The Circles - Book Four - Chapter 1

The Circles - Book Four - Paths Both East and West
Chapter One
Written by Angmar

Dawn of 24 Simanu, the thirtieth year of the Reign of King Shapsusharr of Khand
June 20, 3019, according to the Western reckoning

Observations on the Patient, Goldwyn, widow of Fasthelm of Grenefeld in the Eastfold of Rohan, who perished in the war

"I have only a few hurried moments to record my thoughts this morning, for the caravan is scheduled to depart very soon from this lovely camping place by the Anduin. All my medical paraphernalia, instruments and supplies, personal effects, clothing and books have been packed and loaded in the baggage wagon, as have Aziru's possessions. For the ease of my lovely patient, I have had my own wain outfitted with a number of comfortable cushions and pillows, along with quilts and blankets and sleeping mats. Both the servant girl and Aziru will ride in the wain with the lady so that they may be readily on call should she need them. I also thought it prudent to order two men to ride as escort for my wain. Though there is little danger in crossing the floating bridge, still the driver might require assistance if the horses should prove balky. To the best of my ability, I have seen to my patient's creature comfort; unfortunately, I have been able to do little to attend to the solace and healing of her mind and soul.

"Early yesterday evening, the lady's mind had seemed considerably clearer, and her general condition greatly improved. Yet as the evening progressed, she gradually grew more and more melancholy until at last she lapsed into uncontrollable sobbing. For a while, she proved obstinate and refused to lie down, but finally Sang-mí - who is acting as her maid - and I persuaded her to rest. After dismissing the slave girl, I convinced Goldwyn to share a goblet of wine with me. Though she was not aware of it, I had added a measure of opiates into the draught, but only a mild dose, merely as an aid in helping her sleep. I might note that too strong a dosage over too long a period of time can cause addiction. However, a small amount during the treatment can be beneficial in calming patients' minds.

"I sat by her bed, and, quite out of the ordinary for her, she seemed willing to converse with me. I think it proper here to remark on my observations on her general condition at this point. By this time, her mood seemed to have settled after her crying fit. She appeared to be improving in health and there was even a light pinkish flush to her complexion which gave me reason to hope that her vitality was returning. Her breathing was quite normal, although I noticed a slight elevation in its rate. I did not think this was of any particular significance, perhaps reflecting only a degree of shyness on the part of the patient. When we are in private, she sometimes exhibits a certain delightful quality of childlike playfulness, which I find quite charming. When I teasingly reminded her that there was a drop of red wine clinging to her lower lip, she demurely licked it away with the tip of her pink tongue, her large blue eyes quite adorable.

"Smiling at me, she drifted off into slumber, and I felt confident that nothing would disturb her rest that night. When I was certain that she was asleep, I quietly made my way to my own sleeping mat. All was quiet, and the tent was dark, save for one lamp which was left burning. How I enjoy the quietude of the night with no sound save the gentle, rhythmic breathing of the tent's occupants and the occasional reassuring announcement of a passing guard that 'all was well.' It is during these times that I often meditate, pondering what I, as a physician, can do to alleviate the sufferings of my patients.

"Though I had some difficulty falling asleep because of my overstimulated mental processes, my body was at last able to relax, and I drifted off into restful slumber. I slept the sleep of exhaustion until my rest was disturbed by a long, piercing shriek. At that horrifying sound, all the occupants of the tent were instantly awake. Sang-mí was terrified and confused, and not knowing what to make of any of it, gathered her wailing son protectively into her arms. She was close to bolting from the tent when I halted her. Aziru, who had been dozing fitfully, sprang to his feet, looked about for a weapon, and swore that the slaves had mutinied once again.

"Too alarmed even to dress, I rushed to the patient's bedside, where I discovered that she had thrown off the light sheet and quilt which had been covering her and torn away her gown. That in itself was not surprising, for even those of the soundest of minds might do such a thing unknowingly in their sleep. She seemed totally oblivious to our presence, however. Her eyes were closed, her face contorted as though she were in the heat of passion, and across her breasts and stomach was the flush of desire. She lay there totally nude, writhing and twisting upon the couch and groping her intimate regions.

