23. Flight Through Osgiliath
Chapter Written by Angmar and Elfhild
Hungering, the night predators sought the weak ones who scampered heedlessly on their way. The owls dipped their wings and dived down, their talons grasping and slashing, shredding living flesh into fragments. The high-pitched calls of the grayish brown bats echoed and cross-echoed until the size and the location of their tiny prey was visualized in their brains. The hunters of the skies drank their fill until the comforting sense of fullness signaled a halt to the feasting.
The campfires burned low, their heat dying away to slumbering embers. The sounds of merriment in the slavers' camp had fallen silent, and the guffawing louts who had drunk far too much wine now snored loudly and twitched in their sleep. Murmuring an "All is well," the guards on night patrol looked to the captives, who appeared to be sleeping peacefully. Raising their drinking flasks to their mouths, the guards continued their watch.
Suddenly the tranquility of the night was ripped apart by a woman's shrill scream for help. The wail was a clarion call, serving as both a proclamation that the escape was about to commence and a distraction to keep the slavers from anticipating the wild charge that was to follow. On the other side of the encampment, another woman screamed, and children bawled and bleated out fearful shrieks. Then from all quarters of the camp, women screamed out great horrendous calls of alarm. In confusion, the guards looked about, uncertain of the cause of the pandemonium that reigned throughout the slaves' area.
Her hair streaming wildly behind her as she ran, Aeffe wailed like a terrified wraith fleeing across a barrowfield. "Over here! Help, help! Follow me quickly!" she called as she raced past an open-mouthed young guard. Bewildered, he set off after her. The moon had long since departed from the summer sky, and the guard cursed when her willowy form disappeared into the shadows.
Laughing to herself, Aeffe hid behind a tall column of weathered stone. Her cry of "Please, please! Come quickly!" sent more guards racing after her. When she heard the sound of heavy footsteps charging through the ruins, she turned and fled towards the river and took refuge behind a tall, leafless tree. "Perhaps if I should hear Inbir's voice, I will allow him to capture me." That thought brought a smile to her lips and a warm glow to her heart.
Aeffe rested against the tree, listening for the sound of pursuit. She had been there for a few moments when she heard someone approaching. Drawing a sharp intake of air, she clutched the trunk of the tree, blending into its shadow, trying to make herself appear smaller. A woman streaked past, heading towards the Anduin. Panting heavily, the woman paused momentarily, turning her head and looking fearfully behind her. She was scarcely out of sight when another woman ran past the tree. Cursing and snarling, the orcs were hot on her heels. Aeffe waited until the voices died away in the distance before racing upstream among the trees.
As Aeffe and other women confounded and frustrated the guards, those women who longed for escape made the best of their chances. It was said that the Rohirrim could see more clearly at night than could other men, but whether that was true or not, the months of darkness had indeed strengthened their vision. Still, though, even with that advantage, the flight through the gloom and labyrinthine ruins posed a formidable challenge.
Elfhild had clutched her aunt and cousin in a desperate embrace, whispering one last farewell. Then she scampered away into the darkness, her reluctant but loyal sister following closely behind her. Little Hunig, who was doing her best to be brave, sniffled as her cousins disappeared into the night.
Fleeing in a different direction were Breguswith's kinswomen, pulling the poor, mad Breguswith along with them. They implored her to be quiet, but their pleas were ignored by Breguswith, who had fallen into a strange fit of mirthfulness and laughed happily as she clutched at her little bundle of rags.
Goldwyn and her sons could see flickering torches weaving through the darkness, the amber orbs bobbing like enormous fireflies. The night was filled with the screams of frightened women and children who stumbled through the ruins and underbrush in their flight. "Keep together!" Goldwyn urged desperately. "Fródwine, hold tight to Frumgár's hand and follow me!" Pulling Fritha along behind her, she ran half-crouching towards the River, the other boys hurrying behind.
A great hue and cry had gone up in the nearby orc camp. "Urk ta! Mal latum?" their harsh voices demanded. "Grumbull-ar sûru glûb thachgulum ghung kulûk gugshuz!" Confused and with no direction, the orcs milled about wildly, and some, thinking there was a brawl, turned and began plummeting each other savagely.
Ubri uMandum, the slaver's first lieutenant, pushed the sleepy harlot's warm body away from him as he slid from his couch.
"What is it, Master!" she cried, her voice taut with fear.
