The Gift of Tongues |
I borrowed the world of “Lord of the Rings” from Tolkien and make no money from doing so.
Fadil was looking forward to going home. He had made
a tidy profit trading spices and silks for grain and wool and would
return to Harad with his camels laden. He was impatient to be on his
way for missed his wives, his children, and all the comforts of home.
He had seen enough trees and endless green expanses to last a lifetime,
the manners of the west men were appalling and as for the climate; the
least said about it the better.
He had stopped at this trading post in Umbar to water
his camels and buy supplies for the homeward journey. He instructed
his slave, Kedar, to tend to the camels and sought out an inn to quench
The tavern was a crowded one near the waterfront and
Fadil found himself idly watching his fellow customers while he sipped
his drink. The Corsairs were notable by their absence. He had heard
that they had suffered grievous losses at the hands of the Gondorians.
Fadil was not sorry; the sea raiders were a rowdy quarrelsome bunch,
far too eager to draw their knives when something annoyed them as it
He nodded to some merchants and local tradesmen. A
group of his fellow Haradrim sat at a table in the corner playing dice.
They looked like soldiers. His gaze was drawn to an exceptionally tall
young fellow who sat in a corner drinking a mug of ale, his long legs
spread out in front of him, as they would not fit comfortably beneath
the table. His pale skin and grey eyes marked him out as most likely
a tark. Fadil had little time for the arrogant Men of the West.
The room echoed with a babble of chatter in many different
tongues. Fadil considered himself something of a scholar of tongues,
his ear being quick to catch the meanings of foreign words along roads
near and far.
He took another sip of his drink. It tasted good. Was there time to
have another while Kedar saw to the camels? He would buy the lad a drink
when he finished. He was a good worker.
A sudden loud thud from outside was heard over the
chatter in the tavern followed by a scream of pain. The tall young fellow
was the first to react. He dashed outside followed at a more sedate
pace by several of the soldiers. Fearful that some ill had befallen
his camels, Fadil went outside too.
Kedar was lying in the courtyard, screaming in pain,
his leg bent an unnatural angle. A man was trying to retrain an angry
camel from kicking the young man on the ground. Fadil glanced towards
where his own camels were tethered. They were all there, much to his
relief. The tark knelt beside Kedar who screamed all the louder.
“What happened?” Fadil demanded.
Everyone started talking at once. Fadil turned and
asked the man who was holding the irate camel, who was now being helped
by the soldiers to restrain it. “I was watering my master’s camels
when this one broke loose,” he admitted, looking rather frightened.
“That fool,” he gestured towards Kedar, “was in its path and got
trampled. It’s not my fault.”
Fadil strode over to his slave and said, “Stop screaming
and get up!”
The screams subsided to a dull whimper and Kedar
replied, “I am sorry, honoured master, but I cannot. In a little while
I will be well.”
“I am a healer,” said the tall man. “Is it not
obvious to you that he is badly hurt?”
“How badly?” asked Fadil.
“I would need to examine him.”
Fadil hesitated. He was far from eager to accept help
from a tark who would doubtless make him pay through the nose for his
services. Kedar moaned in agony.
“Get on with it then!” the merchant snapped.
The Healer reached out his hand towards Kedar’s
twisted leg. The slave started to scream again and plead for mercy.
“Could you tell him, please, that I am a healer
and am trying to help him?” the tark asked Fadil. “I do not speak
The merchant scowled at the thought of taking orders
from a tark but found himself doing as he was bidden. Kedar calmed somewhat,
though his features were twisted with pain as the healer gently felt
his injured leg.
“What ails him?” Fadil asked impatiently.
“His leg is broken and he could have hurts inside,
but I would need to examine him properly to be sure,” said the healer.
One of the soldiers, who was standing nearby, drew
his dagger. “If you buy me a drink, honoured sir, I’ll solve your
problem and cut his throat for you.”
Fadil hesitated while Kedar started to whimper again;
this time in terror.
“What use is a broken slave to you?” asked the
Fadil turned to the healer who remained impervious
to the exchange and asked him in the common tongue. “Can my slave
“I cannot say yet,” said the healer. “Maybe,
I can but try.”
“Very well, tark.”
“My name is Belzager,” the healer said with dignity.
Thoroughly out of sorts at the disruption to his journey,
Fadil went back inside the inn and demanded a room for the night from
the innkeeper. He was about to ask someone to carry his slave within,
when Belzager appeared with Kedar in his arms. He must have had more
strength than was obvious in his tall lean frame for he carried Kedar
The innkeeper showed them to his best room. Fadil
was not impressed. The chamber was a fair size but shabbily furnished
with a moth eaten rug on the floor. As soon as the healer had Kedar
settled on the bed, Fadil turned to leave.
“It is better that you stay,” said Belzager. He
rummaged in his pack and took out a phial.
“I have no knowledge of healing arts,” said Fadil.
“It is best that I leave while you tend my slave.”
