11. An Unwelcomed Edict
Chapter Written by Angmar and Elfhild
"The greatest happiness is to vanquish your enemies, to chase them before you, to rob them of their wealth, to see those dear to them bathed in tears, to clasp to your bosom their wives and daughters."
- Genghis Khan
Cursing, the green-clad guard quickly herded Elfhild and Elffled away from the row of pavilions and out to the open area of the slave compound. Chains were snapped into the front and back rings of the girls' collars. Like leashed hounds in tandem, Elffled was chained behind Leofgifu, while Elfhild came next in the coffle. Murmuring softly to herself, the unfortunate Breguswith walked as a sleeper, innocently babbling questions to everyone she saw, until the guards' firm hands guided her to stand behind Elfhild in the long column of slaves.
The design of the system was ingenious, providing for a slave to be removed from the column and the links quickly joined together again. It was thought that this method was merciful and convenient, for each slave would bear only two lengths of lightweight chain, thus sparing the prisoners' necks the burdensome task of bearing one long heavy line strung through the rings of the collars.
The hot summer sun beat down upon Elfhild's shoulders and flamed upon her hair, turning it a glistening cream. She heard the soft strains of Breguswith's humming behind her and recognized the melody as a lullaby, a song sung to the memory of her dead baby. The chain clanked as Elffled impatiently stamped her feet and shifted her body. A subtle vibration coursed from one end of the line to the other as the captives restlessly moved about, unaccustomed to the awkward iron bands and chains about their necks.
Guarding the column were tawny and swarthy men, wearing rich green livery, and fifteen or so half-breed uruks, all armed with both spear and scimitar. None of the men or orcs were in military uniform, though some of the orcs' garments looked to be a mixed collection of well-used jerkins and vambraces of boiled leather combined with mannish dress. About the shoulders of some of the half-breeds were worn and faded cloaks of fine material and well-cut design, gifts, perhaps, from their masters when the garments were no longer of use to them.
"All right, now," one of the guards ordered, "make this line straighter and try to keep your squalling offspring quiet! We await the Slave-master!"
The captives had been waiting about an hour when they saw two horsemen ride up on fine prancing horses of the Haradric desert. One man was mounted on a sorrel and the other, a larger man, rode a chestnut mare. Both horses were arrayed in the brightly colored trappings of the South, the tassels on bridles and saddles bouncing with every hoof fall.
"Bow low to the ground," the guards, both man and orc, ordered the captives, and the women bowed from the waist. "Nar!" the guards bellowed. "The Master will not be pleased at such disrespect. Kneel and touch your foreheads to the dirt! This is the way you are always to bow to your superiors! To do anything else does not show respect to the ones whom Fate has has seen fit to set above you!"
Tied and chained, the women struggled to lower themselves to their knees, trying to retain their balance and keep from toppling over. The chains tugged uncomfortably against their necks, and the captives felt clumsy and awkward. Those children young enough to have been kept out of the cruel bonds hovered about their kindred, trying to assist them as they struggled to do this forced obeisance.
As the two men drew nearer, the guards bowed from the waist and shouted, "Hail, Shakh Esarhaddon and Master Tushratta!"
"Greetings, stout lads," the heavier of the two men called out as the pair halted their horses a short distance away from the end of the line.
From her crouched position upon the ground, Elfhild raised her head to obtain a glimpse of these two important newcomers. Her eyes traveled up the chestnut legs of the horse, then over the saddle of the mare to the powerful rider who sat atop her back. Elfhild's heart fluttered as she realized just what a handsome man this mighty Southron was. He appeared to be in his mid-thirties, a man in the prime and height of life. His tawny face was remarkably attractive, with unfathomable dark eyes edged by thick lashes; a majestic arched nose; a small brown mole under his right eye; full, sensual lips; and gleaming teeth white as pearls. Shining with life and vitality, his lush black beard had been trimmed neatly, dressed with perfume and pomade. She noted with almost gasping admiration his wide shoulders and broad chest. How strong he must be! ...And how very, very dangerous!
This devastatingly handsome Southron was dressed in richly brocaded yellow robes; a long, flowing green burnoose with tassels sewn to the hood; and baggy tan breeches. Upon his head was wound a white turban, the end flowing down his back and flapping gently in the breeze. Elfhild's admiring eyes went to the enormous ruby and spray of silvery feathers which crowned the magnificent headdress. Transfixed by the glittering jewel, she gazed at it in awe as it sparkled and glittered in the sun. She had never seen such wealth before, and such a blatant display of it astonished her peasant's mind. At last she wrenched her eyes away from the richly arrayed turban and surveyed the rest of the Southron's brawny form.