"There is some disturbance in the slave encampment, and I must see what it is... surprised you did not hear all the commotion, but you were sleeping the slumber of the wicked." Grinning, Ubri yawned and scratched the thick mat of black hair on his chest. "Sang-mí, while I am gone, go back to the tent with the other women and occupy yourself with your babe... I will send a man to escort you," he told her as he hurriedly pulled on his sirwal and pantaloons.
"Is there a raid?" The gentle girl's voice quivered with dread. Not bothering with the light robe which lay discarded on the floor, she rose to her feet. Her dark eyes searched his face in the dim light of the brass lantern which hung from the ceiling frame.
"Who would be foolish enough to attempt that?" Ubri laughed dryly as he finished dressing, strapping his sword belt around his middle.
"Rebellious Gondorians?" she offered, nervously clenching her hands.
"Your innocence greatly amuses me, Sang-mí. The bravest ones of the enemy were the first to be slain in the war. The weaker ones were captured. Those remaining do not have the courage to challenge us."
"I am corrected, Master. Please forgive this worthless slave." Sang-mí bowed her head in chastised humility.
Bending down, Ubri hastily kissed her as he fondly caressed her bare, milk-swollen breasts. "I shall want a draught of this sweet nectar when I return," he murmured as he rolled a henna-stained nipple between his thumb and forefinger. "Stay warm for me."
Sang-mí moaned softly as his hand squeezed her throbbing breast. "For you, my lord, above all the others, my fires are perpetually raging!" she purred throatily. "I would come to you even if you did not pay me!"
"When I get back to you, I will enjoy quenching your fires once more." He pulled her to him for another hungry kiss before striding out of the tent.
Torches flickered ahead of him, and as Ubri walked towards the glow, he saw that a number of guards had gathered. Half-dressed and angry at being awakened from their sleep, the guards had staggered from their tents. Now they stood about in small, sullen groups, talking in low voices. Met by a half-breed orc, Ubri demanded, "What in the hell is going on!"
Looking at the grim-faced man before him, the confused orc slipped into a mixture of garbled Common and Black. "Bag pushdug, Master! By the holy Melkor's black balls, it's all over! We're nazhatuga! Shakh azubizgûk!"
"Talk sense! What do you mean?"
"Sundug irzatug!" The orc's eyes bulged with alarm.
"Iluga amat kul lat gundug tul?" Ubri demanded in disgust. "Darg hai-lab sundug-la!"
"Akhoth!" The orc saluted, clasping his right fist to his left shoulder, before turning and lumbering away.
Ubri cursed and spat on the ground as Inbir came trotting up, a torch in his right hand.
"Ubri," an out of breath Inbir panted, "I hastened here as quickly as I could! What is the trouble? Are the half-breeds involved in yet another one of their perpetual quarrels and tussles?"
"Nothing so simple as that, Inbir," the older man explained in disgust. "It seems the damned fools have allowed some of the captives to escape!"
Inbir shook his head. "That is what happens when such filth as those animals must be employed to do the work of men!"
"The policies of the shakh's trading establishment are not matters of my concern." Ubri turned to one of the other guards. "Send a man to inform Shakh Esarhaddon of what has transpired. I pity the poor wretch who has to bear this news to him." His brows puckered in a deep scowl.
"The messenger deserves our condolences. The Shakh will be angrier than a goaded ram!" Inbir cast an apprehensive glance towards the slaver's brightly lighted pavilion. "I think he already knows some work is afoot!"
Ubri touched Inbir's forearm. "We might as well warm ourselves by the fire until the orcs come back with their report. My friend, while we wait, we will share a few draughts from my flask. That will make us both feel better."
"And perhaps enjoy a jest or two?" Inbir's eyes brightened as he stroked his thin, well-groomed beard.
"Or a tale... Perhaps you would like to tell me about the woman who is your current fancy, this blonde-haired Northern wench, Aeffe." Ubri looked at his friend with tolerant amusement before slapping him across the back.
"She is a lovely gazelle who has enslaved my heart with one glance from her doe-like eyes! What more is there to say?" Inbir's lustrous eyes softened in a smile, his tawny face highlighting his white teeth.
"Be careful, Elffled!" hissed Elfhild as the two almost crashed into a pile of rubble in the darkness. Stumbling, they climbed over the pieces of the broken leg of a marble statue of King Tarannon Falastur, twelfth King of Gondor. As she scampered down the other side of a huge chunk of stone, Elfhild heard a thud and a grunt behind her. Elffled's foot had caught in a vine, and she fell sprawling over the rocks, scraping her hands and knees.
