24. False Modesty
Chapter Written by Angmar and Elfhild
A brilliant contrast of scarlet, white and fawn against the stark gray and brown trees along the slate waters of the Anduin, Shakh Esarhaddon uHuzziya drew rein on his prancing chestnut mare. A turban as white as an egret's wing upon his head, the slaver wore a scarlet burnoose over a tan and brown striped jellaba and fawn pantaloons. Upon his feet was a pair of tawny-hued riding boots of the finest leather. Hanging from the sword belt at his left side was a scimitar, its hilt and sheath wrought with a brilliant array of semi-precious jewels set in rosettes of gold.
Lusterless in comparison to their master's brilliant attire, his three lieutenants - Ubri, Ganbar and Inbir - were like dull sparrows who remain unnoticed while the peacock struts and displays his exquisite plumage. There was little to distinguish the other three men's dress. All three of them wore drab keffiyehs which flowed down over their dark green burnooses. Each wore cream colored jellabas, pantaloons in shades of tan and fawn, and buff or brown riding boots. Both the shakh and his lieutenants held one thing in common - the steel of their scimitars was sharp and gleamed brightly from the vigorous polishing which was constantly applied to the weapons.
The four men had halted their horses on a small knoll overlooking the river, a lofty position from which they could watch the slave women bathing. A lively breeze had picked up from the west, billowing their burnooses out over the haunches of their horses. The captive women and children, herded by their guards down to the Anduin, glanced up to them and perceived their tawny faces and Southern garb as the manifestation of some bizarre nightmare.
As did most of those of the Southern and Eastern cultures, Esarhaddon insisted upon meticulous cleanliness for his servants, his women and himself. Though some of the Northern women had fiercely protested the indignity, they had been forced to spend the past several hours applying olive oil to the tresses of their children and themselves in the attempt to remove the profuse louse populations which infested their hair.
The slaver chuckled as he surveyed the riverbank below and watched the officious Aziru gesticulating wildly as he engaged in a heated discussion with one of the mothers. Esarhaddon's grin quickly turned to a frown when he espied Tushratta as he gazed morosely across the Anduin. The lovely nymphs splashing nude in the river apparently held little interest for the physician. "His mind is obviously not upon the delightful scene before him," Esarhaddon thought, and guessed the reason for his disinterest. "Probably puzzling over the sickness that afflicts the lady Goldwyn. Sometimes I wonder, though, if the physician prefers the affections of men over women. He and his assistant are very close...'
"I refuse to bathe naked in the presence of men!" cried a tall, big-boned blonde. The resolute woman was almost half a head taller than Aziru and glared angrily down at him. She had a long, thin nose, the tip of which seemed to curl down towards her fat lips. Her round face was red and blotchy; her cheeks were marred with so many pockmarks that they resembled the plain of Gorgoroth. Her blonde hair, its brassy shade emphasizing the ruddiness of her face, was coarse and stiff, as though it had been starched. With her strong jaw defiantly jutted forward, she presented a formidable sight.
"Madame, do not be unreasonable! It is necessary that you all bathe for the sake of health and sanitation. I would think you would enjoy a refreshing bath since you have not had one in so long," Aziru replied encouragingly. "Just wait in line over yonder. The slave boys will come by soon to distribute fragrant soap for you and your children."
"I refuse!" the woman shouted. "You lechers just want to gape at my naked body! I will die before I will allow myself to be compromised like that!" She folded her arms resolutely over her large bosom.
Completely frustrated at this absurd show of ignorance, Aziru scratched and tugged his bulbous nose. Giving the woman an extremely pained, put-upon look, he wiped off his forehead with a linen handkerchief and then sighed heavily. "Guards! Strip this woman and carry her down to the river! You will restrain her while I see to her bathing!"
"No!" she shrieked. "I will kill anyone who lays hands on me!" Clenching her fists, she brought them in front of her defensively.
"Madame," Aziru gave her a roguish grin, "then you must be prepared to kill a great many of us!" As much as he loved the soft, round bodies of women, the idea of compromising this one had never entered his mind until she had mentioned it. Now he found that the idea held appeal.
Four guards, clad only in their sirwals, picked up the screaming, cursing woman, lifted her to their shoulders and carried her down to the riverbank. There, laughing and making ribald comments, they stripped the horrified woman and pulled her into the river. Aziru stripped down to his sirwal, which hung low under his round stomach. Laughing and scratching his hairy belly, he waded towards the woman. Grinning from ear to ear, Hibiz, the physician's servant boy, followed behind with a jar of soft soap and a sponge.