Upon his feet were the finest of kid leather riding boots, the points of each gracefully curving upward in the style of the East and South. Hanging from the wide belt at his thick middle was scimitar encased in a jeweled sheath. Elfhild shivered to think what damage that weapon could wreak upon his enemies. Such a blade could surely hew a man in half! Suddenly feeling quite small and defenseless, bound in chains and kneeling in the posture of submission as she was, Elfhild averted her gaze and looked at the great Southron's more modest companion.
She regarded the other man with far less enthusiasm, for, while the second man was taller, he was a slender, plain sort, not strong and muscular at all. This fellow was dressed far less ostentatiously, wearing a simple brown turban, tan tunic and burnoose, white breeches, and scuffed brown riding boots. Quickly losing interest, Elfhild's gaze returned to the first man - the mighty, robust one - before she lowered her head once more.
"Greetings, fair wenches, well met," greeted the slave-master. "You bowed splendidly, your breasts and foreheads touching the earth, your hair spilling down like lovely golden curtains, and your raised buttocks providing a most delightful initial impression! How beautifully you display yourselves before me! Since it was your first time, I am quite sure that it was difficult to humble yourselves in such a manner. I am pleased. You may rise now and give me a lovely smile in gratitude for this lesson which will benefit you for long years to come."
Resting his hand on the pommel, the slave-master leaned forward slightly in the saddle and watched as the slaves rose to their feet amidst a great clanking of the chains. Elfhild ventured another furtive glance at this powerfully-built man and wondered what sort he would be, whether he would prove kind or cruel. Probably it would be the latter - he spoke with the same mocking arrogance and boastful derision as did all the men and orcs of the Dark Land. Every last one of them took great delight in humbling and disgracing the captives, throwing salt into the wounds inflicted upon their pride by the defeat of the West and subsequent thralldom of its people. Elfhild sighed, feeling strangely melancholy. Why did such a handsome man have to be so heartless?
"Still I am displeased, for there are no smiles to greet your new master!" The man frowned. "I know none of your names as yet, but I will. Know you now that I am Esarhaddon uHuzziya of Harad. I am a dealer in slaves and other goods, holding contracts with the military commanders and the government of Nurn. You are now in the care and keeping of the House of Huzziya. Consider yourselves blessed!" Turning to the other man as though he were an afterthought, the slaver introduced, "This is my personal physician, Tushratta of Khand." The other man nodded to the women.
Esarhaddon's eyes roved up and down the line of slaves, gleaming when he saw a woman or girl who was especially desirable. "We will be journeying to the City of Turkûrzgoi, which is located in the Western Province of Nurn near the inland sea of Núrnen. We should arrive at the city in about a month." The sound of his forceful, heavily-accented voice terrified many of the younger children, who sought the security of their mothers' skirts, burying their heads and clutching the material. Some of the older boys, thinking murder in their hearts, boldly challenged him with their eyes and aggressive stance, but in his gaze they saw only mockery. Turning to the man beside him and saying a few words in the hated foreign tongue, the slave-master laughed. He waited while the guards quieted the slaves with threats and curses before continuing.
"At this present time, all of you are owned, body and soul, by the Lord of Mordor. However, being generous and far-thinking, He has magnanimously decreed that the majority of you will be leased to the nobles, plantation owners, merchants and manufacturing establishments of Nurn." He paused, allowing the captives to absorb what he had just said. "If you labor diligently and are loyal, willing servants, you might be able to earn enough money to buy your freedom. Once free, there is always the opportunity to become productive citizens of the imperial state. Others of you might find such favor with your masters that they will purchase your contracts from the Lord of Mordor, either keeping you as personal slaves or allowing you to go free. How fortunate all of you are that the Emperor is so generous to the families of those who have stirred up war against Him!" Smiling, he looked over the line of captives, ignoring the low murmurs and hostile glances that met his words.
Turning to the tall physician beside him, Esarhaddon conferred briefly with him before looking back to the captives. As he regarded the women from beneath half-closed eyes, he slowly flicked the tip of his riding crop against his thigh. "We will come to know each other quite well. Until you reach Nurn, I am your master, and you will answer to me before all others. In time, all of you will learn to rush to greet me, and your loving lips will delight to call me 'Master!'"
"Loving lips, indeed," Elfhild whispered the saucy retort to her sister. "Perhaps my lips will call him something, but it will be far from loving. I have no master!" She felt a thrill of excitement course through her at the thought of defying such a powerful man.
Elffled remained silent, still shaken by the horrors which had befallen her in the blacksmith's shed. How could her sister behave so flippantly after all that they had just endured? Those men could have raped both of them, each one taking his turn to commit the vile deed! She did not want to attract the attention of the slaver, who had far more authority than rude guards and loathsome blacksmiths.
