The Circles of the World

Frodo played by Hobbitness
Arnasa, Rian, Elfhild and Elffled played by Eowyn
Narrator, Vartang, Ceolwulf, Orc Guards, Mordor Priest played by Wraith

Narrator: *A week has passed since Frodo came to Nurn. It is early morning, July 1, and Ceolwulf has assisted Frodo to his chair at his table in his hall*
Narrator: *The "cottage," as it is called, is more like a hall for a lord, and that is what it was before the last lord of the hall was given quarters elsewhere*
Narrator: *It was not thought at Lugburz that the former lord of the hall was doing his job in the proper fashion, and therefore, it was deemed best that he be removed and another more worthy one found to take his place*
Narrator: *It was unfortunate for his family that he was removed, for in being removed, it was deemed only proper that he should not die alone. His wife, his heir, his younger son and daughters and all the members of his household were also removed... eternally*
Narrator: *And now Frodo Baggins, formerly of the Shire, has taken the place of the late lord and sleeps in his bed, dines in his hall, and has use of his grounds*
Narrator: *After a lavish breakfast of crispy bacon, eggs, bread, cakes, fruit of many kinds and wine, all eaten in solitary by the lord with only Ceolwulf in attendance, Frodo is ready for another day in Nurn*
Vartang: *Frodo hears footsteps coming down the corridors to his dining hall, and soon, Captain Vartang swaggers into the room*
Vartang: Hail, Shakh! Annug zark
Frodo: *Frodo narrows his eyes at Vartang but replies civilly* Good morning
Frodo: *He clenches his fists involuntarily, waiting to see how Vartang plans to manipulate him today*
Vartang: *Vartang seems a bit unsteady this morning. His hands tremble slightly, and a pale look is upon his face. Too much wine from the night before bears its mark the next morning*
Vartang: Where is the serving wench? She is never here when you need her
Frodo: Are you well, Vartang?
Vartang: Quite well, shakh. I was late last night working on important papers
Frodo: *stifles a smirk* Oh. *He knows the look of a hangover very well*
Frodo: *having seen Merry and Pippin in such a state many times, and having had some hangovers of his own back in the Shire*
Vartang: *He gives Ceolwulf, who stands behind Frodo's chair, a nasty look and commands him to fetch the serving girl*
Ceolwulf: *Ceolwulf, biting his tongue to keep from saying hasty words, does as he is told*
Frodo: *watches Ceolwulf nervously, hoping he will not cause another fight with Vartang and the guards*
Arnasa: *arnasa soon comes back with ceolwulf. her dark hair is plaited elaborately, and she wears a dress of purple embelished with gold embroidery. a garland of flowers is on her head; another hangs about her neck. she bows to frodo and vartang upon entry*
Vartang: *Scarcely noticing her, Vartang says* Wine. I need wine. I need wine now!
Frodo: *Frodo is impressed by Arnasa's intricate plaits and decorated dress. He wonders why she is dressed so*
Arnasa: *she nods, and goes to a side table and gets a goblet. filling it with wine from frodo's table, she hands the goblet to vartang*
Vartang: *He reaches for the goblet with shaking hands and quickly lifts the goblet to his lips and drinks deeply*
Arnasa: *ah, hungover is it? arnasa finds that mildly amusing. though no one would ever know she thought so*
Frodo: You are not well, Vartang, I can see that. Shall I call Sador?
Frodo: *he tries to keep a mocking tone from his voice*
Vartang: Nay, shakh. I am impressed with your solicitude, but I do not need a physician
Frodo: As you wish
Vartang: *His smile is rueful* Perhaps I have been working too hard of late and I need a bit of.... *he looks at Arnasa* relaxation
Frodo: *glares openly at Vartang*
Frodo: *His eyes dart to Arnasa, but he hardly expects a reaction from her*
Arnasa: *she looks to vartang* what would you wish, my lord?
Vartang: *He sets the goblet back down on the table* Ah.. yes, have you made preparations as you were instructed? We shall have a day of...... enjoyment today
Arnasa: *she nods* yes, my lord
Vartang: Good, good. Then all is in readiness *He picks up the goblet again and takes a hearty drink*
Frodo: *A sense of dread fills Frodo. Not another excursion!*
Vartang: The shakh shall enjoy himself today. I have made sure of that
Vartang: *He toys with the wine goblet in his hands* What would I wish, Arnasa? What would I wish, wench? I think you already know that... *he smiles and winks at her wickedly*
Frodo: *shifts uncomfortably*
Arnasa: *looks down slightly, her face cold and expressionless*
Vartang: Ah, well, perhaps you do not wish the same *his look is unreadable*
Arnasa: *she keeps her silence*
Frodo: *clears his throat, then says bitterly, knowing well that there is malice behind Vartang's every plan* What are these preparations you speak of?