The other bathers moved away from her out into the water and watched in alarm as an unusual scene unfolded before them. Her arms held behind her and her legs spread wide by the stout guards, she cursed them in Rohirric. Aziru chortled as he first wiped the sponge over her neck and breastbone. Next he moved down to each full breast, rubbing the sponge round and round her pink nipples, watching in satisfaction as they hardened.
Her angry protests excited him. The only thing that lessened his pleasure was the sight of several long, blonde hairs which thrived like loathsome weeds around both her pimpled aureoles. "Depilatory," he shouted, "the sooner the better! She is as hairy as an animal!" The woman clamped her eyes tightly shut as he finished cleaning her torso and stomach. Then she screamed again he sponged an ample amount of soap over the golden curls that covered her mound. Looking up at her, he swirled his fingers through the lush growth, smiling as he worked up a lather.
"You are a monster and a fiend!" she accused Aziru as he and the guards laughed. "Your mind is perverted with filth and debauchery! The Gods will never forgive you for this effrontery!"
"And they will never forgive you for smelling as foul as a male goat," Aziru remarked, wrinkling his nose as he moved between her legs and probed her fetid intimate parts with the sponge.
"Damn you!" she cried as she unsuccessfully tried to free her leg to kick him.
"Do you Northern women never bathe?" Aziru moved back from her, calling for Hibiz to rinse her off with a pail of water. "Here, boy, take a good whiff of her. If her little rosey still smells as bad as the back end of a sow in heat, apply some rosewater to it!" Aziru stood back to inspect his handiwork as the guards tightened their grip upon the struggling woman. "You should be grateful that anyone would wash your reeking body!" he exclaimed as he crossed his arms over his chest.
"You are a heathen devil, unfit to be with decent folk!" the woman let out another loud wail of protest. "This is an outrage! No decent man would ever stoop to anything so vile!"
Hibiz smiled up at the woman before stooping down behind her. Spreading her wide, he bent his head down and inhaled deeply of her secret valley. "Master, you have done a magnificent job! The woman smells as fresh as daffodils in the spring!"
His brow wrinkling in deep concentration, Aziru studied the woman. "No, Hibiz," he spoke at last, "her body was so filthy that I think she needs to be washed a second time. I still detect a faint odor lingering about her. A woman's secret parts must be meticulously clean and smell enticing to her lord." Grinning at the woman, he winked lasciviously at her. "Madame, just a little more, and I will be finished."
"No! No! No! Please! No! Stop this torment!" the woman sobbed.
Chortling to himself, Aziru worked diligently, ignoring the woman's complaints. Humming a little tune as he probed between her legs once again, he firmly pressed the sponge between her fleshy nether-lips. When he withdrew the sponge, he slid a finger into her chamber of love. The woman gasped and spat at him. He punished her by inserting another finger and thrusting more rapidly. After a while, the woman gave into the urgings of her body, cursing herself for her weakness. Aziru smiled and praised her when she moaned and pushed against his finger. "Sweet houri!" he murmured as the woman groaned and fell back against the guards who were holding her.
"I hate you," she moaned. "I hate you all!"
"No, all women live for the touch of a man," Aziru beamed. "Now I am finished. Truly I have wrought an incredible transformation. Who would have ever guessed how lovely you were under all that dirt. Amazing how much better one feels after a nice, relaxing bath, is it not, Madame?" With a parting tweak on one of her nipples, Aziru turned and walked towards the other bathing women. "If any of you ladies need assistance in any way with your baths, Hibiz and I will be most delighted to help you."
With horrified shrieks, the women and girls splashed as far away from Aziru and his servant as the guards would allow them.
"Well, since you need me no longer, I will be making my way to the shore," he called to them. "If any of you change your minds, I will be sitting on top of the bank. Do not be at all shy about asking." Chuckling softly to himself, the physician's assistant waded out of the water and climbed up upon the riverbank with the servant boy following close behind.
Dried and dressed again, Aziru sat upon a mat and took a goblet of wine from Hibiz' hand. "Never again do I think that persuasion will be needed to convince them of the value of cleanliness," he laughed.
High atop the knoll above the bank, Esarhaddon and his three lieutenants had laughed uproariously as they watched the confrontation between the tall blonde woman and Aziru. Wiping the tears from his eyes, Ubri, the slaver's first lieutenant, became serious. "The hour grows late, Shakh... Should we not be leaving?" he ventured.
"Plenty of time," the slaver, who was only half listening, dismissed his concern with a wave of his hand. In spite of his underling's suggestion, Esarhaddon was in no rush to leave. He was fascinated by the sight of the naked women, the water glistening on their bodies like drops of diamond. "Remember this scene before you of the beautiful golden haired houris bathing in the river. Never again in your lives will you see a sight to compare with this! Capture the memory and keep it in your minds to warm your hearts on cold nights!"
