East is East

Tree and Flower Awards, Arwen, Second Place
Tree and Flower Awards Nominee
Mirkwood Passport Stamp

East is East

We were young, we were merry, we were very, very wise, And the door stood open at our feast, When there passed us a woman with the West in her eyes, And a man with his back to the East.-Mary Elizabeth Coleridge

Written for a BTME challenge Prompt

Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face,
tho' they come from the ends of the earth! - Kipling

Title: Brothers under the Skin
Author: Linda Hoyland
Characters/Pairing: Aragorn/ Arwen, Faramir, OMC
Rating: PG13
Warnings: nudity, fleeting mention of mutilation
Book/Source: LOTR book-verse
Disclaimer - These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain.

"I cannot see why you are so reluctant to go, Estel," said Arwen. "It should be a pleasant afternoon for you and Faramir."

"Spending an afternoon without my clothes in the presence of others is not my idea of pleasure," Aragorn said grimly.

"It is not as if there are ladies present," said the Queen. "You and Faramir have sometimes bathed together. Why should this be any different? The Ambassador is a good friend to you both."

"Faramir is different. He is as a son to me and we are as alike as close kindred," Aragorn replied. "We are thought bonded and respect each other's privacy."

Arwen sighed and picked up her needlework. "Never will I understand you Men," she said. "Your form is most pleasing to the eye, yet always you conceal it beneath your attire. "She held up the garment she was embroidering. "No Elf would wear this in bed, yet you are as fair as any!"

"Since some Elves told mocked me when I was a child, I have kept my clothes on," said Aragorn. "It has always, in any case, been the custom of our people to cover ourselves. Then as King, it is more important to me than ever."

"Of course the King must keep his dignity," said Arwen. "But can the Man not relax with his friends?"

"Just then a servant tapped on the door. "Lord Faramir awaits you, my lord," she said after being told to enter.

"I must go now," said Aragorn. He picked up his cloak.

"There is no need for you to look as if you were riding off to battle to face hopeless odds!" Arwen chided. "Now if Lady Adiva had invited me to join her in the hamam, I would enjoy it. I am certain once you get there you will have a pleasant afternoon."

Aragorn embraced her. "I wish I shared your certainty, my love," he said.


"Must we really do this?" Aragorn lamented to his Steward as they made their way towards the Ambassador's residence in the sixth circle. "Could not a hoard of Orcs turn up so we could go and fight them instead?"

"I like it no more than you do, mellon nîn, but it would be ill mannered for me to decline the invitation now," said Faramir. "Tahir is honouring us greatly and for years now has asked me to join him in the hamam. I have run out of excuses. Never did I ever dream that I would count a man of Harad as one of my closest friends, but Tahir has become one and I would not wish to hurt his feelings."

"I wish he would honour someone else then," said Aragorn. "Legolas, perhaps. I doubt he would feel so self conscious."

"Tahir hardly knows Legolas," Faramir pointed out. "It is he who would feel uncomfortable with an Elf in the hamam. I will go alone if the thought troubles you so much. After all, Tahir is a closer friend to me than to you."

"I would not abandon you to face the ordeal alone," Aragorn said resignedly. "It would not do to offend the Ambassador either. We are blessed that we have such a good man to represent Harad. It could easily have been very different."

And I appreciate your companionship," said Faramir, clapping Aragorn affectionately on the shoulder. You are familiar with the ways of the East, Aragorn, have you not experienced it before? I believe the hamam is an important part of the culture of Harad."

"I have so far successfully avoided removing my clothes and roasting myself in front of others," Aragorn said tetchily. "I could not even if I had cherished so strange a desire. To would have meant instant death as a spy as the Men of the East mutilate and decorate their bodies in ways we Men of the West would never dream of. I have, though, once attended a merchant, whose service I was in for a while. I had to wash his back in the hamam."

"Was the unfortunate man infirm and unable to perform his own ablutions?" asked Faramir.

"Quite the contrary, but in the East, it is a sign of status to have someone to wash you as well as having the luxury to use water for bathing," Aragorn explained.

