The Circles - Book Three - Chapter 8

The Circles - Book Three - To Escape A Dark Destiny
Chapter Eight
The Barbarians
Written by Angmar

When Tushratta and the party of orcs returned to the slaver's camp that morning, there was a large crowd of prisoners waiting outside the physician's tent. Vigilant guards stood nearby in case the prisoners attempted to escape again. His brow furrowed in concern, Tushratta led the uruks bearing Goldwyn's stretcher through the frightened crowd of women and children.

Rushing up to meet them was the physician's assistant, Aziru, who showed his respect to his superior by a series of quick bows from the waist and a broadly grinning face. A sheen of perspiration on his forehead and balding pate, the small man repeatedly mopped his brow with an embroidered linen handkerchief. Bushy black eyebrows crowned a pair of bright brown eyes which looked out over a bulbous, protruding nose. A thick, wiry mustache flecked with a few traces of gray added dignity to his otherwise bland face. Another Khandian like Tushratta, the middle-aged man was small of stature, his agitated state infusing his tawny skin with a ruddy glow.

"Master Physician," Aziru exclaimed excitedly in Khandian, "it has been like this for hours! Pure confusion and chaos! Behold the look on the women's faces! Pure contempt!"

"How many have you treated so far, Aziru?"

"Very few, Master Tushratta! Most would not let me touch them, and when the orcs brought them into the tent for treatment, only a few women would allow their children to be examined. In those cases, I think it was only because the mothers were desperate, for their children had suffered serious wounds."

"Why did they have such an extreme reaction?" Tushratta asked in bewilderment as his thoughtful, deep brown eyes flicked over the crowd and saw faces which were sullen, scornful, some even hostile.

"By the gods, these Northern people are superstitious! Convinced that I am a sorcerer, the women called me an accursed heathen barbarian whose hands are dipped in the blood of innocents! They said I would take their children and replace them with the spawn of monsters, and then cast all sorts of wicked spells upon them!" Aziru again mopped his damp forehead with his linen handkerchief. Concluding that the cloth was saturated with his sweat, Aziru called for a small slave boy to fetch him a clean one.

"Ignorance is one of the many curses which plague the earth," the physician muttered under his breath. "By the orders of our employer, Shakh Esarhaddon uHuzziya, we must tend to this woman before we can see to the care of the others. I suspect that she is far more important to him than the rest of the whole lot put together." Turning to Fûshfra and his four men, Tushratta ordered in Black Speech, "Take the woman inside, and then go and make yourself useful someplace else. My assistant and I can handle matters here."

"Aye, Shakh. The lads will treat her as though she were made out of glass," the half-breed grunted out his assurance.

Peering down to the woman on the stretcher, Aziru commented, "This woman appears to be close to death! What has befallen this lady to vex her so grievously?"

"Aziru, I will discuss her circumstances later," Tushratta replied impersonally. "Now help Fûshfra and his lads get the woman on the examining table."

"Yes, Master Physician, yes." The small man quickly moved aside to hold the tent curtain open. Silently the physician watched as his assistant directed the orcs in sliding the woman onto the table. Barely waiting until they had departed from the tent, Aziru pinched his nostrils closed with his thumb and forefinger and unleashed a string of invectives in Khandian. "By the snot-encrusted nose of the Magician in the Dark Tower, the stinking sewers of Bablon smell like attar of roses in comparison with these foul beasts!"

"They are gone and none of our concern at present. Now you will attend me in examining this woman." Unwilling to get into an irrelevant discussion, Tushratta shrugged off his assistant's comments.

"Doctor, never have I seen a woman with a face so beautiful!" Aziru exclaimed with admiration. "These golden-haired Northern women are truly exquisite treasures, their like not seen in our land!”

Tushratta lay his hand on Goldwyn’s forehead. “Observe now. Her skin is cold... Take her pulse, Aziru."

"Aye, Master Physician, her skin is like ice," he commented as he held her wrist. "It is steady, but slow!"

The physician stroked his bearded chin as he studied the woman. "It is necessary to remove her clothing now so that we may better examine her."

Gathering the hem of her skirt in his hands, Tushratta eased it up along her legs, giving it a little tug when it reached her hips. As Aziru lifted Goldwyn up, grunting with the effort, Tushratta guided her dress the rest of the way, easing it over her head and arms. Slowly the two men returned her limp form back to the table, placing a small pillow under her head and adjusting her body so that she would be resting in a comfortable position.

His brow furrowed in concern, Tushratta began to move his deft fingers over Goldwyn's body, prodding for broken bones and internal injuries. Other than a few ugly bruises, scrapes and scratches on her arms, legs and face, the woman had come through her ordeal virtually unscathed physically. After draping a linen sheet over her form, the physician stared down at the woman, an expression of total bafflement upon his face.

"Could she have ingested some herb or plant which has had this effect upon her?" Aziru offered.