"Shaking her gently by the shoulders, I attempted to awaken her. I had some hesitations, though, for I knew that when she came to her senses, she would be highly embarrassed by her behavior. Such feelings of guilt are generally disruptive to those patients whose mental condition is already unsteady and can drive them deeper into madness. As I bent to pull the covers over the lady, she sat bolt upright and, clasping her breasts, she held them out as though offering them to me. I attempted to calm her, but to no avail. Moaning some unintelligible words in her own language, she raked her fingernails across my bare chest, leaving a trail of oozing scratches in their wake. With the strength I could not believe possible in a woman, she clutched me around the shoulders, and, throwing me off balance, pulled me to the bed with her.

"Aziru, usually all bluster and bravado, was momentarily stunned into inaction and stood in the middle of the floor, his eyes staring and his mouth hanging open. He was just as bewildered as I was at the patient's unnatural strength and her unexpected decline into sensual depravity. Being so familiar with her customary modesty and propriety, both of us found it difficult to believe that anything short of total dementia could drive her into such a carnal frenzy.

"Though she struggled, clawing and scratching as would some wild beast, together Aziru and I were able to subdue her without harming her. After we had tied her wrists and ankles together, all the fight left her, and she sank back into the bed, trembling and exhausted, her eyes glazed. I prescribed another dose of opiates, enough to hold her for some hours. Then I ordered both Aziru and Sang-mí back to their mats, whilst I stayed by the patient's bedside the rest of the night, sleeping little, my eyes seldom leaving her sleeping form, alert and dreading any new developments. There was nothing to fear upon that score, though, for the drugs had their effect, and she slept peacefully the rest of the night.

"I have almost concluded that when she is in her delirium, she mistakes me for her dead husband, Fasthelm. She must be made to realize that he is gone forever. Here I must go slowly in my treatment and not stress her, for I do not know how many more shocks her debilitated emotional state can tolerate. The sooner I can persuade her of his death, the sooner she can progress towards recovery. I believe that much of her difficulties have arisen because she is in severe denial.

"One of my concerns is that she could possibly develop an obsession for me. Equally as bad, I have read in my medical books from Bablon that sometimes even the most conservative of physicians can develop an unnatural preoccupation for their female patients. This is why many men will never allow physicians to examine their women unless these ladies are veiled, swathed in sheets, and attended by a household eunuch. Even at that, the more zealous men refuse to let the physician touch the woman when he examines her. The physician is restricted to tying a string around her wrist, using that to determine not only her pulse but everything that ails her. Aziru and I both must exercise the highest of professional ethics and keep our minds trained only upon the business of healing.

"I had hoped that by the time the Shakh rejoins the train that the woman would be well enough to turn over to his keeping. In light of the past events, however, the firm conviction has taken root in my mind that it would be in the lady's best interests to remain in my care. At present, I am uncertain how long this might be necessary, but at least it must be until I can determine a diagnosis and formulate some treatment.

"Though I would have wished to consult the scrolls concerning aberrations of the mind, there is no time this morning. Once again, I am left with the unpleasant realization that I do not possess the knowledge to understand the strange malady which vexes her. Though I hold little belief in the power of the supernatural, I cannot help but think that I must look beyond the physical to find the answers in this case. I am manifestly aware of my inadequacy in this area, and curse my shortsightedness for not having the willingness to investigate the path of the shaman, the ashipu!"


Putting his down reed pen and blotting the parchment, Tushratta packed his writing instruments in their tortoiseshell and mother-of-pearl inlaid writing case of lacquered rosewood and gave it over to Hibiz. Then, unwilling to entrust the lady's safety to any but himself, he tenderly picked her up in his arms and carried her to the waiting wain.

"Fasthelm..." Her blue eyes fluttering open, Goldwyn reached up to encircle his neck with her arms.

How beautiful she looked that morning! He drew his breath in sharply, her loveliness making his heart beat faster. He would miss her this day whilst he was away leading the caravan. But there was always the night... "No," he reprimanded himself, "do not ever allow yourself to have such thoughts!" Still he could not forget the memory of her last night - her blue eyes gleaming with wantonness, her full breasts which she offered so willingly to him, her body pressed close to his as she convulsed in wild paroxysms of insane lust. Such fantasies were unethical, though, for the poor woman would never act in such a provocative manner if she were in her right mind.

"How pleasant is the dawning of the sun upon the fair face of beauty! However, I am not your husband Fasthelm, my lady, and you must never call me by his name," Tushratta replied quietly as they reached the wain.

