A FREE MAN
May 9, 3020
Written by Angmar
Even though the early May day was unseasonably cool, the sweat rolled freely down the bodies of the slaves, soaking through their already filthy salt-encrusted tunics, but the lice that infested their bodies maintained a firm hold to the hairs to which they were attached. Although the once sensitive skin on the ankles had long since formed protective callousing on some, still when moving together to heft picks and mattocks, the motion of movement of the other men pulled against the ankles, causing running sores to erupt. Boots and shoes, long since worn into fragmented pieces of leather, were held together by salvaged pieces, rags, or by nothing more than hope. The sting of the slavemaster's whips was a constant encouragement to sluggards, and many a man who had been unhitched from his ankle shackles was dragged by the guards away from the others so that he could be stripped and feel the lash across the back for the slightest infraction or for none at all.
The roadbed must be deep, for Sauron likes His roads deep, and His engineers were determined that the very essence of their Master's designs was carried out to the infinite degree, and human blood and sweat seemed to be their favorite mortar.
Aldir's work party sat back from the roadbed on the damp, chilly ground, waiting for other slaves to bring them water. Those too old or too maimed for the regular work party were selected to do the task of taking the wooden buckets and drinking cups around to the others when rest periods were called. All down the long lines of shackled slaves, the old and lame made their rounds, giving water to each man in turn. A disturbance down near the end of one line caught their attention; an old man, one foot half eaten away by a festering, stinking sore infested with maggots, barely covered by a ragged bandage, stumbled and fell to the ground, the buckets of water he was carrying spilling out their contents and rolling sideways with his tumble.
"Hoshbûb urkuz, gund sûr!" the guard bellowed as he lashed the old man's bare legs with a whip. Those men who had been brutalized by many such scenes as this merely looked away but those who still, in spite of their circumstances, held pity in their hearts, felt rage and wished they could wrap their chains around the throat of the guard and slowly strangle him to death until his tongue hung from his mouth and his eyes bulged from their sockets, but they could not, for they were fettered. Screaming and stumbling, the old man dragged himself to his feet as the fresh blood from his ankles trickled down into the filthy bandage he wore on his mangled foot.
Soon after the water carriers came the food carriers bringing a monotonous affair of a weak, watery stew and portions of hard, dry bread. The men had long since wondered what the contents of the stew were and considered themselves fortunate if they could find a bit of meat or sliver of vegetable in the murky liquid. One thing that could be counted upon; the stew was always too salty, but the men needed salt because their sweat soon leached it out of their bodies and they would be too weak even for the taskmasters' lashes to rouse them.
Aldir chewed his tough, dry bread as he idly reached down the neck of his sweat-soaked tunic to scratch his chest. The lice had grown more active with the warmer weather, and he scratched all over his body. His body reeked, and his clothes were in tatters. What had once been boots had long been worn to oblivion, but he no longer cared. All he cared about now was hate, and he longed to be free, free to slash and stab, to reek havoc, to tear limb from limb in his fury. Hatred and revenge were Aldir's constant companions and he lived for the day when he could extract in full measure doubled over. He had no hope that he would live that many months longer or that he would ever be free, but that was of no importance, not now, not when Lilandra had been lost forever to him.
He hated the orcs, the Easterlings, the allies of Mordor, his old master, but more than anyone else, even Sauron Himself, his hatred was for one man, Vartang. He knew though that he could not spend much thought in wishful fantasies of destruction, for idle imagination could destroy a man's will to live, and yes, he still wanted to live. He relied on his hatred to keep his sanity, but even his hatred might not be strong enough to keep him from other torments. The Ring on his finger was a torment in itself, both for its source and for the inscription he knew it bore: "My master is Frodo Baggins, the Friend of Sauron." Next after Vartang, he hated his old master the most. The halfling had come to symbolize for him slavery itself, his wife's ordeal and his own.
Two orcish guards sauntered over and stood towering in front of him as he sat on the ground. "'Ere is a fat Gondorian, mate. 'e gets the best food of all." The other bent down and looked at him, peering into his face. "'Ear anything about your pretty wife upon the 'ill? 'Ow is she doing? I'll wager Master Vartang enjoys 'er every night!"
Aldir aimed a mouthful of stew and spat it into the orc's face, using his tormentor's eyes as a target. "I ought to 'ave you whipped for that!" the orc sputtered as he wiped off his face.
"No! Stay your 'and! This is a fine gentlemen, aye, ain't 'e, matey? And 'e can't be flogged save by orders from on 'Igh! 'E gets special treatment on account of the dainty upon the 'ill."
Aldir struggled to his feet, almost dragging the two men chained on either side of him to their feet as well, and lunged for the orc, his hands grasping around the orc's throat. A wild gleam was in Aldir's eyes as he felt the orc's neck in his hands. The orc's fist plummeted him in his gut, but still Aldir held on until the other guards, seeing the scuffle, rushed over and pulled him off. The orc made a move to strike his assailant in the face, but his comrade quickly grabbed his hand and prevented it. "'E's too 'igh for the likes of us. Leave 'im be," the other ordered and they left him.
