10. A Lesson in Business
Chapter Written by Angmar and Elfhild
"Still, you may at least disturb the Orcs and Swarthy Men from their feasting in the White Tower."
- Hirgon, "The Muster of Rohan," The Return of the King, p. 73
Servants bowed at the opening of Shakh Awidan's pavilion to welcome the masterful personage who approached. Graceful in spite of the bulk of his well-muscled body, a tawny-skinned man strode into the entry, his green and yellow robes swirling about him like a sandstorm in the desert. The man, a masterpiece of the Haradric race, sported a black mustache and short, well-groomed beard which was fragrant with perfumed oil. Atop his head was a white turban, at its center a small aigrette composed of egret feathers caught by a ruby brooch, and at his side gently swung a sheathed scimitar.
"Blessings unto you and welcome to my dwelling, Shakh Esarhaddon uHuzziya," smiled Awidan as he arose from the red and gold damask cushions where he had been reclining. Bowing from the waist, he brought the fingers of his right hand to his breast, then to his lips and finally to his forehead.
Two fair-skinned, raven-tressed Gondorian slave women, who had been standing on either side of Awidan, ceased plying their long-plumed feathered fans. Bowing their heads, they crossed the poles over their bosoms in obeisance to the guest. At the sight of the handsome, tawny shakh who was visiting with their frail master, the women felt their sensitive nipples swelling, the jutting nubs straining against the flimsy material of their gowns. Their dark, sultry eyes, which were modestly downcast, rose wistfully to gaze across the tent at the display of Southern manliness before them. The guest's raging vigor stood in sharp contrast to the wizened countenance of their pathetic lord.
"Silim, Shakh Awidan lûk-Nysmr." The newcomer touched his heart and inclined his head. "May good fortune always seek you out and find you. I am greatly honored to be with you today."
"Pray sit down, Shakh Esarhaddon, and enjoy the hospitality of my home." Awidan motioned to deep cushions surrounding a low table on the floor. "All that you see before you is yours." He made a sweeping flourish with his right hand.
"Your courtesy is without limits, Shakh," Esarhaddon replied as he sat down cross-legged on the other side of the table from Awidan. "I could use a draught of that wine you served last night. Do you have any more of it?"
"Aye," Shakh Awidan replied eagerly. "I have a goodly supply of bottles packed in snow carried down from the high mountains. 'Tis a good vintage, tart but still smooth to the taste."
"Such a cooling draught would be welcome to wash the dust from my mouth. The excellence of your table continues to amaze me, Shakh Awidan." He smiled, his eyelids drooping lazily over his dark brown eyes.
Shakh Awidan clapped his hands, a summons for the slave men waiting near the side of the tent. "Galuech, go out to my storage cellar and bring us a bottle. Make sure that the snow still clings to it when you draw it from the cool recesses of the sawdust pit." His eyes darted to the other slave. "Hunethon, fetch more cakes and candied fruits for our guest."
Soon the men had returned with sweetmeats and wine. Their tasks finished for the time, the two slaves retired quietly to the side of the tent to wait for their master's next command.
"You plan to sell those two with this lot?" Esarhaddon asked as he picked up his goblet, toying with the vessel in his hand before bringing it up to his lips.
"Nay, Shakh, not with this consignment, for their incisions have not yet completely healed. Besides that, I would not trust them to be alone with any lord's women at this time. Though they are no longer capable of siring children, they still could easily pleasure some lord's concubines with their fingers and tongues! They are the deceitful, decadent men of the West, and you know how perverse they can be! Whippings and the absence of their stones will eventually gentle them, but for now they cannot be trusted. But, aye, when I judge them sedate, I will part with the both of them, for they will bring good prices." Shakh Awidan looked disapprovingly over at the two Gondorian eunuchs.