"Why do they mutilate their skins?" Faramir asked.

"I never learned why," Aragorn replied. "To display too much curiosity would have been unwise. I do not even know if they all do it Surely you know more than I about Tahir as you searched him when he we were unsure of his intentions in Gondor?"

"I only asked him to remove his outer robes. Beneath them he wore close fitting linens that it would have been impossible to conceal a weapon beneath. At least the Ambassador assured us there would be no attendants so we will not have to undergo the indignity of others scrubbing us," said Faramir.

The two arrived outside the imposing residence of Ambassador Tahir and his lady. They dismissed their guards when one of Tahir's servants admitted them and ushered them into the tiled hallway.

Tahir himself came to greet them. "Welcome to my humble abode, esteemed friends," he exclaimed, embracing them. "You do me great honour by joining me today in the hamam. Afterwards we shall truly be brothers!" Though his welcome was warm, he appeared as ill at ease as his guests. "I know you value your privacy, esteemed friends," he said. "Therefore my body servant will not bring us the customary sherbet tea while we are in the hamam. I thought we might take refreshments afterwards with my fair blossom."

"You are most considerate always, my friend," said Faramir.

Aragorn and Faramir forced themselves to smile. They followed Tahir to the back of his residence feeling as if they were being led to their execution. Aragorn could feel it getting unpleasantly hot as they approached the steam rooms.

Tahir led them first to the disrobing room, which contained several empty shelves and one, which was stacked with fine quality silken cloths. Another shelf held linen towels. "These are peştemal, my friends," he said, gesturing towards the silken cloths. "You can use them either to cover yourselves, which I believe is your custom, or to lie upon, which is ours. Take freely as many as you desire. You can leave your clothing here on one of the shelves and help yourselves to towels after we have bathed." He turned his back to his guests and started to undress.

It was so hot that Aragorn was almost relieved to remove his outer clothing. He wrapped several of the silk cloths around his body before discarding his linens. Faramir did likewise, but folded his discarded clothing more carefully. When they turned around to face Tahir, they noticed he was covered from head to foot with only his hands and face visible beneath the silken folds of cloth.

Aragorn and Faramir followed Tahir though an arched doorway into a large room filled with steam. They could just about make out a large marble stone in the centre. At the four corners of the room were fountains which they could hear, rather than see clearly.

"We sit or lie on the göbek taşı" said Tahir, leading the way to the stone through clouds of mist.

King and Steward settled themselves down awkwardly on the smooth marble, pulling their silken cloths tightly around themselves. It was not as unbearably hot as Aragorn had feared, but the steam was so dense he could hardly see his hand in front of him.

"I am surprised and honoured that you finally accepted my invitation," said Tahir. "I know that you Men of the West dislike the heat, as well being too modest to enjoy public bathing."

"That is true," said Faramir, "We come because, as your friends, we are honoured to share this with you, even though we find the custom strange."

"You tell me, though, esteemed friend, that you and Lord Aragorn will swim together in the cold river?" said Tahir. "I find that a strange custom too."

"It is most pleasant when the weather is hot," said Aragorn.

"I find many of your traditions curious, my friends," said Tahir. "That you have only one wife most of all. My one fair flower pleases me and has given me many blossoms, but what if a woman is not fruitful? The line of your esteemed ancestors would then be broken."

"We trust the Higher Powers when we choose one spouse," said Aragorn. "It is prophesied that the line of Lúthien will never fail. We believe if our lines are meant to thrive then man and wife will be fruitful."

"East and West are very different," said Tahir. "Our climate, our food, our rituals."

"We are all Men, though," said Faramir. He felt surprisingly relaxed and almost embraced by the clouds of warm steam. Beside him Aragorn no longer sat stiffly, but was stretched out like a sunbathing cat. Faramir discarded most of the peştemal, leaving only one wound around his waist. Aragorn did likewise as the room became ever hotter.

After a while the heat became unbearable and Aragorn mopped his brow with one of his discarded peştemal.

"We should go to the soğukluk now, esteemed friends," said Tahir. "There you can wash the sweat from your bodies and emerge cleansed and refreshed."