“I shall need assistance. Someone will have to hold
him down while I set his leg.”
“I will ask the innkeeper to send one of his servants
to help you.”
“He cannot understand a word I am saying and he
needs someone he trusts to reassure him. Ask if a servant can bring
some hot water, though.” There was an edge of authority in the healer’s
voice. Fadil wanted to protest. He had no desire to remain. He was a
wealthy merchant, not a nursemaid who obeyed a tark’s orders! Then
if truth be told, he had no wish to witness Kedar’s inevitable pain
when his leg was set.
“He will appreciate your presence.” This time
the aura of command in Belzager’s voice was unmistakable. It would
take a far braver man than Fadil to defy him. Reluctantly, he took his
place at the bedside. Kedar lay there looking at them both with an expression
of pain and fear in his eyes.
“Tell Kedar that I will give him poppy juice to
ease his pain and then I need to examine him properly,” said Belzager.
“It would help if you held his hand,” he added.
Fadil did as he was bidden.
Later that day, Kadar lay tossing in an uneasy sleep.
Fadil sat collapsed in a chair beside the bed trying without much success
to blot out his recollections of the past hours. The healer was calmly
washing his hands in a fresh bowl of water that Fadil had asked the
innkeeper to bring.
“Will my slave recover?” Fadil asked.
“He should do,” Belzager replied. “He has
two broken ribs, but I can detect no mortal hurts within. He might walk
with a limp in the future but his leg will heal.”
“And the treatment, Master Belzager?”
“I can continue to give him something for the pain,
but above all, he needs rest. With a crutch he should be able to get
out of bed tomorrow to walk as far as the privy, but no further.”
“What about travelling? I am on my way home to Harad.
I cannot tarry here as the other caravans will depart before the hot
season and we need to travel together for safety.”
“It is out of the question for him to travel for
several weeks or more, other than very short distances. It is no good
glaring at me like that, master merchant. I am a healer of some experience,
but I am not a sorcerer.”
Fadil glared at the healer again then stomped downstairs
to speak to the innkeeper. When he returned he said, “I must have
lost my wits, but I have paid for his board and lodging until I return
from now. He can help earn his keep by washing dishes or sweeping floors
when he is well enough.” The merchant glanced towards the bed wondering
whatever had come over him to spend so much money on a damaged slave.
To buy another would be far cheaper. Kedar was a good lad, though, hard-
working and with a head for figures. He could always work at the merchant’s
counting house if he remained crippled.
“Good,” said the healer. “You made the right
“I must be getting soft headed in my old age,”
Fadil snorted. “Kedar’s problems might be solved, but what of mine?
I cannot travel back to Harad on my own. Yes, I could buy another slave
at the market, but one does not trust an untested slave with valuable
merchandise. He could wait until we get to some lonely place and slit
my throat while I sleep. Well enough of my problems, Master Belzager,
you will want your fee.” The merchant rummaged in the pouch he kept
hanging from his waist.
Belzager raised a hand to stay him. “I would as
a favour instead, Master…?
“My name is Fadil son of Iyas. What is it that you
want, tark? My coin is good.”
“I doubt it not, Master Fadil, but I would instead
ask you to take me with you to Harad.”
“But why? Surely there is plenty of work for a healer
“There is all too much, but I have a desire to see
more of the world before I grow old. I would visit the East, but I speak
nothing of their language. I hoped that in exchange for my labour, and
food on the journey, you might teach me the tongue of the Men of Harad.
You speak the common tongue fluently as well as your own.”
Fadil eyed the healer doubtfully. He was slender as
a reed. Would he be strong enough for the labour? Yet he had carried
Kedar as easily as if he were a child.
“I am stronger than I look,” said Belzager, as
if reading his thoughts.
“Can you handle a camel?” asked the merchant.
“I do not know, but I can try.”
“You are a strange one indeed, Master Belzager.
Why should I take a tark with me? What healer wants to tend camels?
I wager there is something you are not telling me.”
Belzager regarded the merchant with clear grey eyes.
For a moment, there was silence. Then he said. “You judge men well,
Master Fadil. In truth, I love a lady whose hand I have little hope
of winning and I have recently had to part company with a dear friend.”
Fadil laughed. “I understand now! You seek to make
your fortune. Your beloved’s father set too high a bride price for
a healer to meet?”
“You could say that!”
“Well, a man might make a fortune trading along
the Harad Road. No matter how many camels you need to offer for your
lady, if you work hard, you will get them in good time!”
“You will take me with you then?” Belzager
Fadil grunted. “I would prefer not to, but rather
a tark than some untried slave. It is written. Only a fool crosses the
desert with a knave. I will get you some suitable clothing on the morrow.”
“What is wrong with my garb?”
“You would burn during the day and freeze during
the night in what you are wearing now. You need travelling robes. But
enough talk, let us snatch what sleep we might.”