Esarhaddon glanced at the large platter of food and chose a dried date, studying Awidan as he chewed the fruit. After swallowing, he sipped slowly from his goblet of wine. "I was impressed with the manner that you used in dealing with the orcs; especially was I pleased with how little you paid them."
"I am a good businessman, Shakh," the slightly-built man exhaled in satisfaction, pleased that at last the powerful shakh had recognized his abilities.
Esarhaddon's eyes flickered for a moment and then the heavy lids slid halfway over his dark orbs, settling there like half-closed drapes. He surveyed the platter of dried fruits as though he were intently appraising them. Turning his head, he gave the other man a languid look, his eyelids lowering even more, and it appeared that he was on the verge of sleep.
"I am surprised, though, that the louts did not turn mean on you and slit your throat. You cheated them, Awidan, blessings upon you! You cheated them soundly! Well done, man! Well done!" Esarhaddon reached across the table and clasped Awidan's shoulder. "You are indeed a shrewd businessman! I will tell my brother Zannanza of how you euchred them. You wore the bastards out with your usual long dissertations about your 'ailments' and how you are 'greatly put upon' and 'long-suffering.'"
"Certainly." The older man humbly bobbed his head in agreement. "One must use many methods when concluding a business transaction. That is part of the satisfaction of bargaining: the talk that goes with it. I never feel that I have sealed a truly good agreement until I have had a great deal of wine and much conversation."
"You mean you exhaust them with your endless complaints about your health," laughed Esarhaddon.
"Every tactic is fair in war and trade," Awidan smirked, waving his hand in a grandiose gesture. After taking a draught from his goblet, he belched loudly, showing his appreciation of the good vintage. Reaching to a platter of mounded fruit, he inspected the selection and thoughtfully drew out a candied fig. "Luscious!" he exclaimed, smacking his lips and eying his wine once again.
Esarhaddon raised his glass into the air. "To good markets and rich profits! ...And to your good sense, Awidan, that has prevented you from never attempting that stratagem upon me."
"Never would I try to deceive you in business. You are like a brother to me!" An injured expression came to Awidan's eyes, and he held his hands out, palm upward in a posture of supplication and resignation. A little wine sloshed out of his goblet and fell unnoticed upon the table.
"Only because I am too shrewd ever to enter into a transaction with you," Esarhaddon murmured, raising his hands in imitation of the other.
Awidan laughed. "Only one merchant truly knows another."
"Or a merchant who has been cheated by another merchant," the other offered and they both chuckled.
"It is only good business."
"Awidan, to be a wise businessman, one must consider all things. Whatever we do in our dealings with other countries is our own concern, and we will ask whatever the market will bear. If the sheep sometimes find that their skins have taken along with their fleeces, that is the result of their own stupidity." Esarhaddon smiled lazily, his eyes almost closing completely.
"Aye, Shakh. The bulk of the traffic of the esteemed establishment of you and your brother - of which I am proud to be but a small cog in the great wheel - is conducted in Harad and Khand." The old man leaned back on the cushions, his hand brushing the thigh of one of the slave women.
"True enough, Awidan, but here, though, we must deal with Mordor." Esarhaddon sighed. "It is only by the grace of the Lord of This Land that we are allowed this privilege. Almost one hundred percent of the male slaves are never offered for lease to the lords and merchants. Of those few who are, most are generally employed in the work parties that plant, tend and harvest the crops of the nobles. The Lord of Mordor is most generous when it comes to granting leases for women, though - there, we are entitled to around eighty percent of the wenches to retransfer." The sleepy-eyed Southron signaled for the slaves to refill his goblet. "There is great wisdom in this, for it is an equitable way to distribute those spoils gained in war, as well as reward the faithful. Let us be glad that the Lord of Mordor still allows a form of free trade."
"Of course, Shakh, I am always grateful and pay my taxes and tributes faithfully and on time." Awidan's hand slowly crept up the slave girl's thigh.