Vartang: *he downs the remainder of the goblet, and with that, his color seems to improve and his hands do not tremble so badly*
Vartang: Shakh, it is a great day. It is a week now since you have been here. We shall celebrate in your honor
Vartang: But, perhaps, wench, some more wine first?
Vartang: For the shakh of course and me
Arnasa: *she nods, and refills frodo's and vartang's goblets*
Frodo: *thanks Arnasa and turns his questioning gaze back on Vartang*
Vartang: *Outside, they hear the sound of commotion. Frodo's traveling litter has arrived, borne by the eight orcish slaves*
Frodo: *Frodo lowers his head to his hands with a groan*
Vartang: *He looks towards Ceolwulf* Ceolwulf, you shall bear the shakh to his litter. Take care, lest you harm him. His health is delicate. Perhaps after today some of it shall be restored *an evil grin forms across Vartang's features*
Frodo: *then he raises his head* Thank you, Vartang, but I prefer to "celebrate" at home today!
Vartang: No, shakh, all is ready. You must go! There will be great disappointment if you do not
Vartang: *He turns to Arnasa* Tell the servants to put the food and gifts in the waiting wain
Arnasa: *she nods at vartang, bows, and leaves to do as she is bidden*
Frodo: *After a week of rest Frodo feels strong enough to argue with Vartang again* Tell whoever expects me that I wish them well, that should be enough. I do not want to leave the house.
Vartang: *A crafty expression comes on Vartang's face and he casts his eyes down as though he were grieved* Then you wish to disappoint your subjects, shakh?
Frodo: Subjects? *raises his eyebrows*
Vartang: Yes, shakh. Surely you understand. This part of Nurn has been given to you for your fealty and great service to the Master
Frodo: *Frodo grits his teeth to keep from lashing out in anger*
Vartang: You are lord here and none can deny you without mortal peril
Frodo: Oh, come, Vartang, we both know what is really happening here
Vartang: Nay, shakh, it is as I have said. You are lord here
Vartang: *Though Vartang's head is bent in mock grief, his eyes are smiling in a malicious way*
Frodo: *Well, next time one of the servants endangers himself or herself, he will use that title again, so with a great effort he masters his anger and does not respond*
Vartang: *He finishes drinking his second goblet of wine since he arrived. Then, rising to his feet, he looks to Ceolwulf* Slave, pick up your master and bear him to the litter!
Frodo: *casts a sympathetic glance at Ceolwulf*
Ceolwulf: *Ceolwulf walks to Frodo's chair, picks him up gently and into Frodo's ear he whispers* I am sorry
Arnasa: *arnasa comes back after making all the necessary preparations and arrangements for the trip*
Arnasa: *she bows upon entry*
Frodo: *he sighs, then whispers back* There is nothing we can do, whatever the fiend is planning
Ceolwulf: *Ceolwulf begins to walk towards the door*
Frodo: *Ceolwulf can feel Frodo's heart racing, though he maintains a severe demeanor*
Ceolwulf: *He waits at the doorway to the corridor*
Arnasa: *arnasa opens the door for ceolwulf and frodo, bowing again to frodo as he passes*
Ceolwulf: Thank you, Arnasa
Frodo: *smiles and nods to Arnasa*
Frodo: *he still feels uncomfortable about the way she acts around him*
Ceolwulf: *He carries Frodo down to the corridor where he is met by two orc guards, who say* Hail great master! We serve you today!
Frodo: *Frodo stiffens and trembles violently, but masters it in a matter of seconds*
Frodo: *expressionless* Very well.
Ceolwulf: *The orcs go before him and open the doors to the outside. There, Ceolwulf gently places Frodo on the seat of the litter and places a blanket upon his lap*
Frodo: *to Ceolwulf* Are you coming with me?
Ceolwulf: Yes, mas -- friend, I will go with you
Ceolwulf: *He then bows to Frodo and takes a place behind the litter*
Orc Guards: *The orcs laugh at him and snicker behind his back* Weakling! *they say* Slave man!
