Strangers in a Strange Land by Marta

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Author's Notes: The OC in this piece is from my story "Diplomacy." But I intend this piece as self-sufficient without knowledge of that one.

Harnistir stood before the mirror with his eyes closed. A part of him wanted to see his face. The high cheekbones, the angled nose. He wanted to remind himself that he looked like the rest of them. But that would mean opening his eyes, and he could not quite bring himself to do that.

Here, in Gondor, it was the eyes that set him apart. He had his father’s skin, that worked in his favor with folks who did not know him. Even his hair was dark enough to pass at a distance; it was usually too curly to conform to Gondorian fashion, but at least at a distance that fit in well enough. It was the eyes that always gave him away. They were inky black, not the steely-grey he had been surrounded by since birth. There had been a time when he had longed for grey eyes. He’d even have settled for the blue or brown of his less high-born compatriots, even, but that had not been his fate.

There was an irony in that. On any other day he would have laughed at the thought. In Gondor, where every banner was black velvet, every head covered in black hair, every guards’ tunic so black that at night they looked like so many disembodied heads and hands – he should have the one black thing that marked a foreigner!

It was not every other day, though, and Harnistir had seldom felt more sore on the subject. You are a man of Gondor, his father had promised him as a child, when he’d sat bouncing on the man’s knees. And why shouldn’t Harnistir have believed it? He was born in Gondor, to a Gondorian father, and born from a legal union no less. One of the first after the war between a Gondorian and a Southron, and witnessed by the king no less. He had never been asked to swear fealty, as the Harad-born merchants were. He had studied beside Gondor’s sons since he was a child; learned history and literature, and protocol besides, readying himself to take his place in the court when he was deemed of age.

It had not been enough, seemingly.

He had nearly stumbled from dizziness, when he’d found the headpiece hanging over his cloak that afternoon. He’d just come in from sword drills with the other boys his age, and there it was: stark white against his black cloak, so that everyone could see it. His face had burned at the sight of it, and he’d bundled it up in his dirty tunic before the sword-master came in. He did not know who had left it there, nor if he’d done anything particularly to drive them to it; but the sword-master was a harsh man, and a veteran of the war, and somehow Harnistir did not want to face his questions.

It was the sort of scarf worn in Harad and by the newer immigrants, a shield against the desert sand his mother had once explained. Harnistir didn’t care for them, certainly had never worn them, but there it was: a white linen cowl, cut to shreds with a dagger, put where he couldn’t miss it. He’d changed quickly and ran straight home, and thrown it behind his bed. A part of it longed to burn it, but something in him remained unsure. He should not burn it, a voice argued from deep within himself. He should show it to someone, anyone. This was bigger than a schoolboy’s quarrel, that much was plain.

Before he could think, before he could stop himself, Harnistir forced his eyes open. Staring back at him were those black eyes, a birthright of sorts. Yet a man was more than the sum of his forefathers. He was a man of Gondor. A Haradric man of Gondor, but a man of Gondor all the same.

Which made this decision courage, not cowardice. He knew his people’s history, knew that Gondor had ever relied on their northern neighbors in times of need. This seemed little different.

He ran off in search of his father.

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