"Awidan, let us be glad for the rich lords and merchants of Nurn from whom we make our profits." Catching the eyes of the two striking dark-haired beauties, Esarhaddon smiled lazily at them. Even the slightest upturning of his lips was more than they could ever hope for, and their hearts fluttered in their bosoms at the excitement of being rewarded with his attention.
Only a slight frown showed Shakh Awidan's resentment at the interest his women were paying the other slaver. There was little, though, that he could say or do, for he was employed by the Shakh's trading establishment.
"Shakh Awidan, although all seems blessed and good, rumors have come to me that you have hinted to certain lords that they might buy slaves directly from you, thus saving them the effort of dealing with my brother and me. I am grieved, my friend, I am grieved!" Esarhaddon bowed his head, holding his temples. "Even worse, there have been other rumors, unbelievable intimations that you buy from rebel bands of orcs, using the name of the marketing firm of my brother and me. Of course," he smiled as he stroked a huge signet ring on his right hand, "I do not listen to idle tales."
Awidan's beard bobbed as he swallowed painfully, a worried expression wrinkling his brow. "Never, Shakh, never would I endorse such a crooked scheme!"
"Of course not, Shakh," Esarhaddon's voice rolled out like perfumed oil from a golden phial, "you would never do such a thing... Your wine is very good, you know. I toast your good taste and drink to your continuing good health."
"Certainly, certainly, Esarhaddon. I am an honest man!" Aziru's expression was as offended as a young child who had been punished unfairly.
"Yes, I know you are," Esarhaddon smiled benignly. Suddenly one of his hands shot out across the table, grasping the other man's beard in his strong fist. His eyes wide with fear, Awidan shrieked as Esarhaddon drew a wicked curved dagger and pressed the edge to his throat. Screaming and dropping their fans to the floor, the two women quickly scurried to the other side of the tent.
"Why, Esarhaddon?" Awidan cried, his whole body shaking, his eyes bulging out with terror.
"Because I believe in fair business practices!"
"I am an honest man!" Awidan squealed out his innocence.
"Yes, Shakh," Esarhaddon's deep voice came out in a whisper, "and I want to keep you that way. Any more rumors like that, Awidan, and your wives in Harad will be receiving a special gift from me - your head, prick and balls in a wicker basket." Slowly the edge of the knife trailed across the skin of the underling's thin throat, drawing a slight trickle of blood.
"Mercy upon me, Master, take mercy upon this miserable wretch!" Awidan sobbed, tears streaming down his face.
His dark eyes boring into those of the other man, Esarhaddon held Awidan's face close to his, keeping his grip on his beard. Then jerking Awidan forward as he leaned back, Esarhaddon let the whimpering man fall with a crash upon the table.
"On your knees, Awidan!" Esarhaddon growled. "Kiss the sole of my foot like the dog that you are!"
"Mercy! Mercy!" Awidan cried as he crawled across the floor to the feet of Esarhaddon, who turned up one foot slightly.
"I want you to understand this, Awidan - I can abide a little cheating, even bribery, but never use the name of Huzziya in any prohibited dealings!"
Perspiration gleaming on his forehead, Awidan knelt on the floor, embracing the other slaver's foot and kissing the sole.
"Go back and sit down, Shakh. You look strained." Disgusted, Esarhaddon slipped his dagger back in its sheath. "And call your wenches. Let them stir the air with their fans; it is rank with the stench of your sweat."
"Anything you wish, my lord! The life of this worthless jackal is yours!" Knowing how close he had come to death, Awidan crawled backwards to his cushion and, shaking, he placed himself back on it. He turned to the two cowering women. "Take up your tasks again, Meril and Lothwen!"
"Yes, O Gracious Lord!" they murmured demurely as they moved gracefully back towards the table. How each one wished that Esarhaddon would kill the doddering old man and claim them for his own!
As they walked, Lothwen whispered breathlessly, "Just one look from his sensual eyes and my loins grow wet! How I wish a master like that owned us!"
