The Circles - Book One - Chapter Thirteen - The Men of Darkness

The Circles - Book One - The Triumph of the Shadow
Chapter Thirteen
The Men of Darkness
Written by Angmar

Over the next few days, the orcs continued to drive the captives through the Sunland, though little light shown now upon the sad plains of Anórien. The captives were almost glad of the shadowy sky, for their eyes could not behold the full horror of the destruction laid to a land once fair. The vast empty reaches spread out all around them, desolate, uninhabited now, its people long fled or taken into captivity. On both sides of the Road here and there beyond wide expanses of trampled, ailing fields were the charred ruins of burnt villages.

The captives felt lost, homeless wayfarers, vagabonds, in the spreading openness of the plain. The sky above them was silent, the birds long fled to lands where the sun still shone. Neither hawk nor falcon cried in their soaring flight in the skies above or plunged down to pinion unwary prey in fierce talons. Sometimes the barely discernible mountains towards the south suddenly reared their hoar-crowned craggy heads out of the gloom and gazed down on the plains below with cold, rebuking stares. The snarls, grunts and curses of the orcs were almost welcome sounds in the overwhelming silence.

Then a shrieking cry would rend the stillness of the dead air as the demons of the sky screamed their strange calls. They would shoot out of the east and then out of the west, sometimes howling and shrieking, other times silent as a creeping plague of death, speeding in their fury like bolts of lightning, the darkness beneath them deepening at their coming and lessening in their wake. The captives knew not what the winged shadows were and the very thoughts of the flying demons filled them with cold, stark terror.

Ten days had passed since the village of Grenefeld had been raided and now it was the third day of June, but still the captives tramped the long journey to a destination unbeknownst to them. The miles had lengthened as they plodded on, fear and sorrow their constant companions. Occasionally a supply train, drawn by many yoked oxen, would rumble by, the wheels of the wagons creaking and groaning, bearing their great loads of weapons and supplies. Now and then a cavalry patrol would trot jauntily by with a great jangling of curb bit chains, creaking of saddle leather and clinking of harness trappings, beating out a merry rhythm against a background of somber skies and silence. Sometimes when the train of captives was near the road, the cavalrymen would call out a bawdy greeting, which the captives ignored with a stiff-necked, disdainful toss of the head.

The endless marching for the day was over and at last the captives could eat and rest for the night. Children complained about sore feet and aching legs that had been encouraged to move ever onward by the persuasive voice of the whip. Weary arms that had clutched fretting, colicky babes all day longed for a respite from the strain. Now, at last, when it seemed that will or mind could no longer force another step forward, the command had come to halt.

The captives were amazed at the energy the orcs always displayed, for they never seemed to weary, no matter how many miles had been marched. While the night provided an end to the long day's ceaseless plodding and a brief succoring oblivion for the captives, the ebony cloak of evening was a time of revelry for the orcs. Dusk was now falling and some feeble light yet remained. The orc captains had set a circling protection of pickets around the perimeter of the camp. Although the only enemies were over a hundred miles away, still military order and alertness would be maintained and no captives could be allowed to escape.

The wild strawberries were just bursting into ripeness and here and there one blushed a full red face and hid beneath the leaves. The fruits, though, were few and not very big, for the enveloping cloud of darkness had stunted their growth. Many of those that had triumphed in the struggle to live and grow had been crushed under foot. Still here and there a few grew where the light was better.

The orc pizurk knelt down and picked one, looking at it as he held it briefly between his meaty thumb and forefinger. Though the explosion of its taste lingered but a brief instant, the pizurk relished the sweet taste of the berry. The pizurk gulped the berry and its scant juice quickly down his throat. He stood up and looked about, hoping to find more. Instead he saw three horsemen riding across the dried, pale grassland that stretched between his sentry post and the small Easterling cavalry camp that had just been set up about half a mile across the road.

