By Sad Waters We Sat Down and Wept

Author: Altariel

Nominator: Dwimordene

2011 Award Category: Post-Ring War and Beyond: Gondor - First Place

Story Type: Story  ✧  Length: Ficlet

Rating: General  ✧  Reason for Rating: N/A

Summary: "And the slaves of Mordor he released and gave to them all the lands about Lake Núrnen to be their own." The King of Gondor receives an ambassador.

Read the Story  ✧  Backup Story Link

Reviewed by: Dwimordene  ✧  Score: 10

Once upon a time, I made a really rambly birthday request that had a lot to do with me trying to work out how to handle race and power in Middle-earth, and avoiding the trap of presenting a unified view of the oppressed. Altariel made a heroic effort to pull a prompt out of that, and this was the result, which I very much appreciated. Much as I love Aragorn the Ranger, I do not care for the politics that Tolkien writes for post-Ring-War Gondor. Altariel's piece speaks to one of those unsatisfying moments for me, and she hits the bull's eye, imo. The fact that difference comes through a single voice makes it more impressive to me: her first person voice is very strong, creating a story in the form of a direct conversation of which we hear only hear one side. Yet it cuts to the heart of the matter: the extraordinary and extraordinarily hard task of building up a nation in the face of the emerging geopolitics of the Fourth Age. The difficulty the slaves have had pulling together something like a collective response to horrifying conditions, when hampered by terror, necessary (but also pathological) self-interest, and linguistic-cultural barriers, is starkly laid out here. Too often, there's too easy a complicity and support among the oppressed; it rarely works that way, and then only for a period of time, before unity takes serious political work to maintain. The line about the ease with which people can become animals, and how hard it is to recover a state of humanity was also fabulous. The fragility of the present moment, and the even more fragile hope for a future are then dead to rights - as is the line about the [cruelest joke] of being granted a land that they hate and that may not be very hospitable even without Sauron's oppressive regime. I like the warning that Aragorn, Gondor, et al should not expect gratitude from the newly freed and chaotic society of ex-slaves who now have to try to make the lands round Nurnen bloom. Damn straight! Hopefully, Aragorn and the other rising powers of the West will listen and respect the newly-made people of Nurnen - it'd be nice if someone did, sometimes.

Author response: I was very grateful for the request, which allowed me to write something I'd been pondering for a while! So glad that you liked this one, Dwim. Perhaps there is a longer story here, about how that community pulls together - or pulls apart.

Reviewed by: The Lauderdale  ✧  Score: 10

Everybody. You need to read this. I read this piece some months ago and found it absolutely stunning, but just thinking of how to review it intimidated me. Told in the form of a brief monologue by an unnamed speaker to King Elessar and other western "lords," it deals with a side note from [The Return of the King]: the new king's bequest of the lands around Lake Núrnen to the former slaves of Mordor. This munificent gesture takes on troubling implications when you consider Tolkien's own description of the land and how it has been used. As our unknown protagonist says, ["you have granted to us an exhausted land, sirs. For some amongst us it is the final, cruelest joke."] This is on top of the roadblocks that a disparate and long enslaved people already face. Mistreated for so long, without a common language between them save for that forced upon their children, there is little trust among them even for one another. ["Treat a man like an animal, and he will learn to be like an animal. It is a hard road back from that."] This unflinching assessment fits so many dispossessed and degraded peoples throughout history and in our own time. It is also a stinging indictment of a common set of attitudes among the advantaged, who tend to paint such people in sweeping, monolithic terms. Expecting third worlders all to be the same, to get along without any be peaceful, productive, and above all, grateful...and are then surprised when this is not the case. As sad a picture as he paints, there is some cause for optimism in the unknown speaker's words. It is clear in his own speech that he maintains a sense of dignity and hope for the future: a dream of [good earth and clean water]. It also speaks well of his fellow countrymen, that they chose such a one to be their spokesperson. I hope that they will make their peaceable country.

Author response: I was blown away by this review. Thank you, very much - it's a huge gift to a writer to be given such a thoughtful and generous response to a piece. I am extremely grateful.