The healer’s predictions proved correct and the
next day Kedar seemed much improved and was able to hobble out of bed
with a crutch. Fadil informed the slave of his decision. The slave’s
eyes filled with tears.
“Don’t make me regret it,” Fadil said gruffly.
“I expect you to be waiting for me here when I return.”
Fadil took Belzager to a fellow merchant who provided
him with several layers of loose robes and close fitting linen breaches
to wear beneath them that tied at both the waist and ankles to keep
out the sand. His new servant regarded the attire dubiously , but donned
it as soon as he was bidden to.
“Do you speak any tongues other than common?”
Fadil asked the healer as they prepared to set out.
“Several,” Belzager replied. “As a healer,
I must communicate with my patients. That is why I am so anxious to
learn the tongue of Harad.”
“Strange you have not troubled to try to learn it
before then,” said Fadil.
“Most of the warriors from Harad would rather fall
on their swords than seek a healer’s aid.”
“The merchants would not, though.”
“The merchants speak the common tongue in order
“We have to, as our tongue is impossible for most
outsiders to learn,” said Fadil.
“I shall master it,” said Belzager.
“We shall see.” Fadil gave a grim smile.
They set out at dawn the next day upon the Harad Road
as part of a much larger and well-guarded caravan. Fadil could scarcely
disguise his mirth at the sight of his travelling companion perched
unsteadily atop a camel. Belzager was obviously experiencing considerable
discomfort, but the healer simply clenched his teeth and grimaced.
After a few hours, the caravan came to a halt. Belzager
slid awkwardly from the camel’s back. Before he could tether the beast,
it ambled down the road. Belzager gave chase, showing himself to be
surprisingly swift footed. When he grabbed the camel’s halter, the
beast spat at him. Fadil would not forget his expression of surprise
and disgust for a long time to come.
When they made camp for the night, Fadil began Belzager’s
lessons. “Greetings are most important to the men of Harad,” he
explained. “We are polite, unlike you tarks.”
“We have good manners!” Belzager protested
indignantly. “And you do not speak like that!”
“You simply say good day, we call down blessings
upon the one we greet. Greetings, friend, may the sun never burn you
and the spirits of your ancestors dwell in the celestial oasis, is how
we might greet each other in the common speech of Harad. When in Umbar,
I follow your custom, but soon we will be in Harad.”
“That sounds much too flowery to be sincere,”
said Belzager. He stretched out his long legs and shifted to a more
“To us, it is simply good manners,” said Fadil.
“Now repeat it after me.” He repeated the phrase in his own tongue.
Belzager did as he was bidden.
Fadil burst out laughing.
“What is so funny?” asked Belzager somewhat indignantly.
It appeared he was unaccustomed to being laughed at.
“It would not be funny if you spoke to a stranger
thus. You have the inflections wrong. You have just said, Greetings,
fiend, may the sun burn you and the spirits of your ancestors dwell
in the camel’s hump! Now try again.”
Belzager tried and continued to try until the merchant
was satisfied. Day after day and night after night, they continued thus.
The sun grew hotter and the journey more arduous,
but Belzager made no complaint. Gradually his command of the common
tongue of Harad grew, as did his skill in handling camels. Rather to
his surprise, Fadil grew quite fond of the tark. It was obvious the
fellow was more accustomed to giving orders than obeying them, which
he supposed was natural enough for a healer, but he was a hard worker
and indeed much stronger than he looked. His appearance had changed
during their long journey and Belzager’s skin was now so bronzed that,
he could easily pass for a man of Harad with a tark mother. He had hardly
spoken to any on the journey save Fadil, though.
Fadil was hopeful of reaching his home within a few
days when they stopped at an oasis to water the camels and replenish
their water supplies. Many travellers were gathered there, merchants
like Fadil and troops of soldiers in their scarlet robes. One of them
approached Belzager, hand on scimitar and asked him a question.
The merchant held his breath. The warriors were notorious
for their short tempers. Rumour had it that the Lord of Gifts had them
partake of a draught that increased their aggression. Fadil knew only
it was wise to keep one’s distance. He found he was holding his breath.
Belzager replied perfectly in the common tongue of
Harad and the warrior walked away.
“What did he want?” Fadil enquired.
“He desired to know if we had supplies of poppy
seed with us. I told him we carried only wool and grain.”
“You did well,” said Fadil.
“I shall miss your teaching when we reach our destination,”
“You can stay and work for me for a while if you
wish,” Fadil offered impulsively. “You still have a great deal
to learn and I am short of a body servant while Kedar recovers.”
“I am no man’s slave,” said Belzager. “As
long as you recall that, I am happy to accept your offer.”
“That is settled then,” said Fadil, holding out
his hand to Belzager.. “Few tarks would strive to learn our language
as you have done these past weeks. If you continue to work hard you
will soon earn enough to purchase sufficient camels to pay the bride
price for the woman you crave.”
Belzager smiled sadly and clasped the merchant’s