The pizurk pondered to himself, "What kind of trouble could this foretell? Officers never mean us well! They either have some bloody work for us to do or they want to criticize and complain!" The pizurk made a motion with his hand, alerting the next sentry back that someone was approaching.

News of the three cavalrymen was quickly relayed back to the captain, who grumbled at hearing of the two officers and their orderly. He had been planning to settle down for the evening with a skin of fiery draught and was in no mood to contend with demanding Easterling officers.

"Lads," he barked, rising to his feet, "make lively now! Our betters have come to see us."

The camp was soon astir with orcs checking their gear, setting their armor to rights and preparing themselves for what they felt would be something unpleasant.

By the time the two Easterling cavalrymen reined in their horses, the orc captain had called the lads under his command to attention, and they saluted the officers smartly. After returning the salute, one of the two men, the taller of the two, hailed them.

"Good evening, men," the officer said, trying to make his voice sound civil. "I am Captain Kourosh, commander of the Second Regiment, Third Brigade, Khandrim Cavalry. My comrade here," he nodded towards the shorter man beside him, "is Sergeant Daungha of the First Company. The lad with us is Tooraj, my horse holder. Just show him where we may put our horses, and we shall have a look about your camp."

The orc captain hoped to mask his displeasure at what he considered the intrusion of the two officers. He opened his mouth slightly, exposing his fangs, and though the orc captain considered it a smile, it appeared more a grimace of great pain than it did a jovial expression.

"Sirs," he said respectfully, his voice ingratiating as much as an orcish voice can be, "all will be done as you have asked. Would you like for me to show you about?"

"No," Captain Kourosh said as he dismounted his horse and turned the reins over to an already dismounted Tooraj. "That will be quite unnecessary. We can find our way about surely enough."

"Aye, captain," said Sergeant Daungha as he dismounted and handed his reins to Tooraj. "A stroll about the camp will be relaxing after a day's ride in the saddle."

"As you will, sir," the orc said in compliance. The two officers watched as Tooraj led their mounts to the place the orc captain had specified.

Captain Kourosh disliked orcs, though he felt pity for them, and what he considered their "plight." He had always compared them to the strange simian creatures his grandfather told him about in tales when Kourosh had been a lad. His grandfather had acted out tales about the apes that were reputed to live in the far south of Harad. His grandfather had depicted them as great, monstrous creatures with long, dangling arms who rolled their eyes and lolled their tongues about.

Kourosh had jumped back in feigned terror as his grandfather had lunged towards him in mock battle. His grandfather had hunched his shoulders, bending far over and swinging his arms back and forth. Though he would never admit it, Kourosh had been frightened by his grandfather's grunting and snarling. Then when his grandfather had bellowed out the most hideous approximation of an ape’s battle cry that young Kourosh ever could imagine, his grandfather wrestled him to the floor. Then his grandfather had held the lad down with one foot while he beat his fists upon his chest, throwing back his head and bellowing a victory chant.

Captain Kourosh could not help but consider the orcs as feeble-minded brutes, akin to the apes of the far South, but he had taken great pains never to reveal that to anyone. Kourosh, for all his military demeanor, was a thoughtful man who liked to look at all sides of a matter and often held counsel only with himself.

He had spent twenty years in the cavalry of Khand, and when his regiment had been dispatched to go fight in Gondor, he had gone to do his duty, reluctantly leaving his home and his family. A seasoned trooper, lean of face and body, his muscles hardened from long hours on the trail, he appeared to all as harsh man, homely and rustic. He had never prided himself upon his looks anyway and felt more elation at a good report from a superior officer than he did at the shy glance of a maid. Yet underneath the strict exterior, he had the soul of a poet and the mind of a philosopher.

His sergeant Daungha, a younger man, relished war for the sake of war and the booty that it brought. "Death to the enemy and plunder of their lands," was his watchword. Brash, impetuous, daring and reckless at times, he seldom did anything in moderation, and often fell under the censure of military discipline. Ardent and passionate in all his ways, the hot blood racing through his veins, he considered himself quite the dashing, bold soldier, lover of women and the breaker of hearts, the cause of many a young maiden's tears.

