The Circles - Book One - Chapter Twenty-one - The Dance of Blood and Death

The Circles - Book One - The Triumph of the Shadow
Chapter Twenty-one
The Dance of Blood and Death
Written by Angmar

After dressing and putting on his armor with the aid of an orderly, Sergeant Daungha waited until his horse was brought to him. Then, after mounting his sable steed, he settled into the high-backed saddle, feeling its curve around him. The saddle's staunch, firm support was a comforting reassurance. He pursed his lips and looked up at the sky.

Sergeant Daungha's company, the First Company of the Second Regiment, Third Brigade, Khandrim Cavalry, had already formed into two rows of fifty men each, one behind the other. After riding over to his men, Sergeant Daungha turned his steed to face them. His spirited horse was skittish this morning. Right forehoof pawing the ground, the steed mouthed the bit, streams of saliva bubbling at the corners of its lips. The horse sensed something was amiss, a change in the air perhaps.

The men of the company were a fearsome-looking lot with red scarves wrapped around their helms like turbans, the ends of the scarves flowing free down their backs. Men wore dark mail shirts or shirts of bright plates, all clad in sable, scarlet and gold and scattered shades of green and blue. Kohl was on their eyelids and their braided hair, adorned with bright beads, hung down long about the sides of their faces. Some had braided and oiled their beards while others had curled them in dark waves and ringlets. Charms, amulets and talismans on metal chains and cords of leather hung around the necks of many of the Eastern warriors.

Each man had performed his personal morning oblations while the darkness lay heavy upon the earth. Then after a breakfast at feeble dawn, the company cooks and their assistants had brewed a strong tea and poured it into great silver vessels, carved with runes and warded with spells. Added to this were herbs and an infusion of kapurdri, a brew made from the holy mushrooms of the East. Some said the runes on the vessels themselves endowed the tea with certain magic properties, while others said that potions were added to the tea as it was being steeped. Whatever the source of its power, the men accepted the drink eagerly, for rumor had it that the draught had been blessed by the Nazgûl Priest-kings themselves.

After all was mixed and blended, the cooks and their assistants carried the vessels to each company and poured the concoction into silver ewers. Then came the "Passing of the Sacred Cup," or, as some called it, "Galtaum Trînum-ob Lutaum-ob," the "Draught of the Madness of Battle," a ritual performed before every battle. The desired effect of the draught was to heighten the men's bloodlust and zeal for battle and to deaden the dread that they naturally felt towards the Priest-kings.

The commanding sergeants of the company had presided and, with the orderlies' assistance, had filled each man's cup from the ewers. The captain placed his hands over the rim and hallowed both the cup and the warriors as each one dedicated his sword, his life and his blood to the Master, his land and his comrades.

Most of the time the draught allayed the men's fears greatly. Upon making contact with the enemy, the men would charge recklessly forward, believing that they were impervious to harm. Some were overcome with such passion that they would reach states of ecstasy, and the euphoria could last for hours if the mixture had been compounded correctly. However, if not enough of the kapurdri had been mixed with the tea, the effects would wear off quickly. If too much had been added and the draught was too strong, the men might rush off the battlefield and frantically strike rocks or trees in their frenzy. The saying was, "He does not drink enough of the Galtaum Trînum-ob Lutaum-ob until he gnashes his teeth upon his shield in his eagerness for battle."

With the lightening of the sky an hour after dawn, the Sacred Virgins had danced the Dance of Blood and Death before the cavalry regiments. The captains and sergeants who had been chosen to perform this high honor had unsheathed their swords and formed a semi-circle, holding their blades before them. The dancers had knelt before them and begged for their flesh to be cut. Then the maidens had performed the sensual dance of death, swaying and writhing against the sharp, broad sides of the men's swords. The swords did their work well, slicing the silken dancing raiment to shreds, exposing the maidens' bleeding flesh to more incursions of the blades. This ritual always worked the soldiers up into a frenzy of lust and blood.

The men had all chanted, "Mazauk! Matum! Grish!" while the maidens twisted and undulated before them, inflaming the men's passions even more.

"We dance in joy before the warriors and yield our blood for sacrifice!" the maidens had cried. "Bathe your swords with our blood, a taste of the torrents which your blades will soon drink!"