"When I am away, you will yearn to hear my voice. You will feel yourself lost without my embrace as though you had been forsaken in a desert waste, abandoned, cast off, alone." His voice had changed in tone, becoming husky, more sensual, and he flashed them a sparkling grin. "You will hope in your hearts that the silhouette that appears upon the distant horizon is that of your adored master! Your womanly bodies will ache in need for my caresses, and for once in your lives, you will know what it is like to be ruled by a man!"
"What a pompous fool," Elfhild whispered, rolling her eyes at the man's boastful claims. The threat of danger was a powerful stimulant, making her heart race and butterflies flutter in her stomach.
"Please, Elfhild!" Elffled whimpered. "Do not get us in trouble again!"
"Dear priceless flowers of Rohan, Fate has decreed that I am to be your protector for a time. The orcs who will accompany us are the heroic veterans of many battles, and by virtue of the multitude of their injuries, they were decreed unfit for duty. Thus they are now in my employ." A mixture of cajolement and command, his deep voice rang with authority.
Thoughtfully stroking his beard, the slaver closely surveyed the captives. "Some of you perhaps - if your modesty, virtue and refinement can be attested, and if you are of sufficient beauty and talents - might find favor in my eyes and be chosen for my harem. Other women, eager for my plucking, might become overly ambitious and let their jealousy blight their better senses and ruin their chances. Though you might crave my affections, be warned - not all find favor in my eyes. I am most demanding of my women!"
"Arrogant Southron," Elfhild muttered with a haughty toss of her hair. "As if we would want to be anywhere near him!"
"Be quiet, Elfhild!" Bringing her foot backwards, Elffled kicked her sister in the shin. She felt a sense of satisfaction when she heard Elfhild's whimper of pain.
Growing restless, the slaver's spirited chestnut mare pranced and fidgeted, mouthing the bit and moving sideways with the slaver. "Steady, my treasure," he murmured to his mount. A skilled horseman, Esarhaddon soon had the mare steadied with a firm hand on the reins. As though noticing them for the first time, he pointed the riding crop towards a startled Elfhild and Elffled. "Though your beauty is unremarkable, you are still novelties, twins, a matched set of blonde wenches, your kind almost unknown in my land! Many a man would like to have you in his bed for that reason alone!"
At these shocking words, the captives looked to each other, murmuring their displeasure in low voices. The younger children could not understand their meaning, but the older children, having an instinctive knowledge, knew that his words insinuated something dark and perverse. They feared for the safety of their mothers, sisters, and other kinswomen.
"My sister is an idiot," a mortified Elffled thought, the chain the only thing keeping her from running away and hiding somewhere.
Esarhaddon looked down at the twins. "I heard your whispering and your muttering," he remarked in his powerful voice. "Do you think that you might be found worthy to be included in my harem? Do not delude yourselves, my little wildflowers, for only the most beautiful and talented of virgins are taken into my household. If you have spread your thighs for the stalwarts of your own land, there will be other uses for you, which you might not enjoy! Perhaps fate has destined that the two of you spend your days in the brothels!"
Her cheeks flaming and her body frozen stiff and cold, Elfhild gaped up at the Southron, her heart pounding wildly and her aquamarine eyes wide and fearful.
"What are your names?" the slaver demanded, riding his horse closer and lifting her chin up with the end of the bat.
"E - Elfhild," she stammered, struck by a sudden sickening sense of promnesia. She had been here before, in this very same situation... but it had been nearly a month before, and she had been kneeling before a king instead of standing before a Southern slaver.
"My n-name is Elffled, sir," the other sister timidly mumbled, bowing her head and lowering herself in a curtsy.
"Such harsh and grating foreign names! There is no softness to them, no melodic euphony to their sound!" Esarhaddon touched his ear and shook his head. "If you ever find favor with me, you will be given names pleasing to my ears."
From beneath half-closed lids, the dark eyes of Esarhaddon turned from them and surveyed the other captives. The twins breathed a sigh of relief when his gaze left them, and Elfhild cursed herself for her foolishness. She never should have been whispering... she winced when she thought of the stern scolding that she would surely receive from her aunt. But how could she accept her fate passively when every part of her being wanted to rebel against the enemies who had subjugated her and her people, to lash out against the hopelessness and despair that she felt when she considered all that she had lost?
Esarhaddon moved his mare up and down the line of prisoners, finally settling on a place midway between the columns of chained women. He cleared his throat and spoke louder. "Truly I am delighted, most delighted, to make your acquaintance, fine ladies of the North, and I trust our association shall be most pleasant. My men and I will watch over you on the journey and will see to your comfort. We do not expect you to be appreciative, but remember who it is that feeds you!"
A pleased expression highlighting his handsome face, Esarhaddon scanned the line of captives. Tired, restless and frightened, many of the children sobbed quietly. The misfortune-plagued Breguswith rocked back and forth, cooing soft lullabies and mumbling to a son who lived no more. Elfhild sighed as she felt the chain pulling back and forth on her collar as Breguswith moved incessantly. It would be a long day, and she reckoned that her neck would be sore and chafed by the end of it.
