7. The Clerk
Chapter Written by Angmar and Elfhild
When dawn came the next day, it seemed strange that there were no snarling orcs about to prod the captives into wakefulness. The brutes had been replaced by an assortment of tawny and swarthy men who had the distinctive look of the "East" about them. Clad in the finest of robes, the men were obviously very wealthy, perhaps rich merchants or even nobles. Upon their heads were the strange headdresses of the men of the South and East: bulbous hats that were shaped like onions and decorated with all manners of feathers and jewels; and headdresses created of long cloths draped over the head and secured by a length of cord about the crown.
Walking leisurely, the men conversed among themselves as they sauntered between the rows of slave pens and appraised the captives. Occasionally the women could hear snatches of their conversations, spoken in some unknown Eastern or Southern dialect. None of the men seemed in any haste to move along out of the compound and were content to stroll about and look at the women.
"Who do you suppose they are?" Elfhild whispered to her aunt.
"I dread to think who they might be," Leofgifu replied, "but from the gleam in their eyes, they do not mean us any good!"
"My guess is they are slave buyers from the barbarian lands," a woman nearby hissed. "You can be sure of one thing - if they see any woman they fancy, they will buy her to appease their perverse lusts!"
"Oh!" Elfhild shuddered as she put her hand up to her mouth.
The group of wealthy men parted as a line of Gondorian slave men and their heavily armed guards turned the corner. Moving down the lane between the pens, the procession halted midway between them. Two horse carts, each led by a young slave man, rolled into view behind them. Both carts held a huge kettle; a smaller tub of drinking water; baskets piled with loaves of bread; and wooden crates filled with eating utensils.
"Wenches, time for your breakfasts," one of the guards informed them in a thickly accented voice. "Come out one by one and line up in two orderly rows! No arguing or bickering now," he added. "There is plenty of food for all!" As the women and children passed by the cart designated to their line, they were each given a bowl of spicy smelling stew, a section of flatbread, and a cup of water.
After the prisoners had been fed, the guards tied the women's hands behind their backs and herded them in the direction of the tent city which lay below the ruined walls of Minas Tirith. The tents of brightly dyed wool painted the ravished landscape with an unexpected burst of color and gave the small city an almost festive air. Succulent meats grilled on small outdoor braziers perfumed the air with their spicy scents. The sounds of many voices all articulated in unknown tongues and accents mingled together and created a strange, though not unpleasant, babble. As they rode by on their prancing, spirited steeds, the hot-blooded Southrons and Easterlings cast flashing dark eyes upon the captives, shamelessly ravishing them with fiery glances. The sights, the sounds, the smells coming upon them in quick succession disoriented the captives, and their dazed eyes looked fearfully about them.
As the prisoners drew closer to a large green pavilion, they could see the standards which flew atop the tent. There, flapping in the gentle morning breeze, was the standard of Nurn, a green banner which depicted a sheaf of yellow wheat gripped in an iron-clad fist. Flying above it was the banner of the Great Eye.
"Move along, move along, there is no time to gawk at everything you see," the guards ordered the captives, who gaped at the sights about them. Taken to the pavilion, the prisoners were ordered to halt outside. The tent flaps had been drawn back and held with ropes, giving clear view of the interior. Two large, fierce looking guards stood on either side, spears in hand, ready to bar the unauthorized from entering.
Frightened at this strange new sight, the children wondered what further terrors awaited them inside. Crying, they clung to their mother's skirts, begging them not to force them to enter the tent. Many of the mothers were no less apprehensive and feared that once their children were within the green tent, they might be taken away from them. After the hideous sights of the day before, most were convinced that their circumstances would only grow more dire.
From the outside, the tent seemed quite ordinary, except for its great size. Inside, though, it was a bustle of noisy activity with many people coming and going. A number of portable tables and desks had been set up in neat, orderly rows. The clerks who sat behind these desks were serious looking men who bent over their large books, busy with making neat entries in the records. Assistants scurried about, looking up references in books; delivering volumes and then returning them to the correct shelves; fetching new pens and other writing supplies; and delivering goblets of wine to sooth their masters' thirsts. Gondorian slave men, clad in rough tunics, stood along the side walls, ready at a moment's notice to answer the summons of any of the clerks.
Practically every table in the pavilion was occupied by cringing captives. Nervous maids blushed furiously as they felt the eyes of the guards and scribes appraising their bodies. Frightened children clung to their mothers while they waited on long, hard benches for a clerk's next question. After he had questioned a woman until she was at the point of tears, the scribe would motion to a slave to escort the brow-beaten woman outside.