The uniforms of both men bore evidence of the dust of the trail. Though they had shaken out their cloaks before they had left their camp, still they had not rid their apparel of either its smell or its grime. Captain Kourosh had not come to the camp of the captives for idle reasons. He had received a letter from his wife that their second child was due in the winter and they would have need of a slave woman to tend the child. Perchance he could find a likely nurse among these slaves for that task? If so, he would send word to his agent in Nurn to be on the lookout for her at the slave auctions.

Sergeant Daungha was restless, tired of the long, endless cavalry patrols. He yearned for leave in a city and the bustling excitement of throngs of people. To him, the desolation of the West was stifling. Wrapped in his blankets off to the side of the road at night, he had fondled himself as he beheld visions of wenches with dark kohl-rimmed eyes who danced seductively before him. What comforts did a soldier have upon the trail if it were not for such fantasies?

Though the two men, the captain and the sergeant, were mismatched in personality, the captain being older and content with his wife and two concubines, the sergeant still had no woman to call his own. He always thirsted for the thrill of a new conquest, whether in a dimly lit tavern or in a vanquished city.

Sergeant Daungha knew, however, the orders that had been laid down so explicitly and drummed into the officers until they knew them forwards and backwards: "No spoiling of the captives. All slaves are to be preserved intact except for the usual wear and tear of this commodity by travel or disease. No officer or man is allowed to do aught else than restrain female slaves or their issue by use of threat and intimidation, and no serious bodily injuries may be inflicted upon those in your care. No slaves, either male or female, can be seduced or ravished, nor is it permitted to force them to service any officer or man by use of their mouths or hands. All offenders guilty of such offenses will face the most severe of punishments: castration and enforced servitude in the slave labor camps."

Sergeant Daungha had memorized the military directives and could recite them word by word. Though he felt sorely tempted at times to break them, the restraining threat of the punishment was far too overwhelming, and when considered, it was far too frightening to contemplate. Sergeant Daungha remembered the old days before the Directives had come into place and he bristled under their tight control.

Daungha's contemplation of military directives was broken by Captain Kourosh's soft-spoken words. "Let us walk about, shall we? I have never seen a slave camp before and I must admit I am curious."

The sergeant, eager to impress his captain, said, his voice louder, taking on the air of one who knows, "I have seen several camps where defeated warriors were housed. Of course, that sort is always barbaric and crude, uncivilized, wild Rohirrim and Gondorians, folk of that ilk. Every means of restraint must be used upon those brutes, and never does one of them ever willingly submit to their superiors. They prefer death instead!"

"Sergeant," the captain said, looking at him, "I suggest that we discuss this in our own tongue." Though the captain's words were said pleasantly, they were more of a command than a suggestion.

"I would daresay they consider us as barbaric and savage as we consider them," Captain Kourosh continued in their own tongue. "None of us would ever submit to defeat and servitude, most preferring instead an honorable death by casting themselves upon their own swords."

"Captain Kourosh, what do you mean? We are as barbaric and savage as our foes?" Sergeant Daungha disagreed in the same language.

"Are we not all savages, covered only by a slight cloak of civilization?” Captain Kourosh mused. “We look across a battle line and call the other 'savage' whilst at the same time the enemy looks across at us and says, 'Barbarians!' Under the skin we are all the same. The only thing that separates us is political philosophy."

Though he respected him as an officer, Sergeant Daungha was in dismay oft times at his captain's words, and he felt discomfited in those times. "Captain, you and I talk of bitter things, unpleasant to the ears. This evening should be spent in marveling at the treasures the lads have brought us from the West! Let us look upon the booty," the sergeant encouraged, a look of anticipation upon his features.