"You there," Esarhaddon pointed the riding crop at Waerburh, "what is your name?"
"Waerburh," the startled woman replied.
"Did you have a husband who claims your favors?"
"Yes, I did, and perhaps still do," she returned haughtily.
"No shy, modest maid then!" he exclaimed, his dark eyes gleaming as he appraised her handsome face and full figure. "Married women have knowledge and skills that maidens lack."
"My husband was a brave man and honorable," she countered as she looked up at him, a defiant expression on her face. "And I have been an honorable wife!"
"Any marriages contracted before capture are considered null and void now, and you are accounted as an unmarried woman."
"I will always be married to my husband!"
"Let a past that is dead be forgotten so that you may look forward to the future." He returned to his surveillance of the line.
Slowly the slaver's expression grew stern. "It is my most unfortunate task to inform you that though I am generous and magnanimous beyond all belief, I will brook no disobedience or attempts to escape. Some of the lads have brought their mates with them, and I assure you most fervently that those fine wenches can inflict torments that will make even a strong man quail. They have been trained to employ methods which leave no mark upon the flesh, only painful bruises which fade in time. As a matter of fact, I enjoy watching them as they dole out their chastisements... This is not to say that I cannot mete out my own form of punishment, which, perhaps," a reflective expression crossed his face, "might bring both pleasure and pain to those who receive it." Absently, he tapped the riding crop on the side of his leg.
The slave-master turned his gaze to the uruks and their females. "Do not be humble, lads. Step aside and show off your beauties."
Amid cat-calls from their mates, the she-orcs sauntered forward from the line of uruk guards. The male orcs were ugly enough, but their mates defied the classification of "female." Every visible part of their bodies had been mutilated with frightening piercings or marked with strange and hideous tribal tattoos, and all were clad in a bizarre conglomeration of military uniform and civilian dress, obviously commandeered from a wide variety of peoples. One obese she-orc wore a morbidly hilarious parody of armor which barely covered her massive mammary glands. Her outfit was complete with an embarrassingly tiny leather loincloth which revealed the muscular contours of her beefy, hair-covered thighs.
A strange and disturbing thought struck Elfhild's reeling senses, driving out everything else that was in her mind: had these loathsome creatures ever known love? Had the orc who slew her mother possessed such a - she could hardly bring herself to think it - mate? She had learned that he was a kinsman of the others in the raiding party, but she had never really thought of such matters before. What if he had... children? What did an orc baby look like? Probably a nasty little snapping thing... but still a baby. Elfhild grieved for her own mother; did an orc woman and child grieve for the raider whom she had slain? Was she guilty of inflicting the same sorrow upon others as the orc had brought her? Was she a cold-hearted killer? Or was she only trying to defend her home?
She must stop thinking about such maudlin things. Of course, they had no feeling. Everyone knew it. They were enemies, and all of them deserved to... to... be exterminated? No! She would never let herself think that. They were thinking creatures - their horrible attire proved that they had individual tastes and preferences - and they had the right to live just as anyone else. Elfhild's musings were interrupted by the hooting laughter of the female uruks as they paraded close to the captives.
"Ooh, dearies, don't be afraid. We won't 'urt you!" One of the female brutes strutted, swaying her hips suggestively, as her harsh, deep voice attempted a coy giggle.
"Don't you think we're pretty?" exclaimed another as she wiggled her hips and squeezed her massive breasts. "Everyone knows we are!"
"She's just jealous of me because I'm prettier than she is," insisted a third, whose ancestry was so muddled with orcish and mannish blood that she appeared almost human. She shot a saucy look towards the captives. "I might be the kinswoman of some of you. Breeding always tells! Just look at me 'air!" Jutting out her ample chest, she raised her arms towards the sky and tangled her fingers in her auburn mane before letting the tresses slowly and sensually fall back down. "My sire was an 'alf-breed from Isengard!"
"Do you see what I mean, women of the North?" Shakh Esarhaddon asked as he motioned for the female orcs to step back into the line. "In addition to their distinctive charms, these formidable beauties are outstanding warriors. Do not attempt to escape. The lads and their mates can smell your trail in a rainstorm. They can see by day and by night, but their eyesight is most exceptional when the shadows fall. When captives try to elude them, it makes them unhappy. They will think you do not like their company." He smiled his mocking smile as he looked up and down the line. "Learn the rule of discipline and we shall all get along superbly. Now it is time for us to be away. Lead them forth, guards," the slaver commanded, pointing his riding crop straight forward towards the road.
"March!" the head overseer ordered. At the front of the line, the guard jerked roughly on the lead chain, causing the two women in front to stumble. As the captives trudged forward, the slaver and the physician watched the sad procession begin another day's slow, dreary journey.
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.