The Circles - Book Two - Chapter 2 - A City Lost and Dead

The Circles - Book Two - Journey of Sorrow
Chapter Two
A City Lost and Dead
Written by Angmar

A languid evening breeze brought the aroma of wood smoke and the enticing odors of food cooking, an inviting scent, comforting in its promise. Far above the gentle rolling slopes, a few flickering lights burned in the White Tower of Ecthelion. The City, sacked and looted three months ago, its streets now almost deserted, had folded its hands across its chest and lay in silent repose. Where hope had once lived, there was only desolation and the reminders of death.

The City of Minas Tirith, once proud bastion of freedom, was no more. In its place was a broken ruin, a dream lost somewhere in the aging memory of the past. Now it shared the same fate of its predecessor, the bright star lost in the waves, the promise downfallen, cast down into darkness by a Foe who could not be withstood.

"Ruin and desolation, woe to the beholder. The ground is cursed!" the carrion-birds cried.

"I wish those damn birds would shut up," muttered Sergeant Glokal. After looking at Captain Zgurpu for approval, he bent down and picked up a rock and hurled it upward at the raven.

The bird mocked him as it flew and cried in its shrill, harsh voice, "Ka! Ka! You will be bird droppings soon!"

The cavalry sergeant glanced back over his shoulder at the disturbance and decided that nothing was truly amiss. He rode on, uncaring, mildly amused at the distress of the orcs. What were they to him? Filthy brutes, misbegotten bastards of Elves!

Aching limbs carried the captives forward as the flails of the orcs kissed the backs of their weary legs. The mood of the dark brutes who shepherded them had changed from one of superstitious apprehension in the fields of the dead to one of jubilation, the journey almost done, the time of celebration ahead.

The orcs needed no encouragement from their captain to hasten their pace, for their destination lay just ahead. "Lads," Captain Zgurpu exclaimed, "see the fires burning brightly up ahead to welcome us! It'll be draught and ale and fresh meat aplenty for us all! And gold for the trove that we've brought for the Master!"

The orcs cheered and Captain Zgurpu and Sergeant Glokal smiled, if smiling it could be called, for their features, even in mirth, seemed contorted in a defused anger, and their faces leered and grimaced more than smiled.

Ahead of them lay the city of Minas Tirith, but their path did not go that way. They passed by the entrance of the City, its once great gate smashed and broken by the might of Grond and the power of the Witch-king of Angmar. The wreckage of the gates of iron now lay among scattered rubble beside the posts of steel, pushed back to make way for traffic. The orcs paid no heed to the sight of wreckage cast aside, the forgotten strength of a vanquished enemy. Yet the City was not the destination for the captives.

They marched by the ruined gate and then came to a rutted lane which angled southeast from the road towards a group of colorful pavilions. In the last light of evening, the captives could see a tented city which had grown up like a fungus feeding on rot. Standards and banners rose into the air, all bearing the mark of the Great Eye. Here and there were interspersed the Southron serpent flag of scarlet and black; the standard of Khand, a silver lion upon a blue field; and the heraldry of other allies of Mordor.

What had been the fields of plenty was now a canvas splendor of civilization set among the reek of the savage. Nothing more now than a way station and a symbol of military might and expansion, the land seemed to mourn the descent of all creation into a darkness even blacker than the First.

Sergeant Utana halted his men at a gaudy tent marked with a green standard. Upon it was the emblem of a sheaf of yellow wheat gripped in the iron fingers of a black metal glove, the symbol of Nurn, the Garden of the Dark God. Above it, on a higher staff, hung the symbol of the Red Eye. All about the camp, torches on poles glowed in the dusk, marking the camp into orderly rows.

The cavalry sergeant dismissed his men, and after the customary salutes, he watched them as they rode towards the Anduin. After they had watered their horses in the River, the men would tie them to picket lines while others prepared camp for the night.

As he rode by him, Sergeant Utana greeted a small, middle-aged man standing in front of the tent. The tawny-faced man's hair was graying, and while he was nondescript in appearance, his cloak and his tunic of rich green bespoke of his wealth. His feet were small, almost delicate, as was the rest of him, and they were tucked into a fine pair of brocaded slippers.