Aragorn and Faramir felt their apprehension returning. They would have to remove their final peştemal now. They felt so pale and exposed compared to Tahir, while thanks to Elven treatments their skins were unmarked by the scars of battle.

They followed their host into a second, much cooler chamber, which contained a deep marble pool filled with clear water. In the centre, water poured from a great fountain shaped like a horse's head. The area around the pool was covered with intricately pattered tiles in different hues of fine marble.

To their surprise, now they could see their host clearly, he was still shrouded from head to foot.

Tahir hesitated at the edge, a strange expression upon his face, almost akin to panic. He took a deep breath, turned his back to them and then cast aside his cloths.

Aragorn and Faramir bit back exclamations, despite not wishing to stare; it was impossible not to notice the elaborate markings that covered almost all of Tahir's back. Some were tattoos, while others were formed by the healed scars of many cuts, not random wounds, but in a regular pattern. The men of Harad Aragorn had seen before had not prepared him for this. They had had only a few such markings compared to Tahir.

"You are curious, esteemed friends?" Tahir turned to face them. His expression suggested that were his skin paler he would be blushing scarlet "The marks on my back were my initiation as a warrior. You were only deemed fit to fight when you did not cry out. Now these tattoos," he pointed to his right arm, "show that I am a son of the Wakil tribe, and that I have one wife and five children. These here," he pointed to his legs," are battles in which I was victorious. The scars from them speak for themselves. The tattoos of my left arm represent my allegiance to the Great Khan. "But these give me the most pride, look!"

Aragorn and Faramir noticed that above his heart was a tattoo of a rising sun, while on his right breast was a representation of Gondor's White Tree, while the seven stars and a symbol they did not recognise covered his belly. "Those of us who refused to bow down to the Dark Lord bear this mark, rather than the Great Eye," Tahir explained. "Our enemies knew not what it meant, but it shows that we believed the sun would rise unclouded over our land one day. This symbol of your land I had written on me the day you accepted me as a guest in your realm. This symbol here shows my loyalty to the Great Khan while the stars show my loyalty to you. We bathe only with those whom we trust as our brothers since we reveal our allegiances upon our bodies. I feared you might not find me worthy with your pale and unblemished skins. I have not shared the hamam with any not of my tribe before. Now you are my brothers and fellows of my tribe!" He stepped into the water.

"East and West may be different, but true friendship knows no bounds," said Faramir. "We are all Men. We bear no markings on our skin, but carry all ours on our clothing. We are proud to be your brothers too." He cast aside his peştemal and entered the water. Aragorn did likewise.

No longer ill at ease they splashed around happily with Tahir, former enemies who had become as dear as brothers.

"Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain."
Friedrich Schiller

Friedrich Schiller

Chapter Two - Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

It has been a most pleasant afternoon, sweet friends." Lady Adiva smiled at her guests.

Arwen and Éowyn sat on cushions on the floor of the Ambassador's residence alongside their hostess, in the manner of Harad, while Dame Ivorwen, Adiva's midwife and good friend, sat on a chair. "I hope you will honour me with your esteemed presences again next week."

"We will be happy to," said Arwen.

"I was wondering if you would honour me in the same way your esteemed husbands honoured mine by visiting the hamam with me," Adiva continued. She looked down shyly.

"I was wondering when you would ask us!" Éowyn replied. "Faramir and I will still be in the City, so I should love to accept your invitation."

"As would I," Arwen added.

Dame Ivorwen had blanched and looked as if she were about to fall off her chair. "No thank you, my dear," she said. "The very thought horrifies me. It cannot be quite proper at all."

"You are a healer, Dame Ivorwen," said Éowyn. "I am surprised you are so easily shocked."

"It might well not be shocking in your homeland, Adiva," she said. "But in Gondor it is very shocking indeed! Yes, as a healer, I must often see my patients partially unclothed, but that is because it is needful, not as a means of recreation."

"I did not wish to offend," said Adiva. "In my land, the highest honour you can offer your friends is to share the hamam with them. Our countries, I know, have very different customs. I hope, though, you will join again for tea soon?"