The officers had sung back to them, "We dedicate our swords, cleansed in your blood, to the High Lords of Darkness! They promise life everlasting and new worlds beyond the innumerable stars to brave warriors who are fell and swift to war! Let our swords be true today and bring us victory! Death! Death! Matum! Grish! Grish!"

The women had answered them, "Mazauk! Matum! Grish!"

"Then to Death!" the men had shouted. "Let blood be spilled this day! Let our vanquished enemies quail at our feet! Let the day not end without victory or death!"

Finally, the maidens, bleeding and exhausted by the dance and loss of blood, had fallen down upon their faces before the officers, writhing and twitching in ecstatic trances. The officers had raised their swords high into the air, saluting the maidens and their dance. Then the horn had sounded, and after the men had sheathed their swords, they turned and walked away from the maidens, butcher's work ahead of them.

Though the ever-present cloud of darkness still lay over the land, the shadowy sky had glowed red in the East. It was now two hours after the sickly face of the sun had risen. The Sergeant and his men knew what this omen portended. If the sky turned unfriendly and the rain fell with great sweeping breezes, the protecting cloud would turn into fragments and flee away into the East. The sky was an ill omen. Not that rain would bother the men, but those orcs who could not bear the light of the sun would be sorely pressed. Without them, the Mordor Army's number would be dangerously lessened.

As he looked at the sky, the Sergeant's mood of elation began to lessen, and he felt an ominous presence, something lurking, unseen in the air. The morning seemed colder than it was. In spite of the kapurdri draught, Sergeant Daungha felt tense and clenched and unclenched his fingers. He was sweating heavily now and his body under the tattered uniform felt damp. For a moment he looked at his men and they stared back at him. The evil portents in the sky were having their effect upon them, too.

The Sergeant thought, "Perhaps before the day is done and my comrades behold my countenance again, my face will be caught in the cold spell of death." Though he was uneasy, he was yet unafraid, still confident that his luck would not forsake him. "Whatever has been ordained as my fate cannot be changed now. If I am to die, may it be in honor!"

"Men," Sergeant Daungha encouraged, "the enemy is in disarray and the day will be ours!" His horse pranced nervously. "We fight against those who would invade our lands, pillaging and raping. They would carry our kin off into slavery! Remember how their ancestors came to these shores and took our people back in slavery to their own lands, some to die in sacrifice to their Unholy Gods in the Dark Temple upon their island!"

The men growled and shook their spears in the air.

"Let us kill them or drive them into the sea! We do not fight for ourselves! We fight for our Righteous Master and for our wives, children, our elderly, our sick and the weak, our kin and friends!" He rose in his stirrups and seemed to tower as an ancient Variag warrior from the past. "I see the fire alive in your eyes, the Holy Flame of vengeance and justice!"

The men cheered him as they pounded their spears upon their shields.

"Some of us will have the honor of meeting our ancestors, the valiant ones who have long gone to their graves, slaughtered by our enemies! Tonight there will be feasting and celebration in the Dark Halls, where the Dead dwell! Let none of them say that the Men of the East died as cowards in their beds!"

"MATUM!" he screamed, a towering spectre from the past, the spirit of their ancestors caught in the flesh, and his men felt the power of his words.

"MATUM!" they echoed back and pounded their spears against their shields more fiercely than ever.

"Mazauk! Matum! Grish!" he cried.

"Mazauk! Matum! Grish!" they responded.

Then, suddenly, carried downward from the air above, the men heard shrill cries and saw the Nazgûl flying above them. The Nine shapes had swooped down low over Helm's Deep and then turned and flew above the men's heads. The sight of them always gave the warriors great courage, and they cheered the Nazgûl as they flew out of sight. The powerful wings of their beasts took them up and they circled over the city again. Many of the men could make out their cries, since they were spoken in the Black Tongue. Even though it was in the High Speech, many of the words were familiar to Sergeant Daungha and his men.

"The Priest-kings encourage us, men! They are sure of victory! Hear Their joyous calls!" The men all looked upward, caught in the spell of the Nazgûl and the draught which they had drunk earlier that morn, and their apprehension was banished.

"For you who cannot understand, I shall translate," the Sergeant exclaimed. "They say, 'Victory is Ours!' They will bring us good fortune, men! Count upon it! It is Their guarantee! They are messengers of the Most High Lord!"