"Hail Shakh Awidan! The orcs will soon be bringing the women by. We just rode down with them on patrol duty."

"May the blessings of all the gods be upon you, good Sergeant! Would you care to share a goblet of wine?"

"No, but thanks to you. I must make my way up the hill and give my report."

"Good evening, then, sir. I trust fortune to smile favorably upon you."

"And upon you, Shakh," he touched the rim of his helm in salute.

The cavalryman turned his mount and rode back towards Minas Tirith. His one last task for the day was to report to the command headquarters stationed in the Citadel, once the pride of the Kings and Stewards of Gondor. Sergeant Utana mused to himself, "They will be surprised to see me back so quickly, but I shall not trouble them long. 'Twould be good though if an officer would offer me a goblet of wine ere I go back to the North. He will have an easy enough time sitting on such a lofty prominence while perhaps I shall die upon an unknown field."

The small man paid the Sergeant scarcely a second look as he rode away, for he had no interest in why the man was there or where he would go after he left. He was, however, eager to talk to the orc commander who had led his men behind the troopers.

With a swaggering gait and an occasional grumbling complaint from the men, the orc company moved ahead. Soon the column drew up to the tent of the small man.

"Hail, good Captain Zgurpu!" Shakh Awidan greeted him in Westron, his thickly accented voice somehow turning the language into a sonorous blend of East and West. "What have you brought us as the first spoils of Rohan?" He looked towards the captives. "I see that you have had a successful hunt, and a most attractive quarry it is."

"Aye, Shakh Awidan, you will be pleased with them. There are many fine wenches with firm, round breasts and buttocks this big," Captain Zgurpu replied, spreading his hands far apart for emphasis. "Ripe and ready for the picking! You will be pleased," the orc captain bragged, obviously trying to impress this important personage.

"Captain Zgurpu, I must have time to survey the bounty. As you know, I am getting too old for this business," he complained. "My joints ache and my legs have held me too long this day. Slaves!" he clapped his hands, and two brawny young men with shaved heads and slave collars about their necks came out of the tent. They wore simple gray tunics and the rude sandals of peasants upon their feet.

"Lord," they asked, bowing from the waist, "what are your wishes?"

"A folding chair and a goblet of wine," Awidan replied. "Hurry! I am a busy man and have much to attend." He sighed heavily as the two slaves went back into the tent.

"Captain Zgurpu, do you fully recognize the calibre of the slaves that I am forced to keep in my service?" he asked. "Bad days are upon us! These slaves are not fit to live! Gondorians! Wretched people when free, and even more wretched as slaves. They are incorrigible, stiff-necked, proud, arrogant and lazy!"

The orc captain laughed boisterously. "Shakh, I expect that soon you will take that out of them and have them lapping milk out of saucers like kittens!"

"Perhaps, Captain, but that is a difficult goal to attain," the man groaned as he sank into the chair that one of the slaves had brought for him. The other slave handed him a goblet of wine and then both stood in attendance behind his chair. "Indeed, these two have been most unwilling, and I doubt that their obstinateness will ever be driven fully from them... but yes, they are enduring the disciplinary training necessary." Shakh Awidan smiled robustly. "Of course, the source of their pride was removed shortly after they were captured. For some time it was not thought either would live, but they are recovering nicely."

"Do you mean, Shakh, that they have been--" Zgurpu's voice broke off in a loud guffaw.

"I daresay that some of the spirit has left them now, and I think they will be obedient."

"Were they--?" The Captain was now joined in his mirth by the laughter of Sergeant Glokal and the lads closest to them.

"Aye," nodded Shakh Awidan. "Perhaps you have heard the tales about what is done to some of the male slaves?"

"Aye!" The Captain slapped his thigh and laughed uproariously. "Then it's true?"

"I like to speak of it as their 'betterment.' They could just have easily been hung up by the heels and left as food for the maggots and carrion-birds, but I believe in mercy when mercy can be applied. All know me as a man who takes great pity for his charges and always looks out for their welfare." Shakh Awidan slowly picked a thread that was caught on his breeches. He tossed the thread aside and belched loudly.

