November 11, 3019

The sun beat down upon the apple orchard that late summer day, and Aldir's tunic and breeches were drenched in sweat. Standing on the ladder propped against the trunk of the tree, he reached up and picked a bright red apple. Then he tossed it down to Lilandra who put it with the others in the basket. "'Twas the last one upon the tree, and I judge 'tis the best one," he calls down to her, "and when added with some of its fellows,'twill make a fine pie for our supper table tonight."

Lilandra looked up at him and smiled.

The orcs had taken them to Vartang's dungeon, high upon the hill in the tower once known as the Citadel. They had been put in the same cell to wait for their turn with the master torturer, Vartang himself. After what seemed like endless hours, the orcs had returned, and prodded them both at spear point into the room of agony. Bloodstains were on the floor, mementos of past prisoners, and an uncomfortable smell reeking of sweat, urine and vomit assailed their nostrils. Aldir looked at Lilandra, trying to comfort her with his eyes, and then he had reached out for her hand as they were separated. Then each had been manacled with their arms chained above their heads. An overpowering rage had burnt in him and his fury could not be appeased as he watched with horror-stricken eyes as the orcs had torn Lilandra's dress from her body.

The late afternoon sun cast shadows in the apple orchard as Aldir and Lilandra watched farm workers drive their teams and wagons laden with the harvest of apples back towards their home, the hall of a prosperous farmer, Aldir and his wife, Lilandra. Both of them, perspiring heavily in the hot, muggy air, mounted their horses and rode towards a small stream nearby. Then stripping, they had waded out into the creek until they could feel no more bottom beneath their feet. He had tried to impress her by floating upon his back in the water until she had the playful urge to grab him and pull him under the water. Then, coughing and flailing in the water, he had pretended mock rage when he had cleared the water. She had only laughed, eluding him, and swam back to the shallow water near the shore.

Vartang had ordered the orcs to chain them to the horizontal bars in his dungeon, where they would be close, but agonizingly far away from each other. Aldir would have confessed to any crimes that Vartang had named, anything, to keep his wife from being tortured. He had told of his part in the rescue of Ceolwulf, but it was not enough, no, nothing would ever satisfy him.

A searing agony tore through his middle as the orc carved through his stomach muscles. The blood soaked through his breeches and dripped to the floor. And then the monster had gone to his wife, Lilandra....

He had helped her from her horse when they had returned to the hall, and watched as she went inside while he went to care for the horses and put them in their stalls. Lilandra and his cousin's wife, who helped her in the kitchen, had prepared a light supper for them both, but still there was a fresh pie cooling for them in the window. Together they had eaten their supper, exchanging looks with each other that told of their happiness, for it was not necessary always to give mouth to the words of the love they had for each other. The farm was prosperous and their lives were complete, except for one thing: after three years of marriage they had never been able to have children.

Aldir had seethed in fury and fought against the chains that bound him as he watched the orc's claws rake viciously, first down his wife's front and then her back, ripping her flesh and sending rivulets of blood streaming down her naked flesh.

The laborers in the orchard had worked happily, glad for the great harvest of apples this crop had produced, and secure in the knowledge that their larder had been partly filled for the winter. The apples would be turned in the presses to make cider or allowed to age and make vinegar. Many would be cut to pieces and hung on strings to dry, to be eaten much later when they were cured, while others would be stored to be turned into pies and tarts. Yavanna had been good to them and their hearts were happy and grateful.

"I am carrying our child!" she had cried, pleading with Vartang and begging for mercy.

But the cider had tasted sour in his mouth that autumn....

The orc draught burned with a bitter fire as the mouth of the flask was forced between his teeth and draught poured into his mouth. He fought them, striking out, kicking them as he could, but they had only laughed at him and pushed him back down upon the floor and forced more in his mouth.

Then they had held him down while they tended to his wounds, smearing salve on them and then biding cloth around his middle. Then, thinking him too weak and dazed to be of any threat, the orcs had turned their backs to him as they went to leave his cell. He was quickly upon the back of one of the orcs, trying to strangle him, and it was not until the orc's comrades had knocked him to the floor and kicked him several times that Aldir yielded to his fatigue and weakness and lay exhausted upon the floor.

"Lilandra," he moaned, "the beast has taken you, and I am bereft!" He prayed to the Valar and the One to protect her and the unborn child, but he did not believe that they even cared to listen or that there was any mercy left in the world. "My hope is gone!" he said as he tried to struggle to his feet, and fell back once again on the hard floor of his cell and was quiet.

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