Ganbar, Esarhaddon's second lieutenant, was softly humming a tune about a sultan's favorite dancer. The song was a lively one which was commonly sung in wine houses in Harad. Occasionally licking his lips, he stared with wistful longing at the bathing women. He thought of his two slave girls back in Nurn. In his mind, they lay waiting upon his couch like luscious, ripe figs ready for tasting, their thighs spread wide, their arms lifted up to him in welcome.
Inbir, the third and youngest lieutenant, stared intently down at the river. He stood up in the stirrups, giving himself greater height as he attempted to distinguish Aeffe's lovely nude body from all the rest of the nubile young females.
"Have you been able to see that pretty little vixen that has set your balls on fire? Do not try to hide the fact that you would like to have your hands under her skirts!" Ubri guffawed.
"Oh, he wants something more than his hands under there," Ganbar laughed at his bawdy jest.
"There are so many women down there that I have not yet been able to find her amongst the crowd," Inbir replied irritably.
"Feast your eyes upon that one!" Ubri exclaimed as he gestured with his hand to one of the women. "Skin fair as a lily! Face of purest ivory set in a frame of gold! Her navel is as a cup of alabaster set with diamonds! And such hair!"
"It was not the golden mane of hair upon her head upon which I was gazing," Ganbar remarked. "I was marveling at the hair that lies above her valley of love! Thick as moss!" He shook his head. "Our women would be shamed to look like unshaved savages!"
"That was the hair I was talking about!" Ubri threw back his head and bellowed out a laugh. "Her fair triangle is covered with such a lush grove that I am reminded of a forest of golden poplar trees in autumn!"
"And none of them destined for rascals such as we are... all out of the range of our purses," Ganbar muttered glumly "Besides, these women do not warm my loins as do the women of my own land. The dark, sultry wenches of Harad burn with the fires of lust, while these pallid women of the North are cold and frigid!"
"There she is! See, down there!" Inbir exclaimed excitedly, pointing in Aeffe's direction. "She is the only one with hair that color, like strawberries covered in golden cream!"
Ubri and Ganbar looked at each other knowingly and shook their heads. Inbir groaned at the sight of the girl who had just plunged under the waist-deep water. He was like a man transfixed by a vision when Aeffe rose again out of the river, the water streaming off her gleaming naked body.
"Her crown of hair is like a silken veil which cloaks her modesty. Revealed only to the sultan, her beauty is hidden forever from the poor beggar," Inbir sighed sadly as he began composing words which he would set to the music of the oud.
"You poor fool!" Ubri chastised him good-naturedly. "It will do you little good to lust after the girl! You will never have the gold to buy the likes of her! None of us will!"
At that moment, Aeffe glanced up at the four men on the knoll and saw Inbir. The hot, crimson flush of embarrassment spread over her neck and face. Bowing her head in shame, she moved her forearm to cover her breasts as the other hand attempted to conceal her pubis. Matching each other with ribald remarks about her unclad body, the guards along the bank leered at her, their fingers twisting into obscene gestures. Their voices swelled up into a roar of taunts in her ears and the hot tears ran down her face.
"Aeffe!" an anguished male voice shouted down from the knoll.
She looked up and saw the handsome young Southron whose dark eyes were filled with kindness and sympathy. Shyness overcame her and she dropped her gaze down to the water. Pushing back the wet, tangled hair which had fallen over one side of her face, she looked up again timidly. The knoll was now deserted, for the four horsemen had turned their mounts and ridden away.
"She stirs!" Sang-mí exclaimed as she quickly rose from where she had been playing with Nib. Rushing to Goldwyn's couch, she bent down and saw the woman's eyelashes fluttering slightly. "Lady? Are you awake?" She touched the Rohirric woman's face and noted that the skin still possessed that chill pallor. Sang-mí could not help it when her small frame shuddered slightly.
"Fasthelm..." Goldwyn mumbled.
"Oh, I am so glad that you are awake!" The suddenness of the woman's faint murmurs startled Sang-mí. "You have had us quite worried. Here, I will fetch you something that will make you feel better." The girl walked over to the small table which held a pitcher and basin. Pouring the tepid water into the bowl, she dipped a cloth into the water, wrung out the excess, and walked back to the couch. Bending down, Sang-mí dabbed Goldwyn's face with the cloth and then rubbed the damp material over her hands and wrists, finally drying her off with a linen towel.
"Ælceald," Goldwyn softly moaned.
"I am afraid I do not know what that means, and there is no one here now who can speak your language!"
Goldwyn's eyes suddenly flew open. "Fasthelm!"