Ceolwulf: *Ceolwulf ignores them but his gaze is proud*
Frodo: Be silent *Frodo hisses at the orcs*
Vartang: *Vartang stays a bit longer in the hall, looking at the wine bottle. Finally, he picks it up, holds it aloft without touching it to his mouth and watches as the wine rushes to meet his mouth*
Vartang: *Wiping his mouth off with his hand, he goes through the door, down the corridor and through the outside door*
Vartang: *He puts his hand over his eyes as he is met by the blinding glare of the sun on his bloodshot eyes. He walks unsteadily towards the litter*
Frodo: *feels amused and sorry for Vartang at the same time*
Frodo: *but he also feels that Vartang deserves it*
Vartang: *All of the slaves have been ordered to stay and work in the househould while the rest are gone. All save Ceolwulf, Sador, Arnasa, Elffled, Elfhild and Rian*
Vartang: *Vartang stops and looks down at Frodo* It will be a great day, shakh. A great day for you. All the rest of your life you will remember it
Arnasa: *arnasa takes a place directly beside frodo's litter, and fans him gently with a fan of strangely colored feathers upon a long pole*
Frodo: *Frodo pales and grips the arms of his chair while frowning up at Vartang*
Frodo: *then he stares straight ahead with a stony, resigned expression. Whatever is going to happen, he hopes it will be over soon.*
Arnasa: *the three girls come out of the house, adorned in fine gowns such as frodo had never seen before... save maybe in rivendell, though these are far more colorful and exotic than elvish costume*
Sador: *Sador, wearing fine robes of gold and red and with a garland of strange flowers about his neck, comes out of the hall behind them*
Frodo: *Frodo smiles at them, but wonders if they are dressed like that because something bad is to happen to them*
Frodo: *He would not be surprised*
Sador: *His eyes are almost closed and he chants words that Frodo recognizes as Black Speech*
Frodo: *What if they are to be some sort of sacrifice?*
Frodo: *Frodo coughs into his handkerchief*
Arnasa: *the girls look uneasily at each other, feeling strange in these exotic eastern fashions... the flower garlands upon their heads and necks feeling a bit uncomfortable*
Vartang: *Vartang looks to Frodo and speaks* Ah, yes, a great day, shakh
Frodo: *Frodo beckons the girls over and presses their hands reassuringly*
Rian: *seeing frodos summons, the three girls go to the sides of his litter, smiling uncertainly and bowing before him*
Frodo: You look lovely, but why are you all dressed like this?
Rian: *rian says* arnasa told us to dress this way... we don't really know why
Frodo: *Frodo nods to her and bites his lip, trying not to show his worry*
Vartang: *Then he turns from Frodo and takes the reins from the hands of a waiting servant. He quickly mounts his horse and takes his place behind the usual standard bearers and trumpeters who head Frodo's procession*
Vartang: *Vartang raises his hand, the signal for the procession to move forward. The eight slaves grunt as they hoist Frodo's litter to their shoulders. Then the trumpets are sounded to mark Frodo's approach. Behind the procession, there is a covered wain drawn by four black horses*
Arnasa: *arnasa continues to gently fan frodo with the elaborate fan*
Frodo: *Frodo tenses every muscle in his body and freezes his features into a hard, unreadable mask*
Narrator: *The procession slowly moves forward, then begins to increase its pace. The procession strikes a westerly course, back away from the lake. From his litter, Frodo can see vineyards, groves of figs, apples, and many other trees*
Frodo: *The trees remind him of the Shire*
Frodo: *For a moment the scene before him vanishes, replaced by vivid memories of many summers at home*
Arnasa: *the three girls stay close to the sides of frodo's litter, keeping up with the increased pace. arnasa continues to gently fan frodo*
Narrator: *After about an hour of travel, Vartang calls a halt for Frodo to rest and eat, but the rest is brief and soon the procession resumes its course. Far ahead, Frodo can see groves of taller trees of fir and oak*
Frodo: *The suspense is making Frodo nauseated. He did not eat very much*
Narrator: *After about a half hour's travel, they come to the edge of a forest of cedars, pines and oaks, nourished by the rains that come over the mountains from the west*
Narrator: *The cedar smell is pungent, fragrant in the air. A gentle breeze stirs through the trees, blowing the sweet, spicy fragrance through the air*
Frodo: *Frodo is reminded of the trip with Merry, Pippin, and Sam through the Old Forest, though this one does not appear as foreboding. To Frodo, however, it seems more dangerous than Old Man Willow himself*
Narrator: *A well traveled path leads through the center of the grove and the branches of the trees seem to reach down, as though to reach down and grab a traveler who strayed too far off the path. Along the path, there are small shrines at intervals, strange black obelisks, all with the carving of the Great Eye atop each one*
Sador: *Sador bows in reverance as they pass each shrine, and chants softly to himself*
Arnasa: *arnasa does likewise, her gentle fanning now stilled, in silent reverence*
Frodo: *The girls look at Frodo with growing agitation, and he tries to smile at them, but unsuccessfully*
Vartang: *Vartang turns his horse back and now rides beside Frodo's litter*
Frodo: *Frodo looks up at him, hoping for an explanation at last*
Rian: *rian's thoughts frantically dance around her head.... they are in the heathen kingdoms of the east. who knows what dreadful evils go on here?*
Vartang: *Vartang's horse walks slowly beside the litter and Vartang bows to each shrine*
Vartang: Soon now, shakh we will get to the Sacred Grove
Rian: *rian remembers the horrible tales of numenor in its latter days. oh, please, she thinks, let not there be a temple at the end of this path..*
Frodo: *breathlessly* Sacred Grove...what is that?