"From what I have seen so far at a distance, the booty is an humble one, not a hoard of treasure. I cannot say that a camp of plain-faced Rohirric wenches and their children, tired and with wan faces, quite compares to one of the pleasure houses of the East," the captain said, a wry grin on his face. Kourosh had no doubt what Daungha desired. "You know, sergeant, without my repeating of the Directives, that we cannot do more than admire them with our eyes and think about the future.” He silently mused, always the fatalist, "if there is one."

The sergeant, his voice dropping lower, said, "Though I would wish no one else to hear this but you, I think the Directives are most unfair. It is my considered opinion that what a man has won by the sword is his to take and enjoy! Of course, his superiors are entitled to their share, but the men who fought for the spoil should have first rights in their taking. If I could, I would do as I will and have no regrets."

The captain had heard this argument from the sergeant many times before, and though at first he had been eager to put up another argument against him, he found that over the months the subject became wearisome. "The sergeant's words border on mutiny," he thought, "and cannot be allowed to go unchallenged."

"Sergeant, do you now question our superiors? Are you so bold and brash a man to dare do that?" he said impatiently. "The minds of our Rulers are far superior to our own. I find Their way makes perfect sense, its logic irrefutable, for without order, there is only chaos, hunger, famine and want. Be satisfied, sergeant, in what They allow you to have and do not seek to rise to heights that you can never attain. Your philosophy is faulty, your conclusions unbased! Such debate would be better left to private talk, perhaps over cups of wine, certainly not in the midst of a camp where the troops can hear your words." The look on the captain's face was one of warning.

The subject began to make Sergeant Daungha uncomfortable. Perhaps it was not the topic itself, but the firm clenching of the jaw and the resolute look that the captain always maintained when discussing this matter.

"Sometimes we can be forgiven, can we not, when after the heat of battle is spent, we enjoy some small measure of reward that our bloody swords have earned?" asked the sergeant, still unrepentant. "You have done it yourself, Captain Kourosh, after the last battle of the uprising a few years back. That night in the city after the carnage was over, we shared the same wine, the same bed and the same women! The next morning after we had both sated ourselves in pleasure, you took two of them back as your concubines. There were no reprimands upon any of us for what we had done."

The captain chuckled softly, experiencing that night over again. "And the wenches have always proved satisfactory and are most delightful and wanton in bed."

The captain's mind began wandering to these pleasing thoughts but he knew he must not let them tarry, for they had spent too much time in futile debate. He paused, leaving his contemplate of past nights of hot lust. "But, sergeant, that was excused to us, for it was an fierce battle and our bloodlust was unappeased," he said, his word pattern turning somber and monotonous as he became what he was now, an officer in command.

Sergeant Daungha had folded his arms as he listened to the captain. "That was a good battle," he said, reminiscing, oblivious to the captain's change in mood, "and the celebration afterwards was most memorable!

The captain looked at him sternly. "The Masters forgave us for enjoying the spoil then because we had just been in battle and our passions were high. This, though," the captain said, looking about the camp, "is another matter entirely. We are not standing in the middle of a conquered city, our uniforms soaked in blood and our swords dripping gore. The battle is far away now and these women are recognized as spoils of war under the jurisdiction and protection of the army. They will all be kept intact and inviolate and we will follow orders. Their straw-colored hair, fair skin and blue eyes are prized above all other wenches in the lands where their likeness is unknown."

Sergeant Daungha added, not quite willing to give up the debate, "You are correct, captain; I am in the wrong. This is no place to discuss matters of internal concern. I trust that you will not repeat anything that I have said. Though sometimes we disagree, you would not begrudge a friend careless words spoken after long hours upon the trail. It has been a long time since I have been on leave and have not known the pleasures of a woman's caresses for a very long time."

"It has been a long time for me, maybe longer than you," the captain said quietly.

"Captain, you know that I am as loyal as any, but I cannot help feeling that the slave flesh, when it is available, should be provided to any man of valor. We differ not in philosophy but merely in its application," the sergeant said testily.