"Gladly, my dear," said Ivorwen, as the three prepared to take their leave.

"Are you certain you want to do this, Arwen?" Aragorn anxiously enquired of his lady as she and Éowyn prepared to set out the next week.

"It did not harm you and Faramir," Arwen replied.

"I did not find it easy, though," said Aragorn. "I went only to support Faramir and as not to hurt our good friend, Tahir. He had been asking us for so long. As we went to the hamam, there is no need for you to have to do likewise."

"I cannot see why we should not," said Éowyn. "It is a pleasant change to find somewhere in Gondor where one can remove ones clothes without shocking anyone. In the Mark we have similar customs of sometimes sharing a steam bath, husbands and wives might do so together with their friends."

Aragorn and Faramir blanched at the very thought.

"Lady Adiva is our friend," said Arwen. Surely sharing the hamam should help cement our friendship? You told me that you felt you had formed a deeper understanding of Tahir as result of bathing together."

"The three of us know each other well," Éowyn added. "We have helped deliver each others babies. The hamam should be as nothing compared to that. We are hardly strangers!"

The two men said no more but still looked troubled.


Lady Adiva was waiting for her guests attended by her faithful maid, Falah, who was clutching three pairs of wooden clogs finely decorated with silver and mother of pearl. She bowed low and presented them to her mistress and the guests.

"For us to wear in the hamam, " Adiva explained. "Do you object if Falah brings us drinks while we bathe?"

"Not at all," said Arwen.

"We will appreciate drinks," said Éowyn.

The ladies made their way to the disrobing room where Falah unrolled three thick mats patterned with intricate designs, on the floor and gave each lady one large peştemal and three smaller and thicker ones and a small casket. The maid then left her mistress and her guests alone.

"Faramir never mentioned mats," said Éowyn eyeing hers curiously.

"It is the custom for the women to sit on the mats to undress," Adiva explained. "We place our jewels in the boxes. Men and women have different customs. We do not have the hamam as hot and steamy as the men do in case a woman is with child and not aware of it."

The three women swiftly undressed and wrapped themselves in themselves in their peştemal. Adiva led the way into the steam room. She spread her covering on the large stone and stretched out. Her friends did likewise.

To begin with, Arwen enjoyed herself. The experience reminded her of the healing baths at Imladris, which she had often shared with her mother and the other Elven maidens. Her two companions today, though, were no Elves. Adiva had borne five children, while Éowyn had borne two. Motherhood had forever changed them, leaving silvery marks where their skin had stretched and previously firm flesh now sagging.

Arwen looked at her own body; unmarked and as firm fleshed as any young maiden's, showing no trace of the son she had given birth too. Neither sun nor wind had marked her either. Her skin was as pale as a lily and as soft as a new born babe's. Suddenly her Elven perfection disgusted her. She did not appear to have lived at all. What if mortals, and especially Aragorn, found her changelessness repulsive?

Beside her, Adiva was feeling equally distressed. She thought how unfavourably she compared with these tall, elegant women of the West. The five babes she had given birth to and suckled had left their marks upon her. Her flesh drooped and sagged and her dark skin was marred with paler lines. She knew that Arwen was unique, but there must be many women in Gondor not unlike Éowyn. Adiva felt a stab of dread. What if her husband chose to take another wife from amongst such beauty? Collecting herself, she remembered her duties as hostess and started to tell her friends about the beauty treatments the women of her land used in the hamam.

"We bring colouring for our hair and faces to apply here if we are to attend a feast," she said. "Unlike our husbands, we do not mark our bodies permanently. Or if a maiden is about to be married, her mother will bring her for her first treatment with sugar to remove all hair from her body."

Éowyn glanced down at her limbs with their covering of fine hairs, then at her companions' smooth skins. A horrible thought came to her. Faramir must find her as hairy as one of his hounds!

Just then Falah, clad only in a thin shift, entered with the tea. All three women started. They sat upright and pulled their peştemal around themselves.

"Do you require assistance with bathing, esteemed ladies?" she asked.

