Red River

Author: Altariel

Nominator: Dwimordene

2006 Award Category: Times: Fourth Age and Beyond: Gondor - First Place

Story Type: Other Fiction  ✧  Length: Short Story

Rating: PG  ✧  Reason for Rating: Mild violent themes

Summary: Faramir and Aragorn in a short fable of globalization.

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Reviewed by: Dwimordene  ✧  Score: 10

The Fourth Age is always the age of mundanity, where humanity finally gets its wish to no longer be living under the sway of the embodiment of evil and then proceeds to muck things up quite nicely by itself. "Red River" is thus exactly the sort of story that needs to be written about after the fall of Sauron: Gondor and Harad have to learn that Sauron is no longer the excuse for bad political relationships, and to look beyond old enmities. The original Haradric character, Raskandhar, shows himself a gutsy politician, using the symbolism of Aragorn's own story to criticize him and his inability (or is it unwillingness, after a fashion?) to garner the conciliar support to resolve a situation that, while beneficial in the short-term to partisans in Gondor, is destroying Raskandhar's people, his own ability to govern and care for them, and will eventually lead to bitterness that will simply continue the legacy of bloodshed. Faramir (because it is Altariel, and so we know Faramir must be lurking nearby -- a good thing) gets to act the part that (mis)fortune assigned him: as the king's good steward, whose role, as Aragorn puts it, is to humiliate him every so often, he is careful to make certain his king gets the necessary dose of political and moral humiliation where it matters most. In so doing, he serves both Gondor and Harad (and so justice) well, and one comes away with the sense that Aragorn will have to do some serious thinking and work to repay that service. 'Red River' is a timely story in this sense. It speaks to both LOTR's post-war context, and to globalization in its essence, highlighting the futility and ultimately moral complacency of trying to limit the horizon by which one judges claims on justice to past wrongs when the present is constituted by unjust social interactions that are in fact breeding more and reciprocal wrong-doing that will end by harming everyone. Well played, Altariel, and in an enviably concise manner.

Reviewed by: dkpalaska  ✧  Score: 10

This is such a marvelous story, full of many layers that end up leaving me hungry for more details even as it answers some about current politics in the Fourth Age. I would dearly love to see the initial meeting between Raksandhar and Faramir; it seems to echo the start of another friendship in the author's "Possessions." I had found out from the author that Faramir's summer house is placed near Henneth Annun, and it is this pool and waterfall that is seen at the start of the story. Although not specified within the writing itself, this extra tidbit deepened my appreciation of how much progress has taken place between once-warring nations: the secret Ranger hideout is now publicly displayed, and a Haradrim lord - his kinsmen once ambushed and killed under the leadership of the then-Captain, now Prince - is standing in peace with the returned King of Gondor. From there, of course, we find out that the situation is not as rosy as it initially seems. In fine entrenched political fashion, Gondor is oppressing the conquered people in Harad to the point of potentially creating civil war. I was a bit frustrated with Aragorn's apparent unwillingness to more strongly confront his council to achieve the desired tax reliefs. After so long, it feels like Gondor's bitterness is only feeding on itself, making it a mockery of the glorious nation it styles itself and the vision of healing that Aragorn proclaimed. Faramir's subtlety and (dare I say it?) manipulative skill are on fine display here. And of course I loved the ever-present presence of chess in Altariel's writing. I thought Raksandhar was a brilliantly fleshed-out and sympathetic OC. I especially loved his father's tale from the POV of the enemy and his own reference - even after all these years - to ["God the Giver of Gifts"]. Even though Raksandhar is on "the other side" I was very sad that Faramir and Aragorn could not find a way to help this very conscientious young man. (Thank goodness that Isabeau came to his rescue!)

Reviewed by: Anoriath  ✧  Score: 10

I have to admit that I have loved this piece since you first posted it. Sadly, I have never told you so, knowing what a treasure it is to see your work through others' eyes. We are introduced to so many Aragorns, Aragorn the healer, the lover, the warrior, the friend., but seldom do we get to see Aragorn the politician. Ever more seldom do we get to see him take defeat. Yet, it these moments, more than any success, that reveal the quality of a person. From Faramir's actions, I get the clear message that he expects no prevaricating, no spin, but for his king to face a hard truth about what he has allowed to happen. The story Raksandhar tells is a pointed one and I hear echoes of Faramir's declaration of his hopes for Minas Tirith to be ['not even a kind mistress of willing slaves." ] And even more than the above, I am very pleased that you leave the confrontation open-ended. There are no easy answers. It is all about how you face the struggle. In his letters, Tolkien once said that he created Aragorn as a model of a leader worth following. Here I think you have expanded very nicely on what he started. It's not that I want those who lead to not make mistakes, but I want them to struggle with their mistakes and failings and doubts, so as to keep themselves true. So your piece creates this yearning in me for leaders like Aragorn, who surround themselves with counselors like Faramir and allow themselves to be challenged, and comforted that perhaps I am not the only one who thinks so, too.