The long line of captives slowly shuffled towards the green pavilion, their feet stirring up puffs of choking dust. In spite of the early hour, their thin, tattered clothing had already become saturated with sweat, and some of the weaker captives slumped in the line. All the trees had been cut down long before, and there was not the slightest shadow to break the merciless vision of the sun. Adding to their misery, the captives had been unprepared for the resurgence of the sunlight, and after two days of constant sun, they suffered intensely from sunburn.
Restless from their monotonous duty and sweltering in the growing heat of the day, the guards were irritable, their tempers quick to flare. Since a fight amongst themselves would earn the men a severe whipping, they took their hostility out on the prisoners. A scream would ring out as the tresses of the flogger suddenly wrapped around the bare ankles of a woman who had not stood straight enough to suit a guard's demands. All the captives could do to avoid further antagonizing the guards was to endure patiently and keep their children quiet and close beside them. None of the guards were above cuffing a small child who wandered too far away from his mother.
The slave column slowly moved forward until only one woman remained ahead of Elfhild and Elffled. The woman trembled as she looked apprehensively into the tent. "You are next," the guard told her gruffly. When she hesitated, he gave her a push which sent her stumbling into the tent. Frightened, the twins stepped forward, but the guard barred their way. "Pretty darlings, no need to be in such a haste! You will be allowed to go in when the scribe is available. For the time, you can stay here and keep me company," he chuckled as his face twisted in a sinister leer.
After another long wait, the guard moved behind them and untied their hands. "Now it is your turn, slave girls. Just follow the pretty boy who now approaches."
"Master, the scribe is ready for them now," the slave told the guard as he walked up to them and bowed his head. He was a pleasant-faced young man of eighteen, his dark hair clipped short, his well-built body lithe and wiry.
"What a handsome boy!" the guard exclaimed as he reached out and cupped the slave's clean-shaven chin in his hand. "Perhaps I will ask your master to let me borrow you for the night, and you can serve my dinner to me. What a delicious dessert you would make! You look like one who has been trained to please men." His voice was low and husky as he pulled the man closer and squeezed his buttocks.
"Whatever Master desires," the slave man replied dully, his body stiffening as though he had just endured a physical blow, not just one to his pride.
"Take these wenches in now, boy. We will talk later." The guard winked as he reluctantly slid his hand from the slave's muscular bottom.
"As Master wishes." The young man turned to the confused twins, who, in their country innocence, understand little of what had just transpired between the two men. "This way, please," he told the girls, his voice hard and bitter. Though his eyes were kept lowered, the gray orbs flashed with defiance and anger. "We are dirt under the masters' feet. Give them no trouble and you will be through here quickly, but if you balk at anything, you will soon feel their whips," he cautioned them in whispers as he directed the girls to two stools in front of a portable desk. Leaving them without another word, he joined the other slaves along the wall where he would wait until he was again called.
Across the table from the twins sat a tall, thin, clean-shaven man. He was young in years, but the frown that was perpetually etched upon his face made him appear older. He seemed disinterested in what he was doing, which at that moment was chewing on the end of a quill pen. He had dark hair, light gray eyes and fair skin, signifying that somewhere in his ancestry there was the likelihood of Gondorian blood.
"Let us commence," he began in a bored tone of voice as he dipped the point of the quill into the ink well. "You on the right," he pointed the pen at Elfhild, "what is your name?" He spoke in perfect Common Speech, untouched by any accent.
"Elfhild," she stated plainly. It seemed that all the men of Mordor with whom she had ever spoken wanted to know that same question.
With a neat hand, the young man made a few marks in a record book, and then recorded the same information in another volume. The girls watched the movement of his skilled hand with great curiosity. They had seldom seen anyone write, and so his motions were quite mysterious to them, an arcane art of which they knew nothing.
"The runes for your name, Elfhild." The clerk turned the book around and showed the page to the twins. "They are written in the language and runic script of Mordor."
"They are very pretty, sir," Elfhild murmured in awe as she stared at the series of straight, sharp marks and others which were accented with curls and loops. She did not know how to spell her name, not even in the runes of her own people.
"Oh, I wonder how mine shall look," Elffled exclaimed eagerly, her eyes studying the large volume.
"You will soon see." The clerk turned the book around to face him. "And your name is?" he asked as he motioned towards Elffled.