Vartang: *In a jovial mood, a smile playing about his face, Vartang continues to keep his horse at a slow pace*
Vartang: *A strange glow comes into Vartang's eyes* Sacred Grove..... *he says in hushed tones*
Vartang: I am told that at one time in Atalante, the Fallen, there was a Sacred Mountain called Meneltarma
Vartang: And three times a year, at spring, summer and autumn the king and his followers climbed to the top to offer reverence to..... the false gods.
Frodo: *frowns*
Frodo: *He knows Vartang is referring to the Valar*
Vartang: No one spoke, they say. No one could speak, for fear of the terror that might be rained upon them from the evil false gods. They dwelt upon the mountain, the old tales tell. Strange creatures with bodies of eagles and heads of snakes, messengers of the false gods, guarded the mountain
Rian: *rian looks to vartang but keeps silent... knowing not to challenge the ways of these dark lands, especially not now, not here*
Vartang: In the ceremony here, we do not worship false gods. We worship Melkor and Sauron, the Lords of the Darkness, which is the only true power
Rian: *rian swallows hard, and closes her eyes tightly*
Frodo: *The blood rises scarlet to his face*
Vartang: *The path leads them to a great opening in the forest and they can see many people gathered there before them*
Frodo: *to Vartang* I will not worship Melkor or Sauron! Nor will I allow these to be forced to worship them!
Rian: *i am going to die, she thinks. i am going to be sacrificed to the one whose name is no longer spoken by all who are good and true. i am going to die, like the faithful in numenor*
Vartang: *Vartang's only response is a hollow laugh*
Vartang: *Ahead, they can see a giant black obelisk, far taller than any of the ones they passed along the path*
Frodo: Curse you! *he spits at Vartang, completely overcome with fury* Curse you to the lowest pits of Lugburz where you found me!
Vartang: *He wipes the spit off his breeches leg where it landed*
Vartang: *Vartang laughs again, a mocking echoing tone*
Arnasa: *arnasa chants softly under her breath, her head still bowed in humble reverence*
Frodo: I know why you wish to torment me, but why these? They have done nothing against your lord.
Vartang: Shakh, you do not understand. This is a great ceremony held in your honor. This is not the usual time of year. This is not part of the regular ceremonies here, but is done in due reverence to you
Rian: *how will it feel, to be burned alive upon the altar, rian wonders. i hope it will be quick... at least in death evil cannot reach me*
Frodo: I understand perfectly, and I understand what you are doing!
Vartang: Though I do appologize that it will not be as elaborate as the regular ordained ceremonies
Frodo: If your words were true, none of this would be happening because I do not wish it! I did not even want to leave the house!
