The Circles - Book One - Chapter Eleven - All Things Forbidden

The Circles - Book One - The Triumph of the Shadow
Chapter Eleven
All Things Forbidden
Written by Angmar and Elfhild

The captives awoke the next morning to the beat of drums, an incessant, unpleasant thumping that was monotonous in its rhythm. The sharp snarlings of the orcs were a harsh contrast to the throbbing song of the drums, and together they made a discordant harmony.

"Get up off your shiftless arses!" were the first words that the captives heard from their captors that morning. These insults were hardly new to the captives, for during the past two days that they had been held, their ears had almost grown accustomed to such talk. They perceived, though, that there was something different today, more of a sense of urgency among their keepers. Their observations had not misled them, for orders had come the night before to all the captains. There was concern among the army commanders that the orcs were not capable of keeping an accurate tally of the prisoners. The captains considered that this was very important to their superiors, and eager to please them and fearful not to, they would comply with whatever their officers wished. The Master desired order and rule in all things and all things would be done as He ordained.

"You there!" a corporal would call out. "You, the wench with the two brats, stand here with these others! This is the group you will stay with at all times!"

The orders came quickly. The corporals and the privates separated the captives into groups of ten. These groups of ten were then banded together into groups of a hundred all over the clearing where the captives were held. There were many captives and the orcs became increasingly frustrated at how slowly they made progress in herding their captives to and fro, placing them where they wished. Their masters felt it would be far easier to keep account of their prisoners this way. Elfhild and her kin had been placed in a group with six others who had once lived near them.

After the prisoners had been herded into their respective troops under command of a corporal - as the orcs called a group of ten in their army - the Rohirric women and children were told to form two lines of five troops parallel to each other.

"Listen, you worthless creatures," each corporal and the two privates in his charge had shouted, "this is the way you are to form up every morning as soon as you awake while we count you. No food until you do!"

A sergeant stood in the clearing where the captives had slept, looking the rows up and down. He was an ugly brute with a thick, heavy scar which ran from beneath his right eye to his chin where it tapered off, the skin puckering where the gash had not healed properly.

"Stand up straight, you wenches," the sergeant barked the order. "What an ugly bunch you make, nothing but dirty slatterns, the whole lot of you! Your stench makes me want to gag!" he snarled as his nose wrinkled up in contempt. The insult, a low one, was especially foul since it came from an orc.

"Now you see," the sergeant said as he stalked up and down between the two lines of fifty each, his voice grating and commanding, "there are rules, and if you want to stay out of trouble, you're going to abide by them. Every morning, when you hear the drum, you are to drag your fat, ugly buttocks out of your sacks and stand for morning roll call! We want to make sure that all of you are still with us," he said wryly, "and that none of you ran away during the night. Whatever troop you are in today will be your group.

"Skai!" he said as he looked at them. "You're a whole company, a company of slave wenches, and you are in my charge. My name is Glokal, or ‘Biter’ in your tongue. My dam named me that, for she said that I was sprightly and liked to bite on her teat when I nursed." He laughed uproariously, and the corporals and the lads joined him in his mirth. "Slave wenches! No damned good for fighting," he said and spat, "good for nothing more than cooking, raising your squalling little curs and being ridden at night!"

The sergeant paced up and down the line, looking into the face of each woman and child. A thought of new torment gleamed in his yellowish eyes and he drew up close to one woman. His breath was as foul as the stench of the vapor steaming into the night from the depths of the dung trenches, and he blew it full into her face.

"You see this broken tooth I got here?” He opened his mouth and tugged back the lip, a strand of spittle oozing out of the corner of his mouth and dangling on his chin. His gaping maw revealed a set of fangs and teeth and one jaw tooth which was a broken stump, jagged, rotting, the gum swollen in a massive, sickening red lump around the base. "How do you think I got it? I bit off a she-strawhead's nipple one time, and the accursed thing was so tough and leathery that I broke out a tooth!" He looked back at the corporal and the lads behind him and he was pleased to see that their faces were convulsed in mirth and growing red with laughter.

Then turning back to the woman, the sergeant snarled into her face, "I broke three of her teeth out for that, and I wear them around my neck, as well as some others I've taken over the years." He pulled a dirty string of teeth from beneath his leather armor. "Hers are these three right here. Do you see them?" He held the gristly necklace in front of the woman's eyes.