Reviewed by: Marta  ✧  Score: 6

This was definitely a potent read, with a lot to speak to our modern age. Yet I think it would have to be a concern for Gondor in the Fourth Age and is in a very true sense the "burden of victory". If the leading Gondorians gave thought only to their own interest they would lose what was pure in them, and like any post-war clean-up there would simply not be enough resources to go around. Beyond that, there were some old favourites in this piece. Aragorn and Faramir playing a game of chess always gives me a warm and fuzzy nostalgic feeling; it has played such a strong role in so many of your pieces. Here it takes on a nice metaphorical twist, and you delightfully give us an OC who trumps our canon heroes without forcing any of them out-of-character. Brava.

Reviewed by: Imhiriel  ✧  Score: 5

Precisely drawn descriptions of the setting and characters; exactly the right measure between showing details and not overburden a scene with too much information. As ever, your little hints of movements and gestures are a well-employed and well-executed means to make the story come alive. Very interesting, thought-provoking subject. It shows how war forms and informs future generations, and how difficult it is to hold to justice in the face of victory. How both sides of a war must build - and must be allowed to build - new foundations, new connections, to lessen the danger of future unrest.

Reviewed by: Isabeau of Greenlea  ✧  Score: 5

This story really ripped me up the first time I read it-Raksandhar's desire to be a lord who could truly help his people really spoke to me. He is a powerfully drawn character, though the story itself is brief. I felt sorry for him, and for Aragorn, who, powerful as he was, nonetheless had to bend to political realities. Faramir is at the top of his form here, as the man he was destined to be-the intelligent, astute ruler, adjunct to an even greater ruler, with strengths and skills that complement Aragorn's. The story affected me strongly enough that I had to run right out and write one where I could give Raksandhar the relief he needed.

Reviewed by: stefaniab  ✧  Score: 4

This is a fine examination of the War of the Ring from the point of view of the humans who allied themselves with the Dark Lord. Rakshandar's story of this father's experience at the hands of Aragorn and the Dead was quite an eye-opener to Gondor's king, and to the readers. We are accustomed to thinking of Tolkien's heroes as all good. Yet Altariel's story shows us that "goodness" can be relative.

Reviewed by: Raihon  ✧  Score: 4

This is a gem of a short story with rich characterizations, tight writing, and an interesting point. It's remarkable to be able to reveal so much about the politics of Gondor, and to give a whole outsider perspective on the events on the Pelennor, in so few words. I wonder why it's in first person, though, since the author doesn't really use Aragorn's inner voice to let us in on what he's thinking, except that the Haradrim is so young. I really want to know what Aragorn is thinking as he's being told this story!

Reviewed by: Raksha the Demon  ✧  Score: 4

A bittersweet Fourth Age look at the effects of Gondor's victory on its former foes. Faramir and Aragorn are in character, 25 years older and somewhat wiser. The young Southron prince is an interesting character; taking on some characteristics of those who defeated his father's generation, while seeking an end to the unequal balance of trade that is damaging his people. And Faramir and Aragorn are still playing chess, with much the same outcome. Excellent writing, as usual from this restrained but eloquent writer.

Reviewed by: Bodkin  ✧  Score: 4

Faramir and Aragorn both have such wisdom - and Rakhandsar is a very worthy young man - but they have to work within the constraints of the political system and managing that is more than even they can manage. I love the fact that even Faramir and Aragorn cannot do whatever they want and impose it on Gondor - it show a complex society that is often overlooked when the king's decision is enough for the realm to follow slavishly. But I agree with Faramir. Some things are worth fighting for - and this is one of them. I love your writing.

Reviewed by: obsidianj  ✧  Score: 3

I like the metaphor of the chess game in this little story. The game on the board and the game between the protagonists. My favorite line was Aragorn's answer: [“Yes,” I agreed. “He beats me playing white, and then he beats me playing black.”] I like Raksandhar and his earnest desire to be a good Lord to his people, although he has not much luck here.

Reviewed by: Nancy Brooke  ✧  Score: 3

This is a wonderful, understated and subtle piece of writing. All three characters are uniquely and fully drawn, and the connections between the trials of the Southron lord and Aragorn's past wonderfully surprising and insightful.

Reviewed by: Dreamflower  ✧  Score: 3

There are a number of stories dealing with the possible ramifications to the South and East of Sauron's defeat. This brief tale is one of the better ones. No appeal would be better to Aragorn, Elessar, than this one--to facilitate freedom. And Faramir would know this without any doubt. Very well done, by both the characters, and the author!