Reviewed by: Lyra  ✧  Score: 10

This is a very wise ficlet, based on two quotes from "The Return of the King" that I must admit I hadn't considered together before. Looking only at the last, it appears quite generous that the slaves of Mordor were given lands of their own; looking at it with the first in mind, that generosity cheapens. But Altariel raises further important points: For instance, that the "slaves of Mordor" were no unified people, or that just as Gondorian captives turned slaves found it hard if not impossible to adjust to slavery, people born into it might have difficulty adjusting to a life as free people. Granted a somewhat abstract freedom as vassals to Gondor in a barren land with polluted waters, they would understandably prefer good land and clean water - and, if they are to be free, independence as well. The ambassador sent to the King of Gondor and his council explains these issues, and explains that neither fast results or gratitude should be expected, which will probably come as a surprise - but makes perfect sense. Still, the ambassador seems to feel hope that at some point he and his companions in woe - or perhaps their descendants - will be truly free, and truly feel as inhabitants of their own country. A stark ficlet with a silver lining that pays attention to an overlooked group and overlooked problems after the Ring War. Highly recommended!

Author response: Thank you, Lyra. I hadn't pondered the resolution for those slaves much either, but when I did come to think about it, I wondered what success they might have in that dreadful place. This is a start, at least. Thank you for reading and reviewing!

Reviewed by: Thundera Tiger  ✧  Score: 9

I can't even begin to imagine how Altariel managed to write this story. The narrator comes from such a unique background, and his audience has no real comprehension of his life or his dreams. Nor do we as readers, and Altariel must make this man accessible while keeping him true to what he is. The real tragedy is that we see this sort of thing play out in the real world, and there are countless historical parallels I could point to in illustration of just how often this has happened. But even so, unless one has lived through it, the idea of forming a working society out of those who were strictly beholden to others is still a very foreign concept. I love the ambiguity Altariel gives this narrator. As the speaker states, the most important thing to remember is that this isn't a homogeneous group. These people come from all different lands and places, and it seems some of them can't even communicate with one another. Yet they're asked to live and build on a land stripped of nourishment. There's no consensus on how they should approach this or what they owe/don't owe the powers that helped overthrow Sauron. A wonderfully insightful little story into a people with vastly different dreams.

Author response: Thank you very much for this, Thundera. I researched the Spartacus rebellion a few years back for another story I was writing (a Doctor Who story, in fact), and this story owes a lot to Lewis Grassic Gibbon's novel "Spartacus". Also Ursula Le Guin's "Powers". I wonder what I'd see if I returned to this narrator ten years after this story is set. Thank you again.

Reviewed by: Adonnen Estenniel  ✧  Score: 7

Altariel's first person narrative is very strong and poignant here, which befits an impassioned emissary to King Elessar. This man's voice is very much his own, and he paints his picture of personal experience and past wrongs very well, with a personality the reader cannot help but like, in spite of the brevity of our acquaintance with him. The format of this piece also serves the author's purpose very well. The narrator's direct address to the reader is vivid and well-paced; in original fiction I've found that it's a ploy attempted far too often, but here in this context I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed the author's manner of writing this piece. The most interesting thing about this was how eloquently the speaker expressed himself--not in keeping with what a reader would expect, based on his background in the Black Land. Yet it served him well, all the same, odd as it had seemed originally. On the whole, a brilliantly staged piece of writing, and a very excellent contribution to the fandom.

Author response: Thank you for this review. The form was a risk, but I felt I had to give the voice entirely over to this character without interruption. I'm glad you thought that it worked!

Reviewed by: Himring  ✧  Score: 5

I second everything other reviewers have already said about this piece. One need only remember some of the more recent political news to recognize, once again, how complex a system a civil society is and how it cannot simply be imposed even by the most well-intentioned outsiders--it needs time to grow in the hearts of those who form part of it and it takes both their consent and the right conditions to grow in those who have no memory of freedom and peace. The voice of the ambassador in Altariel's story shows this clearly and eloquently while staying completely in character. It is to be hoped that, at Nurnen at least, the risky social experiment will eventually succeed.

Author response: Thank you for this thoughtful review; I very much appreciate it. I hope there's success around Nurnen too.

Reviewed by: cairistiona  ✧  Score: 4

Very thoughtful and poignant, this. The slaves freed by Aragorn and given a chance to become a free people could not have instantly adapted to their change in fate; trust would have been hard to give by these former slaves of Sauron, but this one-sided conversation leaves the impression that though hard, it might not be impossible. A well-written look at some of the difficulties faced in rebuilding Middle-earth in the 4th Age.

Author response: Thank you!

Reviewed by: Wormwood  ✧  Score: 3

I like fanfiction pieces that reaches beyond a specific fanfiction universe, and this one certainly does. It says something essential about slavery and the long internal and external road back to freedom. Profound and lovely written.

Author response: Thank you very much, Wormwood.

Reviewed by: Sevilodorf  ✧  Score: 1

In my opinion you captured the feelings of an ex-slave very well.

Author response: Thank you.