"I see," she said as she cringed. "I see too well!" She thought to herself, "He is lying, trying to frighten me, and he is!"

"Are you as tough as that?" Reaching out, he lay a meaty thumb and forefinger upon the loose material of her garment and twisted one of her nipples. He howled in laughter as she winced. Then he withdrew his hand and let the strand of teeth fall back on his chest. Pleased and proud of his jest, he stared into the woman's frightened eyes. "Now if I ever wanted to nibble off you, will I find you too tough for my tastes, or nice and firm, the way I like them?"

The woman closed her eyes and tried to endure his taunts.

"If I would break a tooth on you, wench, I'd knock out every tooth in your head as well as those of your two brats." The sergeant twisted the woman's nipple again and grinned as he saw the look of pain on her face. Then he continued his stroll down the line of women and children. The sergeant's claim, of course, was extravagant and unfounded in truth, but this talk was done to intimidate the captives and make them quail in fear.

There were other reasons for the insulting words that cloaked the uruks' true desires. They were far more appreciative of the charms of the Rohirric captives than they would ever reveal. They considered it was a sign of weakness to betray the awe they felt for the beauty of blue eyes, pale skin and golden hair. Some inwardly cursed themselves, feeling that some slight, twisted traces of the old Elvish nature still in their blood would break forth and one would say a word of kindness. There was always the fear that one of their comrades might espy this weakness and say through snarling, taunting lips, "Here's one who's reverting to the old ways! Pretty boy, next you'll be climbing trees to admire the leaves!"

None were considered lower or more to be abhorred than any who showed even a trace of mercy or betrayed an appreciation for the ways long lost. Their race ages before had been shaped and molded in the torture chambers of Utumno, and they and their descendants had been twisted into mocking parodies of once gentle souls.

Melkor's worst offense, the One and the Valar had deemed it, shining and gleaming in their flaming purity and wrath; Beings who oft pleaded for others to show mercy but showing little themselves. Cursed and doomed to extinction by all other races, the Orcs and their kindred were hated beyond others, their bloodline tainted, forever irredeemable. The Men who considered themselves as upright and righteous cursed and recoiled whenever any perceived any of their own having what they considered as "orcish traits." But were the cursed and the cursing so far different from the ones that, they, themselves, reviled?

The lads were lusting for the captives, but were too fearful of what would befall them should they give vent to their passions. The discipline had been maintained all during the westward march, for the captives were valued as slaves by those in command. Nobles in the East would pay well for the women in the markets, the virgins bringing the highest price. Any half-breeds misbegotten upon the trail would earn either death or, if allowed to grow to maturity, a place in the army. No captives had been despoiled during the pillaging and raiding, but it had been weeks since the uruks had rutted with females of their own kind. Even the captain was not immune to thoughts. Still, he had been first to laugh in ridicule when one of the men, toying with himself during the night, had groaned out as he spent his seed in his hand. It would be a long march eastward with burning lusts and fair captives.

The sergeant moved on to Elfhild's troop. He stopped before a golden-haired mother of three sons. Leaning forward, he put his hands upon her shoulders, letting them rest there. His eyes gleamed as he looked menacingly into hers.

"You think we are ignorant monsters and barbarians, don't you? That's the way your kind sees us. You wouldn't know it, or believe it if you did know it, but some of us can read and write, and more than our names, too! Now little strawhead mother, I know these three by your side are yours, and what clever little tads they are," the sergeant remarked. He knelt down, squatting on his heels, and peered at the three children. The youngest lad, a boy of about five, clutched desperately at the hem of his mother's dress. His brothers eyed the orc warily. "You there, you little strawhead pup," he pointed to the youngest, "can you count?"

The little boy was terrified by the nearness of the orc. Trembling, he felt his bladder suddenly release and a warm trickle of urine began to run down the insides of his thighs.

"Please, sir, my son can speak little Westron," the boy's mother spoke up, coming to the defense of her son.

"Well, tell your imp that every morning, the corporal is going to count you and your folk, all ten of you in number, and when he is finished, he will report the total count back to me." The sergeant got to his feet again. "I'll have your folk counted both morning and night, and you best all be here. No running now, or trying to sneak away, because when you're caught again, I will bury you up to the neck in the ground and leave you to rot!"