"Do you wish to stand here all night and discuss philosophy or do you wish to appraise the slaves that are secured here?" asked the captain. "You will soon find philosophy becomes a burdensome pursuit."

The sergeant knew that the captain had dismissed the subject when he turned from him. The sergeant looked at the back of Captain Kourosh as he walked ahead of the other towards a group of captives sitting a short distance away. Sergeant Daungha soon caught up with him, but as he looked about him, he saw that the captain was talking to a group of older women and mothers with babes and children.

Breguswith shuddered as she looked up at the two Easterlings. She held her babe in her arms as he slept fitfully. She sat weeping softly, her face a mask of sorrow.

"Good dame," Captain Kourosh said in the Common Speech as he looked down at her. "Is your child ailing?"

"Aye, sir," Breguswith replied. "He was never a healthy child, always weak from birth."

Kourosh's eyes softened as he felt sympathy for the woman. He thought with a fearful twinge, "What if this were my wife and I were slain and no longer could protect her?"

"Are you given enough to eat, or should I speak to these louts who guard you? By my word, they will give you extra food," he said, his voice growing angry. Sergeant Daungha looked at him in dismay but said nothing.

"Aye, they feed me enough, I suppose, as much as they are able, but," she said as her voice fell lower and she shared a confidence, "the other women give me some of their provender. But, sir, this is no life for a babe, this constant movement and endless walking. I fear that he will not survive this journey."

"Good dame, what is your name?" he asked.

The question made her uneasy and she did not wish to tell him, nor did she wish to feel his ire if she refused.

"Breguswith, sir."

"I will see that you have more to eat, madam," said the soft-voiced Easterling.

"Sir, thank you, but the child seems to be growing weaker every day, and I fear that the strain of travel will cause my milk to dry up."

"I am sorry," he said, "and though it does not matter, I reckon, my name is Captain Kourosh of the Second Regiment, Third Brigade, Khandrim Cavalry. If ever I may aid you, I will." He thought to himself, "Though I sometimes think that I will soon aid no one. My forebodings tell me I shall not return alive from these lands so far from home."

Sergeant Daungha had grown weary of the discourse and had wandered away from the captain and what he considered the captain's soft, weak approach to life. Still Captain Kourosh was held in great respect by his men. Even Sergeant Daungha marveled at the total ruthlessness that the captain had displayed when he had ordered surrendering foemen to be slain, and had turned his own blade upon them, relishing their deaths as he had turned into a frenzied butcher of the enemy.

"The captain is a complicated sort," Daungha had mused.

The Easterling captain had left Breguswith and was now talking to Goldwyn and her three sons. The sergeant glanced back at him and he saw a smile on the captain's bearded face when he talked to the three boys. "The captain is full of good will tonight," thought Sergeant Daungha, "and I do realize that he misses his young son just now three years of age. I suppose that is what married life does, and the proud captain is now quite the domesticated man," he chuckled to himself. He liked the captain and considered him an outstanding officer, but still he made a dull companion for young blood.

The sergeant preferred something more lively and sought out the young maids, for it had been long since he had been with a woman, and he wished to hear pleasant, lilting voices and behold feminine smiles not found on the faces of his grizzled comrades in arms.

Elfhild and Elffled this evening sat a small distance away from their troop of ten. They had been talking quietly together in their own language and were laughing at fond remembrances of their hound, Brúwann. The brown and white hound had often gone to sleep near the brazier on winter nights and would yelp in his sleep, his legs thrashing wildly. The twins had often wondered about what the dog dreamt. Perhaps when he had just yelped, he had been playing a game of chase with Eadfrid, and then when he howled and thrashed his legs, mayhap he was in hot pursuit of a coney across wide, broad fields.

The sisters’ shared story of peaceful life at home was suddenly broken by the realization that a figure was looming above them and staring down at them. They looked up at the form of a tawny, bearded young Easterling man and froze. An imposing new force had just invaded their small, innocent world - the Men of Darkness.


Pizurk - A private in the Mordor Army.