"Elffled, sir," she smiled softly.
"Twins, obviously," he remarked as he turned to the other volume and scribbled a few lines. "You are doing very well, girls... Sit quietly, please. Now this will take a few moments, for I must record all these details in several languages in two separate books."
The twins were silent as the clerk's pen rapidly moved across the paper, leaving behind an elaborate, highly embellished script that resembled fine lace. "The language of the Southern lands, its written text as beautiful as its sound," he remarked as though to himself. Turning the page, he looked back at them. "Scribing is not easy. You must learn many languages to become an expert. I studied for years before my professional talents were developed fully. You see all these books on my desk?" He gestured to a stack of volumes on his left. "I have been here since long before dawn, readying things for the day and organizing records. Many do not realize the importance of a scribe's duties, or the length of his labors."
"Sir, your work sounds very complicated and difficult," Elfhild offered politely as she folded her hands on her lap.
"Aye, the work is exhausting." He motioned to a passing slave to fetch him a goblet. Closing his eyes, the scribe tasted the liquid. "A very mellow wine with a rich, full-bodied flavor." Sipping from he goblet, he studied the girls for a few moments and then looked back down at the open page of his record book. Fascinated with the sight of their own names, both sisters let down their guard and eyed the clerk with friendly, inquisitive expressions. The clerk's profession intrigued them, for few in their village could even sign their own names.
"Now back to business." He dipped the pen in the inkwell. "From whence do you hail?"
"The Mark," Elfhild replied.
"I knew that," he chuckled softly. "Are you trying to be coy with me?" He flashed her a perfect smile of white, evenly spaced teeth. "Where were you born?"
"Grenefeld in the Eastfold," she clarified with a sigh. "Why must you ask these things?"
"We are required to keep an accurate record of every slave who is captured," he explained. "Nothing escapes the attention of the Tower, and the officials want to know the pertinent details about every man, woman and child in our keeping. This system is comparatively new, and I am told there was nothing like it in the old days." He noticed their look of alarm and smiled reassuringly. "Nothing to fret your lovely heads about. Just simply a matter of record keeping. Father's name?" he asked after taking another sip of wine.
"Eadbald," Elfhild replied, feeling defeated and confused. All of this was too much to take in at one time, and she wondered if their captors considered them as nothing more than animals whose pedigrees were thoroughly studied before they were selected for some particular use.
"How old are you?"
Elfhild lowered her head demurely, hiding a little smile. "I am sorry, sir, but we do not know how old we are." This was not true, of course, but she felt that this young clerk with his constant barrage of questions would strip them of all their secrets until their whole lives had been laid bare.
Elffled looked at her sister questioningly. When she saw Elfhild's wink, she caught on to the game she was playing. The enemy did not have to know everything about them, and they would divulge nothing except those details which they were absolutely compelled to give.
"You do not know how old you are?" He stared at them incredulously. "Stand up and let me take another look at you. I have seen enough slaves to be a fair judge of their age." His eyes narrowed as he looked at them appraisingly. "Hmmm..." he muttered, tapping a forefinger on the table. "You certainly are not children, but you each have a certain look in your eyes which is very innocent." He chuckled. "You have not lived long enough to have seen very much. Judging by that, I would estimate that you were both no more than thirteen years of age." He paused. "But you are very well developed - quite well developed in fact - to be so young." His eyes rested on Elfhild's firm, young breasts, and she bowed her head in shame.
"Ah, yes, you are both quite lovely," he murmured, his voice thick with desire. "To be safe, I will put you down as sixteen years of age." Smiling to himself, he recorded that age in the volume and then looked at them again. "You may resume your seats. Do you know when you were born?"
"On Midsummer's Eve," Elfhild admitted, proud of her notable birthday.
"An auspicious date," he told them, his pen poised over the parchment. "Now to the next question. Which of you was born first? Some find such facts very important to know. Astrological charting, and that sort of thing. As I said, we need all pertinent information." His eyes crinkled in a smile.
"I was, sir," Elfhild replied softly, surprised by the question.
"Now a few more questions and we will be done." Sipping from the goblet of wine, he placed the pen back in its holder and leaned back in his chair. His eyes had darkened with a look that made them both feel uncomfortable, as though he could see through the material of their tattered dresses. His next remark stunned them. "You are flirting with me, and do try to deny it." His gray eyes sparkled with mischief.
"I do not familiarize myself with men of the enemy," Elfhild retorted coldly.