"Oh, you said that before! Fahhst-elm... Fahhst-helm?" Sang-mí knelt beside the bed and began rubbing Goldwyn's arms. The lady was still cold, and Sang-mí wondered if she had done the wrong thing by applying tepid water instead of warm.
"Géa, Fasthelm," Goldwyn replied in Rohirric.
The girl looked at her sadly and pursed her lips. "Perhaps you would like some water?" Sang-mí did not wait for a reply but dashed to the table and poured a glass of water from the pitcher. Bringing it back to Goldwyn, she gently eased her head up and pressed the rim of the glass to her lips. "Drink," Sang-mí encouraged, and Goldwyn drank as though she were dying of thirst.
"Who are you?" Goldwyn demanded as she opened her eyes and tried to focus them. As her vision cleared, she beheld a slight young woman whose large brown kohl-rimmed eyes looked at her in concern. The girl had springy black hair which fell in ringlets down her back. The type of dress the girl was wearing - the dark green jacket and blue dress - was certainly not the style that was worn in Rohan, but still the fashion of it seemed vaguely familiar. Briefly she saw a vision of herself wearing a dress much like it. Goldwyn noted the coral necklace set on a silver plated chain which hung about her neck, but it was the dress that arrested her attention. Scandalous, shocking, something no decent woman would wear! Then she remembered! The slaver had once forced her to wear a dress like it!
Sang-mí shook her head. "I cannot understand your words. I am sorry."
"Where am I?" Goldwyn grated out.
"I do not speak your language," Sang-mí apologized profusely.
"Oh, be quiet," Goldwyn spat out, this time in Common Speech. Holding the covers in front of her, she sat up in bed and glared at the woman.
"Yes, Mistress, yes, Mistress! Westron this wretched servant can understand, but she cannot comprehend the speech of Rohan. This slave is sorry that she has offended!" Her face flushing in crimson shame, Sang-mí slid to her hands and knees, pressing her forehead down to the rug. The servant girl was afraid of what this woman could have done to her. Though both of them were only slaves, the blonde lady held a far loftier position in the slave hierarchy than did she. The Northern woman had captured the attention of the great shakh while Sang-mí was only a lowly harlot. "Forgive me, forgive me! Do you want me whipped? I can send for the guards--"
"Oh, what utter nonsense are you gibbering? Stand up, girl! Do not cringe on the floor like some disobedient hound! Where are your wits?"
"Oh, thank you, Mistress, thank you!" Sang-mí kissed the top of Goldwyn's hand and then rose to her feet. Closing her eyes, she inhaled deeply, relieved that her impertinence had not earned her a whipping. Clasping her hand to her heart, she bowed from the waist. "Mistress, please, drink more water! It has been a long while since you have had any!" Sang-mí held the glass back to Goldwyn's lips.
"Give me the glass," Goldwyn growled. "What do you think I am, some invalid?"
"No, Mistress, no!" Sang-mí shook her head frantically.
"Now suppose you answer some questions," Goldwyn demanded after she had drunk deeply from the glass of water. "Where am I?"
"Mistress, you are in the tent of the physician Tushratta. He is in the service of the slaver Esarhaddon uHuzziya. It is the afternoon of June 19th in what the West calls the 'Third Age Under the Sun.'"
"Who the devil are they?" Her clear blue eyes blazed angrily.
Sang-mí gazed at her in confusion. "I do not know what you mean, Mistress. You have met the shakh. In fact, you taken supper with him. He favors you greatly." She was growing more alarmed. This woman was obviously very distraught, possibly even demented.
"Where are my husband and sons?" Pushing the empty glass towards the girl, Goldwyn swung her feet over the side of the bed.
"Why - why, Mistress, do you not know? Your husband is dead, killed on the fields of Pelennor back in March. Your sons have run away, and my master has gone to seek them." Yes, Sang-mí was sure of it now. The woman was totally mad!
"You liar! I do not know who you are or why I am here, but I am leaving! Fetch me my clothes!"
"Mistress, you cannot do that!" Sang-mí's voice quavered. "Please lie down! Do not tax yourself! You have been... ill!"
"No, I am going! Get out of my way!"
"I must keep her in the bed," Sang-mí thought frantically. She tried to hold Goldwyn back, but the lady shoved her aside, knocking the glass out of her hand. Then, swaying for a moment, Goldwyn toppled over backwards onto the couch and lay there in a swoon, exhausted from her effort to rise.
"Guards!" Sang-mí shrieked as she rushed from the inner chamber of the tent to the public section. "Guards! Come quickly! Send for the physician! I fear the Mistress is dying!"
"Ælceald" - Very cold
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