"Lilandra!" his mind screamed, and he choked back a sob so that nothing could be read upon his impassive face, but inside, his mind screamed "Lilandra" over and over again, and a thought just as painful taunted him. Their unborn child, did it yet live!
A few hours later when the slaves were back again working on the road, two guards came and unlocked the shackles on his ankle. Perhaps a delayed punishment awaited him, and they had enjoyed giving him a few hours to think about it. That was their way and he knew it well.
"Going to have some sport, you nûstuz ulkûrz lûk aathlob-ob!" he said to them viciously, using their own tongue. He had heard these words often enough, and now he knew them.
"Shut your mouth, you stinking dog! You ought to get on your knees and thank us!"
Aldir laughed. "So you are going to kill me?"
"No, scum," one of them growled angrily. "You 'ave just been released. Now go!"
"So you can turn your brutes on me and hunt me down?"
"No!" screamed the orc as he glared at Aldir. "That would be too good! Go!" he commanded again. "You are free! Run back to the feet of your master and cringe about them!"
They turned and left him and he stood there and watched them, unbelieving. Then he walked away from the new roadbed and turned his face west, his only thought his wife and unborn child.
Pizdur Guntha had ordered Finduilas to appear in the hall of Baggins' house where he sat at the master's great table drinking a cup of ciniamon tea while he read dispatches. "More sweet in tea?" he asked, and watched as she scooped some honey from a jar and stirred it into his hot tea.
A satisfied smile upon his face as he tasted the tea, he told her that the slave-man Aldir had been released and was expected to return sometime that day. "He will make a great stink in the house, no?" the Easterling captain said haltingly in Common.
Finduilas looked at him uncomprehendingly and after thinking about what he meant, agreed with him. "You must shave him and then take water and clean him," he said, taking the spoon from the cup and pointing at her, as though gesturing with a sword. Looking at the spoon and turning more thoughtful, Guntha said with emphasis, "Small animals often live with slaves, so maybe you wear things on hands?"
"Gloves?" she asked him.
"Yes, word I look for. Gloves. You be infinite in vision for serving one; not so much as man, but for woman you do good. Then when slave-man is no longer filthy animal that rolls in mud, give him clothes and burn old. Make him stay outside until Guntha order two guards to bring him before him. Now make please, thank you, hurry!" He looked at Finduilas, perturbed that she was still standing there. "Go now," he exclaimed. "Do what Guntha say!"
Finduilas, wise woman that she was, called for the keep's barber, telling him that Aldir was expected to return that day and that he was to shave his head both because Aldir was a slave, and he knew his hair must be infested with lice. The barber looked at her with a distasteful expression and told her he was prepared to handle all eventualities. When news reached Finduilas that Aldir had finally arrived a few hours later, she sent a servant lad to fetch two man-slaves to take a tub to an adjoining shed, fill it wither water, and tell Aldir to bathe after the barber had shaved his head.
Rankling at having to wait to see his beloved Lilandra, still Aldir could see the wisdom of being rid of the lice, bathing and having new clothing. At least he was home at last, and he had been told by the boy who met him in the gate that Lilandra had returned. Two guards stood outside the shed while he bathed, and after he was finished, escorted him to see Guntha in the great hall.
Flanked by guards on either side, Aldir stood in front of the table where Pizdur Guntha was seated. "Slave man make Pizdur Guntha sad," he said. "Slave man no bow to his betters?" Athalgais asked, his face quzzical.
Each guard put their hands on Aldir's shoulders, pressing down firmly. Aldir shrugged them off and knelt on his own accord. "Old habit," he said, his mouth grinning sarcastically, his eyes flaming with rebellion.
Guntha warned him sternly, "Tark, make no more trouble and Tark be happy. Are you having understanding?" Guntha asked Aldir.
"I understand Mordor completely," he said, a defiant look on his face.
"Guntha make more clear. Your woman...ahh... wife!" he exclaimed, remembering the term, "live long, be happy if Tark man cause no trouble. Now understanding be upon you?" he asked.
"Aye," Aldir said calmly. "Indeed. I will comply and cause you as little unhappiness as possible."
Guntha laughed. "You stand now," he said and Aldir rose to his feet. "Your master has been sad at missing you. You want see him now?" he asked.
"That is not necessary, sir," Aldir replied disdainfully. "I want to see my wife!"
"Head serving woman tell Guntha that your wo- wife rests now. If Tark man can be trusted for sake of wife and little one, Guntha dismiss guards, yes?"
"Yes, sir," was his cool, calm reply.
"Then go, Tark man. Guntha done making talk in Common."
"Narnûlublat, pizdur," Aldir said.
A slow, lazy smile curled about Guntha's lips. "Ukh."
With a nod from the captain, the two guards moved away from Aldir as he turned with not a look back and went to the servants' area and then to the room of Lilandra. Aldir had surrendered... at least for now.
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