He turned and walked a few paces back, then turned again and surveyed the line before him. "Now it's time for morning rations. The lords, the commanders of this army, have been most generous to you worthless pieces of filth. We have been ordered to give you each a piece of meat both morning and night, but remember this, it's no more than the army can spare! You are dismissed to eat. Dismiss and form a line of ones for your provisions!" the sergeant barked out the order as a corporal and two privates began to distribute portions of orc bread and dry meat to the waiting captives.

"You wenches eat far more than you're worth!" the sergeant exclaimed, looking at them with a malicious gleam in his eyes. He stood some paces back from the line of captives. Resting his hands on his hips, he watched with contempt as each one came forward to receive the rations.

The others in the company had already received their portions by the time it was Elfhild's turn, for she and her sister were near the end of the line. The sergeant caught sight of Elfhild as she stood in turn, waiting for the morning's piece of bread.

"Garn, mates, will you look at that!" the sergeant said and spat, an appreciative look on his face. "I know this one by her smell! Mayhap you should give her a bit more food tonight. You can be sure Those who'll be enjoying her and her sister like 'em with fat rumps and big breasts! Their flesh'll make a soft cushion when the Higher Ups roll with them!"

Elfhild looked down, blushing profusely. Never in her life had anyone said such vile things about her. Even when she had been forced to relieve herself in the presence of guards, thankfully the brutes had been quiet and let her go about her shameful business in peace. But now she was too frightened to be indignant about the orc sergeant's obscene remarks. She stood there, frozen in place, her heart pounding.

"Aye," the corporal standing by the sergeant agreed, "and how I would like to have some of that fat arse now! With two such as these, I might not hurt them so bad when I bedded them."

"Shut your trap. You know they ain't for the likes of us; none of 'em are," the sergeant said. "All we poor uruks are left with are the bones, whilst the Higher Ups get the gravy."

One of the privates tossed Elfhild a piece of bread and a piece of meat. Her cheeks burning at the sting of their words, she caught the food in her hands. The sergeant, having already imbibed upon a generous quantity of draught, was in a jovial mood that morning. "My lads, think of the bounty that will be paid us for these two pretties alone!" he exclaimed as he reached a tentative finger towards the hair that framed Elfhild's face. She flinched at the orc's touch but did not move aside.

"Aye, sergeant," said the corporal, "and after what we saw and heard last eve, I daresay we'll get paid ten times what we were promised!"

"Why are you standing there with your mouth open?" the sergeant asked, looking at Elfhild. "You're holding up the line! Go back to your own folk, and don't you go getting any ideas about mingling with the other folk in the camp. We have put up with quite enough from all of you. Last night, your wrangling kept the lads and me awake 'til dawn," the sergeant exaggerated.

After a hastily mumbled apology, Elfhild quickly retreated with her sister soon following behind, both sisters more than glad to comply with the sergeant's orders.

"That wasn't all that kept us awake!" the corporal guffawed. "Old Kulshapatu was hot and bothered last night. Don't know if his malady ailed him and the fever was what caused him to groan and jump all night, or if he was able to get one off in spite of it!"

The sergeant growled, "Don't need any of your brainless comments, corporal! Besides, that ain't the way he got those sores at all. He says he was wounded in battle."

The corporal, reluctant to relinquish his bawdy talk, smirked, "Ain't the way I heard it. There weren't no battles unless you call it the one that Tarkûrz whore put up when he rolled with her. Hear she was a regular demon - biting, scratching, kicking - and the pox she gave him almost burnt his balls and everything else off!"

"Corporal, another word out of you, and I'll have you put in chains!" the sergeant bellowed.

"Aye, sergeant," the corporal grumbled.

After the remaining captives had been given their bread and meat, they moved off into the trees and tried to eat their breakfast in peace. The corporal turned back to the sergeant. "Do you think HE," the uruk said in the Black Speech, his voice almost reverent, "will want that one for His bed?" He nodded towards the spot where Elfhild was sitting with her sister, Aunt Leofgifu and Hunig.

"Be quiet, you fool!" the sergeant hissed in the same tongue. "Is that all you think about? You'll get us killed if someone overhears your idle words and reports them back." The sergeant darted his head from one side to the other, alert that other ears might hear them. Then seeing that only the captives were nearby, he continued. "What else do you think HE would want her for? To discuss military tactics and the ways of waging war? Foolish, corporal, to think that HE would want her for aught else. He's taken a fancy to her; that's why He said He'd remember! She'll be another toy to Him, a sweet thing He enjoys in the idle hours."

