The Circles: Book 2: Journey of Sorrow: 12. Comforts and Concerns

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12. Comforts and Concerns

Chapter Written by Elfhild and Angmar

Esarhaddon and Tushratta watched as the long line of Rohirric slaves plodded forward. The few Gondorian man-slaves - collared and chained as were the Rohirric captives - marched under heavy guard behind the Rohirrim. Walking unfettered behind the Gondorian thralls were tawny and swarthy skinned slaves - men, a few women, and boys - undoubtedly natives of the Eastern and Southern lands. These slaves laughed and chattered among themselves, obviously far freer than their Gondorian and Rohirric counterparts. Falling into line behind the long column was a train of enclosed wains, decorated in colorful paints and designs, two of them containing the slaver's harlots and their servants. Coming behind them were the supply wagons and the rear guard.

Satisfied that the column was in position, Esarhaddon and Tushratta urged their horses into a trot and quickly caught up with the line of Rohirric captives in front. Commanding the orcs to halt the line, Esarhaddon reined in his horse and scanned up and down the long procession.

"My fine ladies, the excellency of your beauty has been recognized, and each night, one or more of you will be awarded the high honor of serving me whilst I dine. As yet, I have not made my choice, so there is still hope for all of you. Until then, you may look forward with anticipation to the possibility of being chosen tonight."

Beside him, the physician Tushratta smiled knowingly. A sudden sinking feeling came over the captives old enough to understand. This green and yellow robed Southron was their master, at least for a time, and his control over his property was total. Their life or death he held in his tawny hands, and they knew that many of his designs for them were far from wholesome. There was a sense of finality in each mile that took them eastward, as though they were condemned felons walking the slow march to the gallows. Step by step, each plodding rise and fall of the foot brought them closer to the dreadful doom which lay just beyond the dark forms of the Mountains of Shadow. Slavery and then death. There would be no escape.

Elfhild lifted her head slightly and glanced back at the Gondorian slave men. Tears of sympathy pushed their way up and trickled down her face as she beheld once proud men now forced to toil for those against whom they had fought in the war. Her heart was filled with pity for their plight. What horrible tortures had these conquered warriors of Gondor been forced to endure at the hands of their enemies? The very thought was horrifying, for the folk of the Dark Lands were renowned for their cruelty.

And then the grim question came to her mind - what horrible tortures would they endure? Turning away from the men, Elfhild looked at her sister's back. A gruesome image rent her thoughts: she saw Elffled dying in a dank dungeon, her frail body shuddering in bitter agony after suffering endless disgraces and tortures unimaginable. The vision filled Elfhild with cold dread, for she knew she would be utterly helpless to save her sister from such an evil fate.

"What would be even worse," she thought grimly, allowing her morbid imagination to take flight, "would be if a kind man bought me, and I spent my days in his hall, doted on by servants and adored by my master, while Elffled languished in some prison, her body racked with pain!" More tears spilled down Elfhild's cheeks.

The previous night's rest had brought little relief for the captives, and they had awakened to sore, aching muscles and stiff joints. Many of the women and children began to limp as the morning wore on. The ill-fitting boots did little to comfort their feet or their spirits. Solemnly they marched, the only sounds being the tramping of their feet, the rattling of their chains, and the irritated reminders from their guards that they were going too slowly.

By evening, they had traveled a weary ten miles. Halfway between Minas Tirith and Osgiliath, the captives were ordered to a halt for the night. The Gondorian slaves were first to be loosed from their chains. Their ankles, though, were kept in shackles to hamper their walking and prevent their escaping. The overseers soon had them working to build cooking fires and fetch water for the pots.

"Move ahead, blonde wenches!" the uruks ordered the Rohirric captives as they herded them into a wide barren field. While some of the orcs guarded the women and children, others moved about the lines, unchaining the captives for the night. The process was a slow one, for there were fewer orcs now than there had been when the captives had been brought South, and many of the guards were busily engaged in setting up camp.

Since becoming prisoners, the captives had grown accustomed to the rhythm of breaking camp in the morning, halting briefly at noon, and continuing on until evening. Now their lives had been turned over to a new power - the Southern slaver and his men. Uncertain of what would be expected of them, the unfettered captives milled around aimlessly, almost like confused beasts. No longer under the steady scrutiny of the soldiers, some of the captives felt frightened, for the almost mechanical routine of their existence had been altered. Their captivity had been grinding, but at least they had known what to expect. Now the great question loomed in their minds - what next?

Fingering the necklace of knuckle bones about his neck, a leering part orc swaggered up to Elffled and released her from the line. Then he turned to Elfhild, bringing his twisted face close to hers as he unbound her hands and unsnapped the chain from her collar.