"No, I suppose you are not," she murmured, her eyes reflecting uncertainty.

"Tushratta and my lady, so good to see you this morning!" Standing in the doorway of the wain, a bowing Aziru beckoned them to come inside. The sight of the exuberant little man brought a much-needed sense of normalcy to the situation. "My lady, you look much better!" Aziru exclaimed as he moved aside for Tushratta to carry the lady inside the wain. Once again she had slipped into her icy shell and only stared at the little man.

Sang-mí, her babe in her arms, smiled gently at Goldwyn before lowering her eyes and bowing her head in the perpetual gesture of servitude. The physician eased Goldwyn onto one of the cushioned benches. Aziru kept up a constant stream of chatter, but Tushratta, unable to take his eyes off the beautiful woman, gave only perfunctory replies to his remarks.

"Master Physician... and my lady," Aziru turned his head towards her, "all is in readiness for the journey." He darted his eyes back and forth from his listeners to the interior of the wain.

Along three sides of the spacious wain there ran a bench, its upholstery of sturdy wool woven into a geometric pattern of brown and green. While the texture and pattern were plain, the cushions were deep and inviting. There were four windows along the walls of the wain - a small one behind the driver's seat; one on each side of the wagon; and one in the door. In bad weather, the open apertures of the wain could be shuttered, and a small brazier placed in the center aisle. The wain could be made even more snug by drawing the heavy dark drapes over the windows.

"No matter where you might travel, whether you went to the cold, frigid lands of the North or the sultry deserts of the South, you will never find a wain constructed of any better workmanship than this one!" Aziru boasted. "Just test the springs if you will!" Bouncing up and down like some absurd clown at a country fair, he grinned like a simpleton. In spite of his antics, not even the slightest smile graced Goldwyn's lips.

Her apathetic silence did not deter his good humor in the least, and he bounced even harder, causing the wain to shake and rattle. "Ah, my good lady, is there no pleasing you?" He gave another upward thrust of his body and rose even higher. "I do not boast idly about this wain! The Gondorians, in their generosity, provided it to us. It was first a military ambulance, but it has converted quite well."

Nib was no more impressed than Goldwyn. He looked at Aziru reproachfully; then squeezed his eyes tightly together and let out a lusty wail. Smiling apologetically, Sang-mí dandled the child up and down on her lap, which only caused him to wail louder. Her pleading eyes met Aziru, who, with a final bounce and a laugh, stopped jumping and wiped the sweat from his ruddy brow.

Goldwyn's harsh expression softened slowly, the deep lines leaving her forehead. A gentle smile infused her features as she reached out her arms to Sang-mí. "Give him to me," she softly urged. "I can quiet him."

Her fingers undulating like reeds in a gentle breeze, the golden lady beckoned to the Haradric girl. The icy blue eyes held the slave girl transfixed, unable to turn away. Icy shivers danced down Sang-mí's spine as she sensed a fell presence hovering about Goldwyn. "How foolish of me," Sang-mí rationalized. "This woman surely holds no peril!" As much as she tried to reassure herself that these apprehensions were only a product of her imagination, her intuition told her otherwise. The woman's very foreignness was alarming in itself!

"Sang-mí, sweet girl, whatever is wrong?" Tushratta's calm voice broke the spell.

A look of alarm on her face, Sang-mí's frightened eyes quickly went to Tushratta's. Though Goldwyn appeared to be possessed of her senses, Sang-mí was convinced that she caught a feral gleam deep within the woman's eyes. All her instincts warned her, "No! No!" However, she was only a slave and must do whatever a master or mistress commanded her, upon pain of death. Desperately, Sang-mí silently willed him, "Oh, please, oh please, Master, you are a good and kind man! By whatever is holy in this world, do not compel me to give my babe over to this strange foreign woman!"

"Master," Sang-mí labored to find the right words, "I cannot!" She squirmed under the stare of the three other adults in the wain. "...I mean..." Oh, Gods, give me strength, she thought frantically, tell me what to say! "...Nib has a terrible case of dysentery!" she blurted out, her words pouring from her quivering lips. Then remembering her place, she lowered her voice and added apologetically, "That is why he is crying."