The corporal's voice dropped even lower, and in a conspiratorial whisper he confided to the sergeant, "They say He takes His pleasure with them for a while and then," the corporal shrugged his shoulders, "who knows what He does with them?"

"All you know is foolish gossip, corporal! Ain't the way I heard it at all," the sergeant boasted, as though he were privy to some secret knowledge. "I hear He keeps every last one 'til they die. The word is that He has a fine harem and lavish rooms, even a bath, just like they do in the East. If tales be true, they say He treats 'em well!"

The corporal shuddered. "Skai! I wager when He's finished with 'em and had His fun, He freezes the flesh right off their bones! Some even say that after they be cold and dead, He lays with them, and after that, He eats their bodies 'til there ain't nothing of them left!"

"You talk foolish, corporal. Not a word of truth is in what you say. If the truth be known, He keeps 'em and makes 'em just like He is so He always has plenty of them to enjoy!" Even the sergeant shivered a little at the thought of women, no matter how comely, copulating with the Undead. "Now that's the final word on it, so be still about it and speak no more," the sergeant snarled.

The very thought of having the flesh stripped right off was too uncomfortable for the corporal, and so he thought of the warmth the orc draught brought as it went down his throat.

After the captives had eaten their morning meal, the orcs ordered them upon their feet. After binding the hands of all save the women carrying infants and small children, the column began to travel once more through the rough country at the side of the Road. The captives moved between trees both mighty and small, around densely knitted thickets of shrubs and underbrush, their feet stepping over rocks and brambles. Sometimes they tripped and stumbled in the dim, shaded light, landing upon the forest floor in a heap.

To their right was the army, row after row of prancing chargers trotting and orcs and men marching at a steady pace. Great clouds of dust followed behind, a luminous glow against the dark woods of Firien. Drums beat to the steady rhythm of hooves and marching footsteps and occasionally a horn would be sounded. Harsh voices sang songs in languages unknown to the captives, but though they could not comprehend the words of the dreadful melodies, the meanings were painfully clear - the men sang of death and war, of conquering and conquest.

Though many of the riders were mounted upon black horses, there were also sorrels, chestnuts, bays and steeds of many varying colors. Some were used as pack animals and others were used to haul wains and chariots driven by proud Easterling chieftains and warriors. Accustomed to seeing only yellow haired Rohirrim and an occasional dark haired Gondorian, the women and children marveled at the host, which was composed of men of all sorts of appearances and garb. Some were fair, some were tawny, some were swarthy, and some were black as the night. There were bowmen, spearmen, axemen, some tall, some short, some mounted and others on foot. Though many of the men wore livery of sable unblazoned, others wore black and red, or strange scarlet robes beneath brazen scales. The black horde was woven with many hues.

Sometimes the soldiers would glance at the prisoners shuffling through the trees and taunt them in strange and unknown tongues, making lewd comments that the women could not understand. Some men narrowed their dark eyes in anger and cursed the captives in hateful voices, spitting in their direction. Others would look away in loathing and disgust at a people so different from their own, and in the eyes of a few was the same fear that the captives held for them.

There were fierce orcs and lumbering, dim-witted trolls from stony hill and mountain, all hideous brutes to look upon. Great horned oxen pulled covered wains, and monstrous beasts tall as towers shook the ground like thunder. Upon tall poles, banners flapped in the dirty air kicked up by boot and hoof. Some were of bright colors and bore the heraldry of exotic lands. There were the flags of orc bands, adorned with dreadful images created by sloppily rendered stitches or stained with messy pigments. These hung from tall spears with streamers, and skulls of men were impaled atop the points. Yet the most prominent symbol among the sea of cloth and heraldry was the Red Eye upon a field of black, a fiery orb which seemed to leer in malice at the downtrodden captives.

And then they were gone. The mighty army had passed, and the Road lay open to the east. The quietness of the forest seemed to close in upon the captives as the last sounds of the army faded away into the distance.

Onward the captives walked until at last evening came and they left the silent hallows of the forest behind them. They were a little over a mile from the eastern eaves of the Firien Wood, and there they were allowed to rest at the side of the Road. As dusk began to fall, their captors started to make camp for the night.


Glokal - "Biter" in the Black Speech.