"Oh, to have a real man like that make love to us, instead of that whining invalid!" Meril sighed wistfully.
"Shhh, be quiet! We approach them!"
Bowing gracefully, they reached down to recapture their fans, resuming the slow pumping of the handles. As each woman cast sideways smiles to the other, they diffidently dropped their gaze down towards the floor.
"Awidan, I have not quite concluded the discussion of our business, and besides I have neither finished my wine nor partaken of all of the tempting delicacies that you have arrayed upon your table." His eyes sent glances to Lothwen and Meril which brought shivers tracing up their spines, causing the heat which burnt between their legs to flame even higher. "If I had more time, I would enjoy all the sweetmeats that your dwelling has to offer."
"Shakh!" Awidan exclaimed. "All that I have is yours!"
"How generous, my friend," Esarhaddon replied, his heavy-lidded eyes focusing upon the heaving chest of Meril.
Awidan cleared his throat, resigning himself to the prospects of sharing his favorite women. Nervously, he called to the slave man, "Galuech, refill our goblets!"
"Let us finish our discussion, Shakh Awidan lûk-Nysmr."
"As my lord wishes," the older man nodded respectfully.
"We shall have a long, beneficial and profitable partnership," Esarhaddon smiled darkly as he lifted his goblet in the air.
"Yes, my lord, we shall," Awidan agreed, all the while silently praying to every tribal deity whose name came to his mind and hastily adding the Two Dark Gods just to be certain. He licked his dry lips and hesitantly asked, "Is the caravan prepared which will take the Rohirric slave women and children to their destination?"
"Aye," affirmed Esarhaddon. "We await only the completion of the collaring, and then we will be away. But it is a month-long journey to the Doraz Uzg-u Bhoghâtug-ob Turu, the Gate to the Land of Many Blessings. The supply wagons are packed with every conceivable thing we might need, except water. After we cross the Anduin, the water wagons will be replenished. As you know, we must keep a tight watch upon the supply."
"You make a worthy partner for your brother," Awidan flattered, hoping to return himself to Esarhaddon's good graces. He knew though that once the slaver became suspicious of a person, that man would never be in his confidence again.
"Your compliments are sweet words to my ears, Shakh Aiwdan, but now the time has come for me to leave your hospitality and begin the journey." Esarhaddon leaned over the table and picked up a candied date from a tray. "Very good fruit, Awidan!" he exclaimed. "However, you make leaving more difficult."
"Only the best for my employer's brother," he simpered. Then bowing his head, he placed his right hand over his heart and extended it in a rolling motion outward to Esarhaddon. "Take another, take another! And the raisins! Do not forget them! They are succulent and sweet!"
"There is time for another taste," Esarhaddon smiled as he picked up a date and put it in his mouth.
As Awidan watched Esarhaddon, who seemed in little hurry to leave his tent, he grew increasingly more alarmed. He knew that the fiend was enjoying his discomfort and would stretch out the torture as long as he could. Perhaps he could get the Shakh into a better mood by distracting him.
"My friend, before you leave you can surely tell me how you liked the two wenches I gave you last night?" Awidan stroked his beard, his dark eyes gleaming lecherously.
"Sadly to say, Awidan, though the generosity of your bountiful heart overcomes me with appreciation, neither girl was satisfactory." Esarhaddon sighed heavily.
"Then I will have them whipped!" Awidan exclaimed, raising his fist.
"My good friend," Esarhaddon spoke languidly, "there is no need of that. The girls had only been deflowered the night before, and so they were not welcoming the experience." The tent had become so quiet that the droning of a fly was magnified tenfold. Looking around, the slaver continued. "When I arrived at the tent you loaned me, I was eager for some sport, but the girls shyly covered themselves up. They told me they had not yet grown accustomed to pleasuring men, and even as I undressed, they hid their faces beneath the covers. Perhaps you heard them scream when I widened their newly ploughed channels. Though through it all they lay as though they were dead, when I finished with them, they begged me to stay." The slaver glanced to Awidan, who seemed to be barely breathing, his face a sickly white. "Thus I was cheated, since they received far more pleasure from me than I did with them!" He looked sadly at the other man. "Awidan, you say you consider me as a brother. Why then did you not offer the skilled artistry of Meril and Lothwen?" He winked mischievously at the two women, and the rising and fall of the great feathered fans halted in their courses as the pair tittered.