Vartang: Which are, as follows the custom of Atalante, held in the spring to bless the crops, in the summer to insure the growth of the crops, and in the autumn, which is the greatest ceremony of all. This is held in thankfulness for Sauron for giving good crops
Narrator: *The crowd in front parts at their coming and all those gathered there fall to their knees and press their foreheads to the ground*
Narrator: *A touch of the sun strikes the Great Eye on the obelisk and it seems to grow red in anticipation. The Eye seems to look into Frodo's eyes.... The Ring upon his hand seems to be humming, and Frodo can hear a mocking laughter in his head*
Frodo: *Frodo presses his forehead, fighting the darkness at the corners of his vision*
Rian: *rian, elffled and elfhild walk very close to frodos litter, each one keeping a worried silence, fearing to know what will happen next*
Narrator: *The light of the morning sun falls upon the obelisk, causing the great pillar to cast a shadow which seems to point towards the west. The procession moves onward and ahead they can see a large altar in front of the obelisk*
Rian: *the color completely drains out of rian's face and she feels faint. a small moan escapes her lips, and elffled and elfhild must steady her, lest she collapse upon the path*
Frodo: *Frodo slumps forward at the sight of the altar as well*
Frodo: *then he rights himself and reaches out to clasp Rian's hand*
Rian: *faintly, through a swirling mist of black and red, rian feels frodo's hand reach out for hers. she holds it loosely, on the verge of swooning*
Vartang: *Vartang motions for the procession to halt and the trumpeters and standard bearers move off to either side. The slaves hold the litter upon their shoulders so that Frodo get a good view of what is to happen*
Frodo: *As his litter is lifted, Frodo can no longer reach down to her hand*
Narrator: *The altar is heaped with garlands of flowers and the smell of them combined with the fragrance of the cedars wafts up as an exotic, heady scent. Priests in robes so black they are almost blue stand behind the altar*
Narrator: *And behind them stand Nine solemn figures robed in black. Where they stand, it seems strangely darker and colder*
Rian: *rians head lolls back and forth, her eyes fluttering open and closed, as elffled and elfhild try to keep her on her feet*
Vartang: *Vartang dismounts and leads his horse back and then he stands beside Frodo's litter. A priest nods to him, and Vartang bows and smiles*
Frodo: *Frodo went rigid with terror at the sight of the Nine and has not moved or breathed*
Vartang: *Vartang looks to Arnasa* Let the maidens bring forth their offerings
Vartang: *Garlands of flowers are in the wain for the occasion*
Rian: *rian moans loudly, on the verge of hysteria*
Frodo: *Frodo snaps out of his trance and looks over to Rian, wishing he could do something to help*
Arnasa: *arnasa gives her fan to another slave and goes and talks to the girls... telling them what they must do*
Arnasa: *rian is almost unconscious and elffled and elfhild chafe at the prospects of doing anything remotely resembling reverence to the dark lord*
Vartang: *In a commanding voice, Vartang tells them* Do as you are told, or you will be whipped first!
Frodo: *Frodo's ring grows hot and he hears, "You wished to be Lord of the Ring! You wished for them all to bow and honor you! You would be the dark lord for whom all this is done!"*
Arnasa: *fearing the lash and public humiliation, elffled and elfhild follow arnasa to the wain, dragging rian along, who keeps mumbling something about, "beyond the circles of the world there is safety"*
Frodo: *The scene grows more vivid than life before Frodo's eyes, and the slaves' torment is magnified to his heart. The familiar mocking laughter echoes in his head*
Arnasa: *soon the four return with garlands of flowers... the three from the west hesitating at frodos litter, elffleds and elfhilds eyes pleading desperately with frodos... rian still mumbling incoherently*
Frodo: *Frodo meets their eyes with equal desperation*
Frodo: *He makes no sound but his tears fall onto their hair*
Frodo: *His lips part slightly but he can find no words to reassure them*
Arnasa: *they reluctantly follow arnasa and place their garlands upon the altar in fear... arnasa chants softly, bowing repeatedly and doing obesience to the lord of darkness*
Mordor Priest: *One tall priest whose robes are far more elaborate than the rest, emblazoned with golden embrodery with small eyes about the hem, raises his hands and says* Your offering is accepted.
Vartang: *Vartang bows to the priest*
Frodo: *Frodo closes his eyes in despair. He had hoped that this would be the whole ceremony, and their fear would be unfounded*
Frodo: *But there is still hope, he tells himself, and wills the others to think so*
Arnasa: *arnasa leads them back to wait at the sides of frodo's litter... elfhild and elffled gently drag the now unconscious rian as they go*
Mordor Priest: *The High Priest bows his head and chants. Then he raises his armd and says* Now let the ceremonies commence!
Mordor Priest: *From somewhere at the sides, the sounds can be heard of drums beginning to beat slowly*
Mordor Priest: *The crowd, which now has risen to its feet, turn their attention to Frodo and gaze at him expectantly*
Vartang: Shakh, it is customary for the lord of this part of Nurn to give the first offering. Which one do you chose?
Elffled and Elfhild: *elffled blanches and she feels like joining rian in the blissful oblivion of unconsciousness*
Frodo: *Frodo stares down in complete incredulity*
Vartang: *He grows impatient* Shakh, which maiden?