The sergeant felt suddenly dizzy, euphoric. He watched the Nazgûl glide and soar in the sky above them, their presence intoxicating, raining down feelings of benediction upon all the troops. He felt that their strength and might gave him power and turned him into an unconquerable warrior.

Silently Sergeant Daungha uttered a prayer. "Great Lords, may Ye cast down terror from the skies! May Your journey be unchallenged and the Eye of the Great Master look upon Ye and give Ye power and protection. Blessings upon Ye, Great Ones!"

As he watched them in their flight, the Sergeant felt his body begin to sway, caught in their power. His eyes moved from them and he looked to his men. He saw that they, too, were swaying, all wrapped in a fervor of praise and ovation, a religious ecstasy which did not pass until the Nazgûl had turned and flown out of sight.

"Men! We are warriors, proud and brave! Our cause is the Righteous Cause of our Master Who reigns forever and ever! O Great Lord of Darkness, we pledge our swords, our lives, and our honor to Thee! Let the False King of the conquered land of the South tremble and hide behind the walls with his Magician, the idler, Mithrandir! Their hour has come! Death to the enemy!" he screamed.

"Blood and death!" the men shouted.

"To victory!" He waved his sword in the air as he rose even higher in the stirrups. "To victory! Form column! Rows of five abreast! We ride to serve our Master and our people! May our souls roam endlessly, restlessly, if we fail!"

The companies formed column, riding forward to join in their assigned places along with the other Easterling and Southron cavalry companies. The Lieutenant of the combined cavalry host had given the company commanders their instructions that morning.


The cavalry commander had met with his captains at seven that morning. There was little fear that the enemy would come out upon the field and attempt to storm the Mordor army. Still there was always the possibility that a small group might burst suddenly through the Postern Door and attempt to destroy the catapults and kill the engineers.

"More likely," the Lieutenant had said, "when the fighting before the gates has subsided, some will try to escape by any means that they can find and race wildly in their panicked flight, going hither and yon to escape their doom. The cavalry will be needed to guard the greensward atop the cliff between the Deep and the Coomb. Those who try to escape the fortress will be slain, save for a few men upon the list that I shall issue. Their names are: Gandalf the Wizard, Aragorn the Usurper, Faramir Steward of Gondor, Éomer King of Rohan, and all such others of their company as you may find. To those who surrender, mercy shall be granted."

The Lieutenant laughed as he saw the expression on those around him. "Aye, gentlemen, our pity and mercy can be extended to those whom we shall enslave." Knowing his meaning, his officers laughed.

"Captains, it is your duty to be vigilant and ready for any possibility. Issue orders to your companies accordingly! Together with the wolf riders and their beasts, your companies are to protect the catapults and engineers. If the Gate comes down today, which it will, find and destroy all escaping enemy soldiers. Leave none alive save those I named before. They will go as trophies to the Master. It is doubtful, though, that we will have anything much to do today. The enemy is weak and scarcely able to launch an attack against us," the proud cavalry commander said confidently.

After a few cups of wine to give them heart for the day's duties, the captain had said, "Now, gentlemen, let us be about the sport for the day. You are dismissed."

"Forward!" he commanded the men upon the field. "Let the sheep see the wolves at the gate of the cot!"

The cavalry rode forward row upon orderly row across the dark field towards the road. A slight breeze began to blow out of the west, and the officers' cloaks swirled about their backs, billowing about them like dark sheets. Clouds had begun to gather in the west and the wind picked up and began to blow. The Lieutenant looked up in surprise as a drop of rain fell upon his helm. He stared in disbelief and held his hand out, catching another raindrop on his gloved palm.

Then, gaining in intensity, the breeze grew into a great wind that swept across the inclined plain, howling, screeching, as large drops of rain splattered down. Lightning flashed, the heavens opened up, and the rain began to fall in sheeting torrents. Somewhere to the west, they heard the distant sound of horns wildly blowing.

The Rohirrim had come at last.


Second Battle of Helm's Deep, June 14, 3019 - 8:30 AM

Accompanying map charting troop movements by Angmar.

Black Speech:
"Kapurdri" - Mushrooms (Plural form, Colloquial Black Speech Dialect, also MERP)
"Galtaum Trînum-ob Lutaum-ob" - Draught of the Madness of Battle (Galtaum = draught; MERP. Lutaum = battle; MERP)