"Wait - you forgot this!" Elfhild spat sarcastically, wincing as she gingerly brought a stiff arm upward to point at the band of iron. The day had been an abysmally wretched one in a long succession of miserable days, and her mood was foul. She was weary of being jostled and pushed, poked, prodded and pinched, and now this ugly beast with his revolting breath and snagged, rotten teeth was gawking at her!

"Forgot!" the orc jeered, his yellow eyes flashing. "Forgot nothing! If I took off yours, I'd have to take off the whole lot of them! The collar stays! Don't get high and mighty with me, slave slut! The collar shows who owns you - Mordor - with lease to the House of Esarhaddon uHuzziya. You should take pride that this illustrious House has the use of you."

"I cannot say that any of us are grateful!" Elfhild remarked in her most haughty voice.

Chortling gleefully, the orc looked her up and down, his upper lip curling disdainfully. "If you ain't grateful now, my pretty fine feathers, maybe you will be soon. What you been needin' is a good taste of orc honey shoved in that big mouth of yours to shut it up!" A deep laugh rumbling in his throat, he lunged for her.

"No!" Elfhild shrieked as she darted away, the orc right behind her. Watching helplessly, the other women screamed as the brute almost grabbed Elfhild. Even though the beast was huge, solid and well-built as a wall, his thick legs were still swift. He had almost caught up with her, when the sound of approaching hooves halted him. Reining in their horses, two of the slave-master's green-clad guards glared down at him.

"Galinâth!" exclaimed one of men as he flicked his slave flail at the orc. "You damned fool! Leave the wench alone! She is not for any of your folk, or mine!"

"Master," the orc bowed stiffly, the look of utter hatred and contempt barely hidden in his eyes, "I was just having a bit of fun with the wench! I never meant any harm!"

"Do this again, you damned idiot," the tawny, dark-eyed man growled, "and you will go back to the army, unhealed war wounds and metals be damned! Now go on with you and tend to your own duties!" He kept his scowling gaze leveled at the orc until with a small hiss, the creature inclined his head and lumbered away. Turning to look at Elfhild, the guard's attention slowly roamed downward, concentrating upon her breasts, lingering upon her hips, and traveling all the way to her feet. His dark eyes came back up and met her own and, smiling devilishly, he winked at her.

"Run along now, wench! I have no time to talk with you, but I shall be back later after the supper hour when all of you have been assembled together."

"T-thank you, sir!" Elfhild stammered shyly, curtsying out of respect and gratitude.

"Eat well, slave girl," the man laughed, and the guard with him grinned. "You need more meat to cover your skinny body!"

Touching their spurs to the horse's flanks, the two rode away at a trot in the direction where the tents and pavilions were being erected. Working quickly under the supervision of Esarhaddon's men, the half-breeds had hoisted up the slaver's great green, yellow and black pavilion, with a smaller tent nearby for Tushratta. At some distance from those tents, a campground had been prepared for the guards, wagon drivers, and other servants of the House of Huzziya. Another more colorful and elaborate pavilion had been raised for the pleasure women, who waited in their wains, chattering and giggling and laying wagers on who would be the first to visit them that night.

Elfhild watched as the horsemen rode away, and then it seemed as though her body lost all its strength. A shudder, both of dread and disgust, seized her and she trembled convulsively. After the fit had passed, she sighed heavily in relief. At least the orc had not forced a kiss upon her lips as had the men in the blacksmith's shop! Never had she been kissed by one of those foul beasts, and the thought of harsh, leathery lips upon hers and a thick, slimy tongue moving about in her mouth was enough to make her gag. She closed her eyes, trying to wipe away the impression of the foul brute.

"Elfhild!" her aunt cried as she rushed up with Elffled and Hunig following close behind. Hugging her elder niece to her bosom, Leofgifu clung to the girl almost desperately. "Thank goodness you are all right! We thought that monster would attack you!"

"Are you all right, Hilde?" Hunig asked, tugging on Elfhild's skirt.

Elfhild cast a glance down over her shoulder to her little cousin. "The orc did not hurt me... I was far too fast for him!" She laughed lightly, and when Hunig's worried face broke out into a grin, Elfhild smiled in pleasure.

"Elfhild!" Her aunt's displeased tone snapped Elfhild's attention back to her. "Your foolish prank brought you very close to danger, so do not brag about it!"

"But, Aunt," Elfhild protested, "the guards came just in time. Though they hate the men, most of the brutes seem to be afraid of them." She attempted to brush her aunt's fears away with a blithesome smile and a reassuring squeeze to her hand.