Frodo: *trying to grasp what Vartang is saying*
Frodo: *He looks back and forth from the women to Vartang in horror*
Elffled and Elfhild: *rian rests upon the ground and elffled and elfhild try to rouse her*
Vartang: Which maiden does the great shakh, the Friend of Sauron, deem most satisfactory to offer to the Great Eye?
Frodo: None of them!
Frodo: What! Did you truly think I would let them be killed?!
Vartang: None, Shakh? I could pick any one of them as being an acceptable sacrifice
Elffled and Elfhild: *elffled begins to sob hysterically* nooo!! noo!
Frodo: I would sooner climb onto that altar myself!
Arnasa: *arnasa looks at frodo and vartang* i would gladly be a sacrifice to the... *bows head reverently* Great One
Vartang: Aye, shakh, she offers herself. Give her. Twould be a great honor for her
Frodo: *Frodo looks into Arnasa's eyes and sees earnestness there for the first time*
Arnasa: *she nods* it would be the greatest honor that could ever befall poor arnasa
Frodo: *but he cannot do it*
Vartang: Aye, that it would. A faithful maiden in the Master's service. Send her, shakh
Vartang: Let her meet Melkor in the endlessness and darkness of the Void and there be united with him
Arnasa: *upon hearing the name of melkor, she falls to her knees, and touches her head to the ground*
Frodo: *He is filled with pity for her*
Vartang: *Eager now, Vartang presses Frodo to make a decision.* If not her then, Shakh, send the maidens from Rohan, or the one from Gondor
Vartang: There are powerful Presences here today. They would be impressed with your gift
Frodo: I will allow none of these people to be killed
Vartang: Let them see the blood of one of your slaves mingle with the garlands upon the altar
Frodo: *Frodo remains defiant*
Arnasa: *from the ground frodo can hear arnasas muffled voice* please master if you will it, it would be the greatest honor for simple arnasa of nurn to be a sacrifice to the Great Ones
Frodo: *He is at a loss. How to reply?*
Vartang: *He bends over and whispers in Frodo's ear* Shakh, don't you know who They are! It is the Nine. They have come for the Ceremony, for they are the highest priests of all
Frodo: *hisses back* Of course I know who they are, and I know who they want the most *it is almost a threat*
Arnasa: *elffled and elfhild hover above rians prone form. elffled is wailing and sobbing uncontrollably, and elfhild wrings her hands in worry, trying to keep her emotions under control*
Frodo: *Frodo orders the bearers to put down his litter*
Vartang: *The bearers kneel and slowly lower the litter*
Frodo: *He braces himself and struggles to his feet. He staggers to place himself between Vartang and the slaves, holding himself up by some unknown grace from the Valar*
Vartang: *A dark look comes over Vartang's face and he whispers again* Shakh, the Nine have come in your honor. They have come to see your offering made upon the altar
Vartang: They will be displeased if you deny Them this blood
Vartang: For They ever desire it
Frodo: Then spill mine
Arnasa: *arnasa looks up from her kneeling position*
Frodo: For you will have to spill mine, to touch the others
Ceolwulf: *Ceolwulf rushes ahead and steadies Frodo with his arm* Friend! *he whispers* Tell them that none of the women are worthy. Maybe that will satisfy them
Frodo: *Frodo falls back against Ceolwulf, then nods to him*
Vartang: Nay, shakh, They do not want your blood. Your blood is sacred. They would no more want your blood than they would want the blood of the Master *his lips part and his white teeth gleam*
Frodo: *continues in his hissed whisper* You know that is untrue, for they have already spilled my blood. *aloud* None of these are worthy to be sacrificed!
Arnasa: *behind frodo are the despairing elfhild and elffled, the unconscious rian, and the still kneeling arnasa. all eyes (save rians) are upon frodo in anticipation*
Ceolwulf: *Ceolwulf holds Frodo steady and glares at the priest before him*
Mordor Priest: And what is wrong with the maids?
Mordor Priest: Great shakh, they look acceptable to me
Arnasa: *arnasa bursts into tears when she hears frodo say she is not worthy to be sacrificed to sauron and melkor*
Frodo: *thinks fast, contemplates Rian on the ground* They are sickly.
Mordor Priest: They are young, they are fair. They would make altogether worthy sacrifices
Mordor Priest: *The priest draws back and looks at Frodo* Sickly! Sickly! What is wrong with them?