"The meal was good," Awidan explained his gastrointestinal distress, "though I must watch everything I eat carefully. I am a frail man, you know, given to agues and infirmities, and I must protect my health, guard it, lest I fall even more ill. This climate does not agree with me. Far too damp, you know."

He pushed a hand against his stomach and leaned forward, belching noisily. "The physician tells me that I should cease eating so many spicy foods. Indigestion, you know. He says it could cause the ruination of my constitution, but I refuse to eat the weak gruel my doctor has prescribed. Spices cleanse both the blood and bowels of impurities, I always say. The physician, however, has ordered me to partake only of gruel, a few bland vegetables, and an occasional piece of lean meat - no fat, you understand. I am to ingest a strong purgative every few days, and this I will not do! Spiced meat does a far better task of cleansing. A man must have meat and well-flavored, or he will wane and suffer an early death. I should dismiss the man from my employ, but he is a close kinsman, and that would only cause trouble within the family!"

"Shakh, my sympathies." The orc captain was growing tired of the man's endless complaints about his health and ailments, which the orc knew were pure fabrication. "But as you were saying?"

"To satisfy your curiosity, Captain - when I first bought these two men last year, they had only recently been captured in Ithilien. They refused to obey my orders, once even trying to escape! Most dealers will not tolerate such behavior, but I, being a kind man at heart and understanding, felt that they were worth sparing. But they were most vexing!

"We tried whipping, starving them, but nothing would work, and I despaired that they would ever prove to have any value at all. Then I knew the solution! Of course, they did not like the remedy. They were forced over a wooden stand, straddle-legged. My stout men held them down as one of my surgeons - one of my best - very skilled at this, I might say - with one sure stroke of the knife had them gelded clean. It was all over, and the wounds cauterized almost before they knew what had happened. Well, not quite." He looked at one of the slaves. "They did cry like women for a long time."

Awidan laughed. "But then, after they were buried up to their necks in the sod, they turned placid enough and began to beg for mercy. They shall be good boys now, eunuch guards for some lord's harem, of course. A pity they were not younger - they would have made such pretty boys. Smile for the Captain, lads; show them your teeth."

The two slaves obediently opened their mouths, displaying their teeth. They smiled feebly and then looked down at the ground in shame.

"They don't seem to like it too well, Shakh," Captain Zgurpu smirked.

"See what fine strapping slaves they are. But," Awidan sighed, "they will probably all too soon have huge bellies gained from spending too much time in eating and idleness. But what can be done? They are eunuchs, good enough for the purpose that is ordained for them."

Thoroughly weary of the whole discussion and eager to receive his pay, Sergeant Glokal scratched his nose and looked down at the bone necklace that hung about his neck.

"Long ago I was awarded this proprietorship by the agents of our Master. This is a high honor for a man such as I, who is of humble birth," Awidan went on. He stretched out his slender frame in the chair, extending his legs while he drank his wine. Lounging there, he seemed in no hurry to pay the Captain the commission for the prizes.

"Slave, fetch a goblet of wine for the Captain and his Sergeant. We have matters to discuss."

"The Shakh is most generous," the Captain nodded. One of the Gondorian slaves soon brought Captain Zgurpu and Sergeant Glokal goblets of red wine.

"I would see some of these wenches closer so I may more accurately set a value upon them," Awidan continued, smiling affably.

"And perhaps sample a few of the wares, Shakh?" the orc captain laughed between great gulps of the wine.

"As you know, I must turn aside from testing the goods, for the orders are that all must remain intact. They are to be distributed as my superiors see fit. As all know, I am a man of honor and never break Rules!"

"Shakh, we will parade them before you and you will see the fine flesh which we have brought you," the Captain boasted as he walked over to stand beside the Shakh. "Sergeant, march the women before his Excellency's eyes."


The standards of Khand and Nurn are fictional creations for The Circles and not in the canon.

The title is taken from Tolkien's poem "Kôr - In a City Lost and Dead," found in "The Coming of the Elves" in The Book of Lost Tales.