"There are many things which could have had this effect upon the golden haired woman, Aziru, and we know what they are... poppies, mandrake, valerian, belladonna... any number of substances." The physician stroked his beard thoughtfully. "Since few things are growing now, I do not think that the accidental ingestion of plants is the source of the problem. This malady bears further studying before I can make a sound diagnosis."

"When she was first brought here, you were reluctant to talk in the presence of the orcs," Aziru ventured, looking to the physician. "Perhaps you now will enlighten me as to the circumstances under which she was found? Perhaps together with our combined knowledge, we will solve this mystery and determine some cure."

Tushratta sighed. "Aziru, do not make anything more out of this than what is there... She was found unconscious in an abandoned tomb."

"Tushratta! You should have informed me of this before!" Aziru postulated as he gestured wildly with his hands. "There is our answer! The woman chanced upon one of the Edimmu in the crypt and angered it! These wandering spirits are extremely vindictive towards the living! If a man incurs their wrath, these phantoms have the power to curse him with terrible sicknesses!"

"Aziru, I am well acquainted with the supposed powers of the Edimmu. However, we have no proof that the woman has been afflicted by them." Even as he said these words, Tushratta recalled the state in which he had found the woman, her thighs spread wide, her arms reaching as though to clasp a lover. Though he did not want to admit it, Aziru was putting his own thoughts into words.

"Master, if you will allow me to continue..." Aziru's eyes were pleading as he looked at the physician.

"Go on, Aziru," Tushratta nodded. "I will listen to your theories. Whether I accept them or not is another matter."

Aziru's voice lowered, and he spoke in hushed tones. "The Edimmu can inflict people with a pox that covers their victims' bodies in running lesions; curse them with ulcerous sores that will not heal and penetrate so deeply into their bones that they are severed; torment them with black canker of the privy parts that will waste away the procreative organs; and afflict them with other evil maladies! Some say that they can even possess the living and cause them to behave as though mad! They are horrible, horrible!"

Out of wind after his quick rush of words, Aziru paused to regain his breath before continuing. "The greatest among all the spiritual healers recommend first bleeding of the sufferer. Then fire cups are to be applied to the back and shoulders, with wet compresses bound about the wounds to aid their healing." He closed his eyes, shuddering at the thought of the wicked spirits. "The Edimmu are stubborn and it takes much effort to drive them away. Dishes of food must be set out to pacify them and cause them to forsake the victim. Censers of aromatic incense must constantly be burning, for the evil spirits cannot abide the wholesome zephyrs. Prayers and chants must be offered to the gods so that they might have mercy and speed the flight of the malevolent presences from the victim's body. All this must be done if this woman is to be cured of her malady!" His face animated, his voice fervent, Aziru was hopeful that the master physician was as impressed with his knowledge as Aziru himself was.

"Aziru," Tushratta replied calmly, "you are becoming agitated. We have no reason to believe that such treatment is necessary... yet." He wanted to find a logical explanation for the woman's sickness, for he feared the alternative.

"Aye, Master Physician, but we have every indication that the woman has been possessed by a dark spirit, and such treatment is necessary in her case." Bowing his head humbly, Aziru clasped his hands together and looked to Tushratta. "Of course, you are the master physician here, and I defer to your superior knowledge."

"Aziru, you have already arrived at a treatment before we are even certain of the malady!" Tushratta stared at the table where Goldwyn lay, the sumptuous hills of her breasts clearly visible through the thin sheet. "Your assumption that the woman has been afflicted by some manifestation of a preternatural presence is unfounded. Your theories are based upon circumstantial evidence, not upon calm, reasoned observations." The physician watched as Goldwyn's bosom rose and fell with her breathing, and a sigh escaped his lips.

Looking back to Aziru, Tushratta spoke more rapidly. "The methods that you have mentioned can be quite weakening upon the body. When the woman awakens from her stupor, what a shock it will be to her mind when she discovers that two doctors whom she considers heathens have not only beheld her nakedness, but have inflicted strange treatments upon her body! Even if such remedies would be deemed necessary, I am not qualified to administer them, and neither are you! Our field is the physical, not the spiritual! Now I am taking her to my cot and there she will rest. See about her occasionally, because, from the size of the crowd outside, I shall be occupied for quite a while!"

Staring down at Goldwyn, Tushratta ran a finger over the bow of her silent, cold lips, and the urge came over him to bend down and kiss her. "Such a beauty," he thought fondly. Picking up the woman in his arms, he carried her through the open curtain between the two chambers of the tent. Placing her upon his cot, he covered her limp form with a quilt and glanced down at her for a moment. With a sense of deep regret, he braced himself inwardly for the challenge of dealing with the hatred and prejudice of her simple, barbaric people.


Edimmu - In Sumerian mythology, the Edimmu were ghosts or wandering spirits. Vengeful and vindictive towards the living, they could possess people. They could sometimes be appeased by offering them a funeral repast.