Elffled stood nearby, her arms folded across her chest, silently sulking. She was sick of her sister's brash antics. It seemed Elfhild was determined to get in trouble. Well, that was perfectly fine and jolly if Elfhild wished to get into quarrels with every soldier or guard, but more often than not she had an uncanny penchant for involving her poor twin. "At least I was nowhere around her this time," Elffled thought smugly.

"Please just stay out of their way," Leofgifu pleaded, her thin, square face pinched with frustration and worry. "Do not anger the orcs! You know full well how savage they can be!" Could her reckless niece not learn to temper her rage and resentment for their enemies? She felt like tearing her hair out in frustration. Did her niece ever listen? Leofgifu highly doubted it. She kept warning the girl, but her words kept falling on deaf ears. Sooner or later Elfhild would learn to keep her mouth shut, and Leofgifu feared it would not be from her admonitions and entreaties.

"At least there are fewer of the monsters now." Elfhild attempted to change the subject; perhaps her aunt would forget that she was displeased with her, and instead rail about the hated, loathsome orcs. At least she could hope so.

"Enough about them!" Leofgifu snapped, easily seeing through her niece's subtle ploy. "You should have learned after what happened in the blacksmith's shop today. Do not provoke fights with either man or orc! We are naught but chattel in their eyes, and they can do to us what they please - whether it be to punish or to kill." She feared for her headstrong niece's safety, for luck would not always be in her favor as it had been today. Losing its irritated edge, her voice grew more urgent as she spoke. "Elfhild, I beg you never to anger them again, for our days upon this journey may be the last ones we shall ever spend together. When we are sold as slaves in Nurn, we might be sundered from each other forever, our fates lying with different masters. We must make the most of the time we have yet remaining."

"No!" Elfhild whimpered, the tears springing up in her eyes at the reminder of that terrible truth. How she dreaded that day - so much so that she tried to pretend it would never come, that the journey would last forever and they would never arrive at their destination.

"Please do not speak so!" Elffled cried, clutching at her aunt's arm.

Hunig looked between the grown-ups, her large blue eyes filled with fear, her lips trembling. "Oh, let us not talk about bad things!"

"No," Leofgifu managed a wan smile, "we will think about that day when it comes."

After the initial shock of the destruction of their villages and their subsequent capture had passed, these horrible fears had slowly crept up upon all of the captives' minds. The present, even though it was miserable, offered far more security than did the future. If the women thought too much of the days to come, then they would have to consider the grief of separation from their children, kinswomen and friends. Nurn would be a place of great sorrow, even if they had the good fortune to be bought by compassionate owners.

When the captives had completed the evening meal, they were escorted to the latrine pits which the Gondorian slave men had dug earlier. While by order of the Southrons, the uruks had to turn their backs while the women answered nature's call, they were all lusty fellows with robust appetites. More than one of them felt the aching throb in his loins at the sound of the golden showers which fell like gentle rain. Though the whole business was humiliating, the captives had learned to endure. After relieving themselves, they were again formed into a line and taken to the area where they would make their beds on the ground that night. There they were ordered to stand in rows for assembly.

Riding up, two horsemen reined in their mounts between the two rows. Elfhild recognized them as the guards who had earlier saved her from embarrassment at the hands of the orc. Both were plain, ordinary looking fellows. The one who had talked to her earlier, a tawny, scowling fellow whose forehead was creased in a deep frown, had intense dark brown eyes which were further accented by the kohl which lined them. While he sported a thick black beard, his companion, a man in his forties, was clean-shaven except for a mustache. The setting sun glinted off the golden earring which adorned one of his large ears. As she looked at the two men, Elfhild wondered why she felt a twinge of disappointment that neither was the handsome, though insufferably arrogant, Esarhaddon uHuzziya. She chided herself for such an abhorrent thought, and made a silent promise never to think such a thing again.

"Attention!" the surly one commanded. "I want complete silence among you!"

The cowed captives would give him no argument at that. Hushing their offspring, the women waited for the Southron to speak.

"I am Ubri uMandum," the tawny-skinned man announced in accented Common Speech, "captain of the guards of Esarhaddon uHuzziya." The man's solemn brown eyes did more than hint that he was one who would countenance no disagreements. "I have a number of announcements." He looked up and down the line of captives. "The first is that tomorrow we shall reach the Anduin." He scowled when he heard the protesting murmur of the women. "Silence!" he grated out harshly and waited for the low din to die away. "We will camp tomorrow night by the river. You might be happy to know that before we cross the Anduin the next day, you will be allowed to bathe and wash your clothing in the shallows of the river. Sufficient quantities of olive oil will be provided to rid yourselves of the vermin that infest your hair."