Frodo: *His heart twists for Arnasa's pain* They are young and spirited, but look at them, they are withering before our eyes.
Frodo: This one has fainted and who knows if she will wake? And the others look almost as ill as she.
Mordor Priest: None with a sickly body or mind is fit to join with the Great Melkor!
Arnasa: *arnasa wails* master!
Mordor Priest: What about the woman of Nurn? She looks well enough
Mordor Priest: What fault is there in her?
Arnasa: *arnasa touches her head against the ground again and her shoulders shake with heaving sobs*
Frodo: She is faint and pale as well, and she weeps as though she were mad.
Mordor Priest: *The priest shouts out a reply* MAD! YOU SAY SHE IS MAD!
Frodo: *Frodo is glad Ceolwulf is supporting him, otherwise he would have toppled over at the priest's shout*
Mordor Priest: All of the maids that would be united with the great Melkor must be pure, fair, sound of body and mind
Mordor Priest: Who has advised you to bring these worthless women as sacrifices! *The priest hisses out*
Frodo: *Frodo looks to Vartang and raises an eyebrow*
Mordor Priest: It is a great mistake upon the part of one so foolish. The Great Eye will be most displeased
Vartang: *A sudden cold chill causes Vartang to start, and he thinks that the eyes of all the Nine are looking at him with disapproval. He seems to wither and almost cringe*
Vartang: *Regaining his composure, he says persuasively* But, shakh, they all look well enough to me. How can you say that they are unacceptable?
Vartang: *He looks away, somewhere off in the distance*
Frodo: Having suffered a long illness myself, I can recognize the signs more easily than most.
Mordor Priest: *The Mordor priest looks down at the whole group*
Frodo: I can tell that these are ill.
Mordor Priest: *Perplexed at the goings on. He casts a glance behind his shoulder at the Nine Presences, but he feels disapproval in their silence silence*
Elfhild: *elfhild looks to frodo* yes! we are all sick, especially *points to rian* her
Mordor Priest: *Feeling foolish, the priest grows angry*
Mordor Priest: Get out! All of you! Do not profain the Sacred Grove with your foul presences ever again!
Mordor Priest: Go now, lest my mercy take flight and I have you whipped in the grove!
Arnasa: *arnasa, still on the ground, begins to wail again*
Vartang: *Vartang leaves the group and walks up to the altar, and talks with the priest*
Vartang: *The priest seems satisfied with Vartang's words and with great bowing, Vartang goes back to the group*
Frodo: *In his astonishment, Ceolwulf loosens his grip on Frodo, and the hobbit sinks to the ground. He places a hand on Arnasa's head gently, trying to think of what to say*
Vartang: Shakh, we must go
Frodo: *Frodo looks up and nods*
Vartang: The priest accepts your lack of knowledge of these women, for they have recently arrived here and have fallen ill of some malady
Frodo: Ah, that is good
Vartang: Your sacrifices have been rejected, three for bodily ills and one for madness
Frodo: *Frodo feels he has won a great victory. He smiles triumphantly at Vartang*
Arnasa: *arnasa gives a long, high pitched wail of utter dejection*
Vartang: Now, shakh, by your leave, I shall tarry here until the rest of the ceremonies have been preformed
Frodo: What are the rest of the ceremonies?
Vartang: *Vartang parts his lips again and his gleaming white teeth resemble those of a wolf*
Vartang: Shakh, worthy maidens will be offered on the altar
Rian: *finally, rian begins to stir, mumbling softly* faithful! faithful! *her eyes open fully and she looks around with confusion*
Vartang: I would like to stay and see this great ceremony. The priest says that there are twenty to be offered here today
Vartang: *He gives orders to Ceolwulf to place Frodo back in the litter and for the procession to go back to the hall*
Vartang: *He entrusts the care of Frodo's entourage to a high ranking orc*
Frodo: *Frodo looks down and shakes his head, then suddenly loses consciousness, slumping against Ceolwulf*
Ceolwulf: *Ceolwulf catches him, then gently picks him up and puts him the litter, placing a blanket around his lap*
Rian: *elfhild, elffled and rian are all to eager to leave the sacred grove and go back to the hall. however, arnasa still kneels upon the ground crying*
Sador: *Sador comes to Vartang and bows in front of him, asking his permission to stay for the ceremony*
Sador: Be great ceremony, master, like there was in Harad! *his eyes become almost glazed over as he chants*
Frodo: Vartang, you may tell them...