"No thank you, not today, Falah," said Adiva.

The maid eyed the three towel shrouded forms curiously for a moment then bowed low and departed.

Tears started to roll down Arwen's cheeks as she sipped her drink.

"What ails you, dear esteemed friend?" Adiva asked in concern. "Alas, I am the lowest of hostesses, I have offended my guests!

"Not at all, Adiva," Arwen reassured her. "It is I who offend your eyes!"

"But why, esteemed Lady Arwen? Your beauty dazzles my gaze!"

"You and Éowyn appear to me as real women," Arwen said sadly. "I am more like some marble statue! The greatest joy I have known is to become a mother, but my body appears as that of a young maiden!"

"My greatest joy too is my children," said Adiva, "But alas, they have taken my beauty from me!" She burst into tears.

"And how can Faramir find me fair when my limbs resemble those of his hounds?" Éowyn lamented.

"Maybe we should proceed to the soğukluk?" Adiva suggested desperately. "Then when we are dressed, maybe you would like a walk round my rose garden and tea and cakes?"

"We would like that very much," said Arwen.

A short time later, the three still despondent ladies were strolling arm in arm through the rose gardens. Arwen and Éowyn were trying hard to convince Adiva that she was a most excellent hostess and their melancholy was not her fault.

The ladies were surprised to see their husbands appearing from the opposite direction.

"What is wrong, vanimelda?" Aragorn asked Arwen.

"We thought we would walk home with you as we finished our work early," Faramir explained. "You look troubled, Éowyn."

"And why has my fair flower been weeping?" asked Tahir, hastening to embrace his lady.

Adiva poured out her heart to her husband.

"But my fairest blossom," he exclaimed. "It is you alone that I love! Had I desired a lady from the West, I would have taken a concubine from amongst the slave girls long ago. I want no other bloom in my garden. I see the marks our children left upon you as akin to the tattoos I bear, or the battle scars I won with honour."

Adiva beamed.

Arwen meanwhile had told Aragorn what troubled her.

"But why do you need marks upon your body when your people carry everything in their hearts, forgetting nothing?" he asked gently. "Your beauty first drew me to you, but there is far more to you than looks. I love everything about you, your smile, your laugh, your kindness, your wisdom and the wonderful child you gave me."

Arwen's tears turned to smiles.

Faramir paused to admire a rose and thought carefully what to say to raise his lady's spirits. "You do not resemble a hound at all!" he said. "You are the fairest of ladies and I like you exactly as you are. The Queen's perfection fills me with awe, but I would never desire one such as she to be my wife. Aragorn told me once that during his travels he saw some cats specially bred to be without fur and how he found them most repulsive! I would feel the same about any warm-blooded creature that was smooth and hairless as a lizard! You would not breed horses without hair would you, my love?"

"The very idea!" Éowyn snorted, her earlier melancholy mood banished.

The three couples made their way back inside the Ambassador's home, the ladies now content again.

"That the loveliest woman ever born should fret about her looks!" Aragorn remarked to Faramir as they sipped mint tea and ate cakes flavoured with rose petals.

"My Éowyn is just as bad," said Faramir. "Such folly is enough to make the Valar weep!"

Éowyn overheard him and retorted, "We women might be foolish at times, but not nearly as often as you men folk!"

"We are not!" Aragorn protested.

"We can at least agree that Lady Adiva's tea and cakes are delicious," said Arwen.

"You make a better diplomat than I, esteemed Lady Arwen," said Tahir. "Now you must sample some of the latest sweetmeats we have been sent from Harad."

"Your hamam has certainly made us hungry," said Éowyn." Visiting it has taught us a great deal."

A/n According to my research steam baths were popular in the ancient world. Tahir's haman is meant to share some features with an ancient Roman or modern Turkish bath,but is not meant to be identical to it, but something unique to the culture of Harad,though I have used Turkish terms. Tahir's tattoos are inspired by Viggo's in "Eastern Promises".

Haman – Turkish bath
Peştemal- towel
soğukluk,cool room
Valinor Passport Stamp
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