"Are you hurt?" Elfhild turned around to see her sister gingerly climbing down from the ancient king's ruined image.
"Not much," Elffled muttered sullenly. "I do not think they will have to cut off my leg anyway."
Ignoring her sister's snide remark, Elfhild cautioned, "We need to get our bearings. We will hide here behind that pile of rubble up ahead. I know we are near the Anduin because I can see the silhouettes of the trees along the riverbank." She paused, listening. "Shh, Elffled! I think I hear something moving over there!" Her trembling finger pointed to a raised set of broken marble steps close by.
Quivering with fear, both girls waited in silent dread, expecting to see the hulking form of a fierce orc lunge out at them from behind the mound of stone. The sound of a wicked snarl sent the sisters whimpering and clutching each other in abject terror. A pale form streaked out from the recesses of the stones. Wailing out "Curses upon you!" in his own language, a large white cat streaked out from his lair and dashed away from the sisters.
"A cat as white as the spectre of death!" Elfhild gasped, her hand clutching at her heart. "Remember that old Gondorian peddler who came through our village every few years?" She paused to catch her breath. "He said that such cats are oft witches' servants! This does not bode well at all!" After whispering a petition to Béma Wáthfréa to protect them both from evil, she grabbed Elffled's sleeve and fanatically urged, "Let us hurry away from this place!" The sisters broke into a run and left the once magnificent memorial to King Tarannon Falastur behind them.
Spitting angrily, the tom stalked back to the place near his lair where the girls had surprised him. His tail went up, his back shuddered, and a stream of yellow liquid sprayed out, splattering on the king's stone leg. Head held high in regal dignity, the cat marched back to his resting place. Even a small taste of vengeance against both the unwelcome intruders and the despised king could be sweet to a royal descendant of the infamous cats of Queen Beruthiel.
Leaving the cat's claim to his territory unchallenged, the sisters raced towards the River. All about them they could hear screams and whimpering pleas for mercy. It was obvious that one by one the other women were being recaptured. How many still remained free? The twins heard the splash of something heavy hitting the water, and their hearts were clutched with dread. Had one of the women lost all hope and sought Death's final escape in the waters of the Anduin?
There was a heavy, deep silence, grim and foreboding. The long wail of another accursed soul rent the stillness of the night. The sisters heard a splash as the arms of a watery grave were opened to yet another of the hapless. All was deathly quiet for a while, and then the marsh frogs which dwelt in the shallows along the Anduin began to sing once more.
"Waerburh... it must be Waerburh," Elfhild panted, her pounding heart feeling as though it had been stabbed through. "She vowed she would choose death over recapture, and she must have carried through with her oath!"
"Oh no," gasped Elffled, and she swallowed, saliva sliding down her dry throat. "Who then was the other?"
"Perhaps we will never know," Elfhild murmured. A chill raced up her spine, causing her shoulders to convulse as though her body was attempting to shake off the uneasy feeling. "Cut back north," she commanded hoarsely. Veering their course away from the Anduin, the sisters plunged through the darkness, their breaths coming hard and fast, their hearts pounding with exertion. On they ran through deserted streets and around ruined columns, tall arches, and the hulking shells of once magnificent buildings. Behind them they could hear the sound of pursuit, and soon there was the heavy pounding of iron-shod boots upon the stone. The orcs were close!
"Be quiet!" Elfhild hissed as she pulled her sister inside the wreckage of a huge stone building. Crouching behind a fallen column which lay upon the floor's chipped and faded mosaic, the girls tried to slow their heavy breathing. They would hide there for a time and then move on when the danger had passed.
"Urk ta! Mal latum?" - Damn it! What's going on?
"Grumbull-ar sûru glûb thachgulum ghung kulûk gugshuz!" - The higher ups will piss their breeches if anything has happened!
"Bag pushdug" - Stinking dung
"Nazhatuga!" - We're screwed!
"Shakh azubizgûk!" - The lord will kill us all!
"Sundug irzatug!" - The captives are escaping!
"Iluga amat kul lat gundug tul? Darg hai-lab sundug-la!" - Then why are you standing here? Send your folk after the captives!
"Akhoth!" - Yes, sir!
Black Speech is written in the Shadowlandian (LOS) dialect; a few words are taken from the Svartiska dialect.
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.