Tushratta put a comforting hand upon her shoulder. "There, there, dear little mother, you should have told Aziru or me and not kept the babe's illness from us." Looking over to Aziru, he added, "I am prescribing a syrup of opium for this condition. Aziru, prepare the medication at once, explain the use of it to Sang-mí, and give a bottle to her as soon as I leave!"

Relief rushed over Sang-mí, the recent tension leaving her shaky and weak in her knees. She was not accustomed to lying to her masters; the penalty for such a grievous crime could be mutilation or death. She looked to Goldwyn, who still sat calm and sedate, the gentle smile never leaving her face.

"Master," Sang-mí nervously licked her dry lips, "forgive a poor slave for saying this..." She must get Nib away from this woman as quickly as she could. There was something evil about the lady. "No, no," she thought, "not the woman herself, but the curse which lies over her." Sang-mí turned her head towards Tushratta. "Please do not beat me, Master, but perhaps it would be best if my son and I return to the wain with the other women. I am afraid that my son's crying would be disruptive to the Lady Goldwyn." Nib balled his hands into fists, went very red in the face, strained, and howled in anger. Sang-mí cooed softly at her son as she rocked him in her arms.

"Master, I do not know how long he might be ill. Please, I humbly, respectfully ask you to choose another in my place as maid to this lady." The servant girl forced herself to keep her voice calm and a polite smile upon her face.

"Sang-mí," Tushratta replied, "I do not feel this is necessary. Your son seems to cheer the lady Goldwyn, and I think that his presence here would be a positive benefit for her."

"As a mother of three sons, I have seen about every sickness a child could possibly have, including dysentery," Goldwyn offered haughtily, her expression condescending. "His crying will not disturb me. In fact, I know a few remedies which helped my sons and might help yours." How young and ignorant this girl was, to think that she, a mother of three, would actually take offense at hearing a baby cry!

"Oh, the witch!" Sang-mí railed in her mind against Goldwyn. "She might be far more clever than I am, but I shall outwit her! Never will I let my child fall into her hands!" If this woman of the enemy were to hold her child, who knew what evil spell she might cast upon him!

"Aye, Sang-mí. The Lady Goldwyn has had three sons of her own, and I am certain that only good will come of this," Tushratta reassured as he patted the slave girl's shoulder again.

"But Master," Sang-mí groped for any excuse, and almost laughed when her mind hit upon one, "I fear I am coming down with the same ailment as my son! Oh!" she exclaimed as she clutched her abdomen and sagged against the bench. "My stomach! Ohh!"

"Tushratta," Aziru spoke up, "perhaps the girl is right. The medicine will take a while to work, and if the child is fretful and crying, he will disturb the lady's sleep. If you permit me to suggest it, I would recommend that Sang-mí return to the wain of the women, and Barsud take her place. Her two sons are fine, stout lads now and do not need their mother so much. Besides, they have tasks that keep them occupied."

"Yes, Aziru, dear Aziru!" Sang-mí thought joyfully. She felt like kissing Aziru, no matter how thin his hair or large his nose or how ugly he was! The next time he went to the tent of the prostitutes, she would pleasure him beyond his wildest desires. She prayed silently to her gods, "Persuade the Master! Barsud has nerves of steel and little will trouble her."

His brows furrowing in a frown, the master physician reflected a few moments before giving his decision. "In all my years as a physician, I have found no remedy any more efficacious than syrup of poppies for the treatment of dysentery. Since Sang-mí is coming down with the same malady as her son, there is a possibility of contagion here. In any event, while taking the medication, Sang-mí's efficiency as maid will be lessened." Goldwyn looked at him, disappointment plainly written on her face. Tushratta smiled at her sympathetically before turning back to Sang-mí. "Aye, Sang-mí, you will take your son and go to the wain of the women. Tell Barsud that she is to replace you as maid and report immediately."

"Thank you, Master," the slave girl murmured, bowing her head humbly.

"Now I must be going. I will return to eat the midday meal with you, and see how everything is going." Tushratta gave them all a bland smile as he turned to walk to the door. He wanted to say something more, some encouraging medical platitude that really meant nothing, except that he was concerned, that he cared. Why did he always have to be inept when it came to saying the appropriate things? There must be something he could tell the lady, but his mind was like a fallow field. Halting at the door, he turned back to them. "Peace upon you all." Then he made his way quickly down the stairs and walked a few paces to where a groom was holding his sorrel mare.

Next Chapter

Main Index