"Esarhaddon, my friend, I only gave them to you because I thought that you prefer young flesh! Have mercy upon the two wenches and my reputation! I implore you!" Pulling a handkerchief from his sleeve, he mopped his heavily perspiring face.
"Never make the mistake of trying to think for me, Shakh Awidan. When I return, I will try the charms of Meril and Lothwen. Of course," he chuckled, looking benevolently at the older man, "next time you will offer me my choice and not yours." He gave Awidan a stern look, his narrowed eyes glittering.
"Next time, my lord Esarhaddon - I swear to you upon the memory of my ancestors! - I will have women for you that will delight even your discriminating tastes! Women from Far Harad, ebony-skinned, dark eyes glowing with desire! Women from the northernmost parts of Rhûn clad in sumptuous furs and nothing more! Gondorian and Umbarian women with heads held high, haughty and proud of their ancestry, challenging to tame! Icy blondes and warm redheads from Rohan, women with great, bulging breasts and nipples as pink as rosebuds! The mysterious, doe-eyed beauties of Khand whose teeth are like pearls against their tawny faces! The shy, porcelain-skinned daughters of the Golden Lords of the Far East who know more positions than we could ever dream possible! You would think you were tasting the joys of the afterlife while still upon the earth!"
Then as a sudden thought hit him, Awidan shook his head sadly and looked down at the table. "No Elves, unfortunately. They are impossible to obtain, for they are sent straight to the Tower after they are captured. In any event, they die so quickly that they are scarcely worth the effort. As for the women of those small races from the Northwest, few will have them save those with the most exotic of tastes."
"Perhaps I should delay my trip to Nurn and sample these wonders before I go, but, unfortunately, that cannot be done!" Esarhaddon lamented, rising to his feet. "Now, I must leave you, Shakh Awidan. Should the war continue, my plans are to return here in a few months."
"Farewell, blessings upon you and your house, Shakh Esarhaddon uHuzziya!" the old man exclaimed as he stood up, glad that at last his superior was going. "Before you leave, I will see that an ample supply of wine from my own cellar and assorted sweetmeats from my larder are packed in one of your supply wagons. I even have almonds and pistachios! Take them as a gift for you and your brother. May the Two Lords be with you on your journey and smile upon you!"
Esarhaddon placed his right hand upon his heart and extended it outward towards Shakh Awidan. "May your days be forever and the sons of your loins be without number! Farewell, my friend, Awidan lûk-Nysmr. Until a few months! May fortune smile upon you!"
"May the goods that your caravans hold bring you rich rewards, Shakh Esarhaddon uHuzziya!"
Flashing a smile of perfect teeth, Esarhaddon nodded and left the tent.
When the man was gone, Awidan stared mournfully into his goblet of wine and then turned to Meril and Lothwen. "Since you seemed to prefer his company to mine, I should have given both of you to him," he muttered in disgust. "But," he smirked, "had you lain with him, I do not think that the delicate skin on your backs and bottoms would have remained so smooth and unblemished. They say Shakh Esarhaddon Efendi is a cruel man who enjoys flailing the flesh off the backs of wenches who do not please him!"
"Master," Meril murmured, "I do not think we would have disappointed him."
"No, Master," Lothwen smiled from beneath dark lashes, "the Shakh would have found pleasure in our arms."
"Gondorian strumpets!" Awidan cursed as he slammed his goblet down on the low table, sending a good part of its contents splashing across the table.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.