"Do you find me handsome?" he asked, turning his head so they could admire him from the side. Although neither girl would admit it, he was strikingly handsome in profile. His long, dark hair fell to either side, framing a face which possessed a broad forehead; an intelligent pair of gray eyes; a long, almost regal nose; and a set of full, sensuous lips. His face was almost too delicate, but was saved by the strong chin which jutted slightly forward. The clerk kept his pose for a few seconds longer, and then stabbed a long, graceful finger in their direction as he suddenly turned back to them. "Ah ha! I know that look you are giving me! Already you are infatuated!" His eyes searched theirs, and the girls turned away, blushing. "You see? That proves it. Of course, that does not surprise me in the least. Every maid falls under my spell sooner or later and attempts to use her wiles upon me, hoping for some small favor." The smile with which he graced them was supercilious and patronizing.
"In spite of all your admirable qualities, sir, I find you the vainest man I have ever met." Though she was indignant, Elffled was mildly amused, and she lifted her chin and looked him in the eye. Elfhild shot her sister a stern frown, reprimanding her for her forwardness. In return, Elffled gave her a prim little smile as she folded her hands and placed them in her lap.
"Vain, but handsome nonetheless," he taunted good-naturedly.
"As handsome as any fine gander who struts in the farm lot, announcing with his boastful honking his own self-importance," Elfhild rebuked him flippantly.
"What a pity it is, sir," Elffled added sweetly, "when the farm wife plucks all his fine feathers, chops off his graceful neck, and soon has him stewing in the pot."
"Saucy little things, are you not?" the scribe remarked devilishly. "I always fancied a maid with spark. If circumstances were different, I should very much like to take you both to supper tonight at some suitable inn. Perhaps we could stay a few days, but, alas," he closed his eyes and sighed regretfully, "such niceties of life are impossible in wartime."
Insulted at his implications, Elfhild shot back, "You are a shameless wretch to suggest such a thing! Even if it were not wartime, never would we consent to dine with one of the low barbarian races!"
"Barbarian races?" he asked, genuinely surprised, a look of hurt appearing in his eyes before he quickly camouflaged it with a smile. "So you think me a barbarian, and, of course, the noble maids of Rohan consider barbarians beneath their notice."
"Aye, sir, a barbarian indeed!" Elfhild retorted, her blue eyes glittering coldly. "Never would we waste our graceful charms upon such men. All we can promise to them is politeness and courtesy, but only if we find it reciprocated."
"Come now, your sister has charged me with vanity, but you are as guilty as I am, for you claim that you are charming. Not only charming, but as you say, 'gracefully charming." The scribe's eyes flashed with amusement and another emotion, which she suspected was desire.
"Of course," Elfhild responded arrogantly. "We are daughters of Eorl."
"So that explains it all! Well, damn me!" The clerk burst out into great, heaving gales of laughter that he let go unchecked. "If I am the gander, then you two must be the geese! How amusing!" He laughed until his sides ached. "If a competition were ever held for modesty, the two of you would never be the winners! Still your impertinence is charming in its own way." He raised his goblet. "Now here is to the daughters of Eorl, who have proclaimed themselves as utterly charming while denying in the next breath that they are equally as vain!"
"The women of the West have a right to be," Elfhild retorted haughtily. "Mock not of that which you know nothing!"
Giggling at their exchange, Elffled glanced about and saw that others were staring at them. She quickly hid her amusement behind her hands.
"Such delightful hypocrisy! You have given me some welcome relief from the daily tedium." He tapped the tips of his fingers together. "If I were an artist, I would capture the proud little expression upon your face when you proclaimed, 'We are daughters of Eorl!' Surely you deserve some reward for amusing me. What shall it be?" He put his hand to his forehead. "Ah, I know! I will tell you my name, which I am not required to divulge." Pressing his hand against his chest, he bowed from the waist. "Let me introduce myself. I am Garavegion of the City of Turkûrzgoi, Nurn, where my father is a man of no little importance. You might note that while my name is Sindarin, I am no Elf, but merely a man of mixed blood."
"Thank you," Elfhild gave him a small smile, feeling somewhat appeased. Although she did not know where the city of Turkûrzgoi was located, or anything else about Nurn for that matter, she would never let him know that. "I shall remember your name. Now, since you have asked us about so many details of our lives, it seems only fair that you tell us something of your own." Though her manner was cool and reserved, she was beginning to like the pompous clerk in spite of herself, and he could be quite flattering as well...