Frodo: ...that through the titles they have given me, if they are considered real here, I command that this ceremony be halted...
Frodo: ...or....if, if there must be a sacrifice let it be an animal sacrifice.
Frodo: Having said that...I take my leave.
Vartang: Shakh! Understand this. I can no more stop this ceremony than I can stop the course of the tides that beat upon the shore
Frodo: *He is grim and almost threatening, but he holds tightly to Ceolwulf's forearm which rests on the side of his litter*
Vartang: Not only is it done in your honor it is done in the honor of the Great Masters
Vartang: Go then, if you do not wish to see it. Sador and I will stay behind and watch
Vartang: But take care, shakh, lest once again you displease the Great Eye and the Nine who are joined with Him
Frodo: *Frodo bows his head, shutting his eyes tightly*
Vartang: *He laughs sarcastically* That is.... if you ever wish to see your home again *He gives him another one of his wolfish leers*
Rian: *elffhild, elffled and rian are all too ready to go. however, arnasa gives a long, undulating wail, sobs louder, and refuses to move*
Frodo: *Frodo's desperate grip will leave a bruise on Ceolwulf's forearm. Realizing this, he drops his hands to his lap and wrings them*
Vartang: *Hatred against Frodo boils inside him. He thinks.... halfling scum! I will not forget this! Since he knows he cannot take his hatred out on Frodo at this time, his mind turns to Arnasa*
Vartang: Arnasa! Snaga! Get off the ground. *He walks over to Arnasa, and grabs her by the hair, forcing her to her feet* Get up, mad wench!
Arnasa: *suddenly feels herself being yanked to her feet. she screams, and sobs louder*
Vartang: *Holding her by the hair with one hand, he slaps her hard across the face, bringing blood to her lips* I said get up! You have made me look like a fool!
Frodo: Vartang, stop!
Arnasa: *still sobbing, her face now smarting with pain, she finds her feet and stands shakily.*
Vartang: *He slaps Arnasa again in the face, then releases his hold upon her hair and walks forward, turning his back on all of them*
Frodo: *Frodo winces each time Vartang slaps Arnasa, his head still bowed*
Vartang: *The slaves raise the litter to their shoulders, turn the litter around and begin heading back towards Frodo's hall*
Frodo: *He fumes that Vartang ignored his order to stop hitting her*
Narrator: *The slave women fall behind but Ceolwulf walks beside Frodo*
Frodo: *His mind fills with the 20 maids who will die today...but at least he has saved his friends*
Rian: *elfhild, elffled and rian take their places behind the litter. arnasa follows, her footsteps slow and dragging, her head bowed in utter rejection. she feels completely useless... her life is worthless*
Narrator: *As the drums begin to beat again, first slowly, then faster, the entourage makes its way down the path out of the grove*
Narrator: *Soon, they can hear the high priest chanting loudly, then silence... then pitious pleas for mercy*
Narrator: *Then silence... Then crying... then loud shrieking wails that taper off to silence*
Frodo: *Frodo shrinks down into his chair and covers his ears, shaking*
Frodo: *As Ceolwulf looks down at him he notices one lock that was black this morning has been added to Frodo's streaks of gray*
Narrator: *Then the priest begins chanting again in a loud voice... then they hear the loud, clear voice of one maiden who speaks boldly...* We who are to die do not go to the Void with the Dark Enemy, but to... *her voice rises loudly one last time*
Narrator: To the One and... *the last words are muffled as though hands went over her mouth as the drums rise to a crescendo and the crowd screams in a mad frenzy*
Narrator: *Slowly the sounds fade into the distance, the drumbeat growing quieter as they travel down the path, and soon there is silence*
Narrator *The wind blows now from the West, as though in comfort and the scent of the cedar mingles with the gentle breeze*
Narrator: *It is mid-afternoon by the time Frodo's entourage reaches his hall. Ceolwulf gently takes him from the litter and places him upon his bed*
Narrator: *Soon, preparations are made by the household slaves for the evening meal and Frodo's meal is taken to him in his bedroom, for he is exhausted by the harsh scenes of the day*
Narrator: *In the pale glimmerings of the early dawn, the galloping hoofbeats of a horse are heard. It is Vartang, just returned from the dark ceremonies and the festival held afterwards.*
Narrator: *He reeks of wine, flowers and exotic perfumes, and wears a wilted garland of flowers about his neck. He sways unsteadily in the saddle as he thinks of the rhythm of the drums as the wild, writhing shadows of dancers moved in the light of the torches.*

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