him. It was the least I could do, to help ease his passing.”
Adrahil gave a snort. “He’s an Umbarian raider, Captain Thorongil. You should have just eased his passing by giving him the mercy stroke.”
Thorongil glared at the prince and the intensity of his expression caused the older man to step back in surprise. “He is a child, not much older than your own son. If it were Imrahil lying here, would you not want someone comforting him in his final minutes, even a stranger?”
Adrahil grimaced at the image the captain’s words evoked and he looked upon the young Umbarian with gentler eyes and nodded. Thorongil rose, scooping the boy’s body into his arms.
“What do you intend to do?” Adrahil asked. “We’ll be putting the bodies of the raiders to the flame. My men are already piling the wood for the pyre.”
“The Umbarian flag ship is still at Dol Amroth, is it not?” Thorongil asked.
“Yes, of course.” Adrahil answered, looking perplexed.
“And I believe we have the leader, the balak-bâr, I think is his title.”
“And so?” Adrahil asked impatiently.
“This is his son,” Thorongil replied. “I mean to bring him back to him.”
“But I’ll be executing the father soon enough,” Adrahil retorted. “What point is there in bringing the lad all the way to Dol Amroth when he’s already dead?”
Thorongil sighed, not sure how to express to this prince the obligation he felt towards the young lad who lay in his arms, growing cold and stiff. “I think a father has the right to mourn his son, if only for a little time,” he finally answered and Adrahil looked suitably abashed.
“Yes,” he said with chagrin. “You are correct. Here, I’ll take him.” With that he reached out and Thorongil surrendered the body to him. Together, prince and captain made their way down to the boat waiting for them. Sailors took the body long enough for Adrahil to clamber aboard with Thorongil beside him and then placed the body back in their prince’s arms. A moment later the boat was on its way to the ship that would take them back to Dol Amroth and Zimrathôr son of Zimrazagar of Pharazkhibil went with them.
Words are Adûnaic.
Pharazkhibil: Golden Spring.
Phazagân: Conquerer; here, used as a title of the chief lord of Umbar.
Balak-bâr: Ship-lord; here used as a title of the person leading the Umbarian fleet on a raid against their traditional enemies of Gondor.
Sakalôhîn: Child of the Shore.
Imâr: Of unknown meaning, an attested name in Adûnaic.
Ulbar: Of unknown meaning, an attested name in Adûnaic.
Ni-zira, thôr ’n ni: ‘I love you, my son’.