"Sir, please tell us," Elffled implored, leaning forward to hear him better.
He looked at them both for a few moments before beginning. "Perhaps you have guessed by now that I am neither Easterling nor Southron. I suppose that must puzzle you." He looked from one girl to the other. "Yes, I see that it does. Without giving the matter any thought, you assumed that I must be one of the 'barbarian races,' as you call them. No," he told them, his pride obvious in his voice, "though it is mixed, the blood of the Númenóreans runs in my veins."
"Well, sir," Elfhild blushed, "there was no way to know."
"You see?" he shook his head. "An assumption based on ignorance... That can be dangerous. But time grows short, and let us not waste it in argument." He glanced at the still-open record book." Emptying his wine goblet, he motioned to a slave boy to pour him another. "I will tell you what I can in the brief time remaining to us." His face grew very serious. "After the Great Tower was destroyed long ago, the lands hereabouts knew no war, but enjoyed a period known as the Watchful Peace. It was during that time that a Gondorian ancestor of mine traveled to Nurn and was so impressed with the country that he wanted to stay. When he had retired from the Army of Gondor, he took his family and settled there.
"Throughout all the turbulent history of the country since that time, my family has remained there, prospering as things improved. Over the years, my branch of the family became involved in government, many becoming politicians and scribes." His expressive eyes reflected some unbidden thought that seemed to trouble him, but he soon shook the mood away with another draught from his goblet. "That is all there is to tell about me other than, as you have observed, I am a clerk." He smiled. "When I return to Nurn, I plan to write a book recounting some of my observations of women and other delightful subjects. Mayhap I will record your names in it," the young man suggested. This time he seemed to be sincere.
"That would be very kind of you, sir," Elfhild replied graciously.
"If only we could read it," Elffled exclaimed wistfully.
"Perhaps we will meet again in Nurn someday. One never knows, but now our time grows to a close," he remarked, a tinge of regret in his voice. Taking two small pieces of parchment, he wrote down a few lines on each one and handed them to the twins. "After you leave here, the guards will escort you to the blacksmith's workshop. There, you are to give these pieces of parchment to his assistant, who will engrave your names, numbers, and all necessary information on your tags."
"Blacksmith? Tags?" Elffled inquired, her confusion obvious in the bewildered expression on her face.
"We have numbers?" Elfhild asked, suddenly very frightened.
"Yes, Elfhild. Your number is 99337-GER031T, and your sister's is 99338-GER032T. The first five digits in the sequence are your own individual number. No one can ever take that away from you." He smiled pleasantly. "Is that not good?"
"That certainly is reassuring," Elfhild remarked dryly.
"The other numbers, sir," Elffled spoke up, her voice timid. "What do they mean?"
"Ah, those." He rubbed his nose with the tip of one of his long, graceful fingers. "The second sequence records personal and demographical information. Slaves from the same region or village can share some of the same designations. The 'G' is for Grenefeld, your village; the 'E' stands for the Eastfold, your region; 'R' is for Rohan; '03' stands for 3003, the year in which you were born; and '1T' and '2T' state the order in which you were born, and that you are twins."
"But I do not want to be called by a number!" Elffled exclaimed, close to tears.
"Nothing to worry about, my sweet," Garavegion gently murmured as he rose from the table and moved behind them. As he rested a hand upon each of their shoulders, both girls trembled under his touch. "Are numbers anything to fear? Why, certainly not." He squeezed their shoulders reassuringly. "Every slave of Mordor has one. Have no fear; no one will call you by your numbers. They are only for the records, a mere formality." His voice was gentle and persuasive, but still his words sent a shiver of dread up their spines.
"These tags, sir... what do we do with them? From your Master's infamous reputation, I hardly think that He would want us to wear these tags upon ribbons about our necks." Tossing her head to the side, Elfhild looked up boldly at the scribe, a challenge in her aquamarine eyes.
"You call him my 'Master' - again, you make assumptions about me." Garavegion's voice turned icy cold and he stepped back from the sisters. "I have no master! I am my own man!" His pale face grew dark with anger.
Elfhild twisted around on the bench to face him. "Sir, I am sorry. I did not mean--"
"No matter!" He held up his hand to silence her. "'Tis a pity that we must part on a note of unpleasantness, but you are dismissed. You will learn about your new necklaces soon enough," he chuckled darkly. "Boy," he motioned to one of the slaves at the side of the tent, "escort these two back to their guards!"
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.