Glancing at the women, Ubri read the reactions in their faces. Some looked at him blandly; others flushed with shame; a few did not bother to hide the hatred in their eyes. "In a few weeks' time, you will again be given the oil to destroy any of the nits that have hatched. While many of you might not be accustomed to cleanliness, we are a fastidious people, and we insist that our slaves adopt our customs." He waited until the women had fully digested his words before speaking again.

"There are more announcements... When the need for clothing arises, you will inform your guards of your needs. They will see that you draw garments from the supervisor of supplies. Many of you wear cloaks which are hot and stifling. After today, you will turn them in every morning." Some of the women turned to their fellow captives and grumbled. One shouted out, "You are not taking my cloak!"

"Silence! Be still, or I will have you whipped for such impertinence!" Ubri ordered, shaking the slave flail threateningly. "You will receive them back at night when you need them. We are going to a place where it can grow cold very quickly when darkness covers the land."

Many of the women nodded their heads up and down, relieved at what they considered a small concession. Some were plainly pleased at the thoughts of baths after so long. Almost a month had passed since they had last bathed, and the reek of their bodies was a constant insult to their nostrils. Others among the women were convinced that these acts of kindness were some kind of treachery. This man's pleasant words were designed to make them feel safer, so they would let down their guard. These devils were indeed sly, and they must be careful lest they be seduced by the wiles of the enemy!

Ubri went on. "Should you or your children become ill, let this matter be known to one of the slave boys. The physician Tushratta can attend to your ailments and injuries..."

Ubri's eyes rested somewhere above the women's heads as a slight flush covered his tawny face. "When the... sickness of women comes, you are to bring this situation to the attention of one of the slave boys. You need not be embarrassed, for they have no interest in women. They are all eunuchs whose male organs have been removed. A boy will take you to the tent of the Master's women, and those ladies can assist you." He cleared his throat, obviously embarrassed. "These are all the announcements, but you are to remain here, for the great Shakh wishes to speak with you. I bid you a pleasant evening."

With a relieved expression upon his face, Ubri turned to his companion, and the two of them quickly urged their horses into a trot. The women tried to keep their silence, but after such momentous announcements, they found they had to bite their tongues to keep from talking.

The captives waited nervously as darkness began to fall over the camp. Soon after the horsemen left, the captives saw torches approaching from the direction of the pavilions. Growing apprehensive as the figures drew closer, the women recognized the Southron slaver, accompanied by four of his bodyguard. Fearfully they remembered what he had said earlier, and each woman worried that he would choose her. As the men led the way with upraised torches, Esarhaddon strolled among the women, pausing from time to time to talk to one who caught his interest.

After he had inspected all of the captives, touching one woman's hair, one woman upon the cheek, another upon the breast, he pointed at Waerburh with his riding crop.

"You have been chosen to spend the night in my tent. Rejoice! Fate has smiled upon you!"

"No!" Waerburh screamed as two of Esarhaddon's guards clasped her by the shoulders and forced her away.

The slaver turned in a circle and gestured the crop towards Aeffe, a pretty girl with reddish blonde hair. "Though second in my choice, I do not find you less appealing than the other," Esarhaddon murmured seductively. "Your moon-shaped face is exquisite. Will you fight me, too?" He smiled, his hooded eyes raping her body.

"No, my lord." Aeffe looked down demurely. "What good would it do me?"

"None, my little beauty." He lifted up her chin with the tip of his riding crop until he was looking into her eyes. "None at all."

Esarhaddon thoughtfully considered the remaining women, stroking his beard before resting his chin on his hand. "You!" He turned a quarter circle and the riding crop pointed in the direction of a young woman named Frithuswith. "With your pale face framed by your luxuriant blonde hair, you are like a pearl in an encasing of gold."

"No!" the girl shrieked. "I will not go with you!"

Two more guards stepped up, and, placing their hands upon her shoulders, they dragged the trembling girl away.

"Fortune's choice has been made," Esarhaddon announced dramatically, "but the rest of you should not lose heart! The journey is long and there will be many other evenings when I crave to have beauty with me. Then I will call the fortune-favored ones to grace my tent, and perhaps warm my bed. I bid you all pleasant sleep. Come, lovely one," he looked to Aeffe, "follow three paces behind me as is proper for a woman to do." Smiling, the slaver took his leave of the horrified captives.

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.

Story Information

Author: Angmar and Elfhild

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Post-Ring War

Genre: Drama

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 08/24/09

Original Post: 05/02/08

Go to The Circles: Book 2: Journey of Sorrow overview


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