The Circles - Book Five - Chapter 10

The Circles - Book Seven - Through the Valley of Death
Chapter Ten
History Repeats Itself
Written by Angmar and Elfhild

"What is a 'bastinado?'" Elfhild asked as she and her sister hurried along behind Inbir down the long line of tents and sheds in the encampment of the slave traders. After the dispute between Esarhaddon and Awidan had been peacefully concluded, the slaver assigned Inbir the task of escorting the twins to the blacksmith for their new collars.

"It is a type of punishment in which the offender is beaten upon the soles of the feet with a cane," Inbir explained. "The blacksmith is to receive fifty strokes on each foot for his offenses against the House of Huzziya, and the guards are to receive twenty-five strokes. Lord Esarhaddon does not take lightly to his employees committing breaches in protocol."

"Oh, how horrible!" Elfhild's face paled as she learnt of the existence of such a brutal punishment. What if the slave trader decided to punish her in such a cruel way for some infraction? She shuddered at the thought.

"They deserve it," Elffled muttered darkly in a voice only her sister could hear. "At least the man who touched me will never be able to touch another woman again with that hand." It was unfortunate that Esarhaddon uHuzziya had not been around when Sergeant Daungha had subjected her to his foul attentions. That horrible man certainly deserved his feet whipped and his hands cut off!

"It is the way of things," Inbir shrugged. "Lord Esarhaddon demands that his employees uphold a high standard of decorum and obey all of the rules which he sets in place." He stopped and turned to give the twins a stern look. "Do not speak of this matter to the blacksmith or any of his men! How Lord Esarhaddon runs his business does not concern slaves such as yourselves. Now here we are, at the tent of the scribes. We must stop here first."

Inbir led the twins into the green pavilion where a multitude of clerks and scribes were hard at work recording the extensive paperwork required by both the House of Huzziya and the Lord of Mordor. Not that the Great Eye would ever read these records, but Sauron craved order in all things, and an extensive bookkeeping system ensured that all business conducted in Mordor was performed in an orderly fashion. Garavegion, one of Esarhaddon's scribes in Minas Tirith, listened as Inbir gave an account of the girls' ill-fated escape; the name of Tarlanc, the old miller who had aided them; a report of the ambush and what had transpired; and finally an account of their recapture.

"My, for slaves, you certainly have had a lot of adventures!" Garavegion looked at the twins with a mixture of astonishment and admiration.

"Aye, they led us a wild chase, but we caught them and brought them back safe and sound. They were fools ever to try escaping," Inbir replied. "Now, Garavegion, have you finished with these two? I need to take them to the blacksmith so that new collars can be fitted to their necks."

"Quite finished, my friend Inbir." Garavegion nodded to an assistant scribe who had just blotted the newly finished document with sand. The expressionless scribe neatly rolled the scroll and put it in a scroll tube.

"Perhaps I will see you again if the Shakh assigns me to another one of his northern-bound slave caravans." Inbir extended his hand to Garavegion, who had risen to his feet.

"Oh, you had not heard?" Garavegion sounded surprised. "My uncle has offered me a position with his accounting firm in Turkûrzgoi, and I have accepted."

"Congratulations are in order, my friend," Inbir replied. "I look forward to seeing you there."

"Thank you, Inbir." A look of doubt crossed over the young man's features. "Although it is a chance for advancement, I considered refusing. I find the land on this side of the river quite beautiful, much more to my liking than Turkûrzgoi, which can be very hot and dry. I really could not turn the old fellow down, though. His son perished in the war, and the old man is devastated. Very sad." Garavegion shook his head. "He has quite a prosperous business, but neither of his daughters, my cousins, has shown any interest in the business. I suppose it is up to me." He laughed nervously.

"I am sure you will do well, my friend." Inbir clapped the other man across the shoulder. "You always were good with numbers. Not me, though. I only pretend to be good at music." He laughed good-naturedly. "Doubtful that I could ever earn my bread and meat by playing the oud." He glanced at the twins, who had been silent throughout the whole conversation. "Now I have to get these two lovelies off to the blacksmith. The old man who tried to help them escape filed off their collars."

The blacksmith's shop was housed in a filthy, dingy shed which was illuminated by a lantern and the faintly glowing embers in the forge. "Master Inbir, good to see you once again!" the blacksmith called out as he wiped his grime-covered hands off on his apron. "What business brings you here on this fine day?"

"New collars for these two escapees," Inbir answered, tapping the scroll tube against the palm of his hand. "Here is a copy of their records, along with an account of their escape. Everything has been done according to the mandates."

"I had heard that they had been returned. They are quite a pair!" The blacksmith shook his head. "When they were in here, they were wild as deer and gave us no end of trouble. Come over here," he called to his assistant blacksmith, "you remember them, do you not?"

"Master, if I live to be as ancient as the mountains, I will never forget those girls," the assistant answered, going along with what his employer had said. "I am surprised that they did not kill someone when they were loose, murder innocent people in their beds and take their money. You would not think it, them with their pretty faces and blue eyes, but they are bad ones, Master Inbir. Never fear, though; we will get those new collars on them in no time, even if we have to tie them down!"

"By the Gods! They are not wild beasts, man! Just two simpleminded wenches from the North!" Inbir gave the blacksmith and his assistant a disgusted look. "You have the required permits and all the legal papers; suppose that you get to work. I do not have all day to tarry here!"

Inbir handed the scroll tube to the blacksmith's assistant, and the two men conferred, their heads close together. With a surly nod, the dour little man - so emaciated that many suspected that he suffered from an infestation of worms - retrieved two brass plates and iron collars and placed them on the work bench. "Numbers 99337-GER021T and 99338-GER022T," he muttered as he inscribed the plates and riveted them to the collars. Turning to the blacksmith, he announced, "My job is finished now. They are all yours. You can fit them with their new necklaces anytime."

"Foolish maidens," the blacksmith looked at the twins, "to think that you could escape the webs of the master slaver!" The grossly obese man picked up the collar, and licking his lips, ran his finger around the inside of the iron band. "Only the best for the wenches of Rohan!" he chortled. "Now take a seat on the stool over there," he motioned with his hand to a low three-legged stool, its wood scuffed and scratched from much use. Elfhild took her seat and waited. As the blacksmith drew nearer, the reeking stench of his body grew stronger until it became overpowering. Almost gagging, she coughed several times before clamping a hand over her nose and mouth in nausea.

"Something wrong?" the blacksmith challenged as he walked behind her, pressing a fist against his belly to force himself to expel a loud belch.

"I fear I have taken ill," Elfhild replied innocently. "This climate does not agree with me, and being in this shop only makes it worse. The heat from the forge, and the smell… of the burning coal." She bowed her head, both to make it easier for the blacksmith to put the collar on her neck and to conceal her smirk.

His small, porcine eyes gleaming, the blacksmith grinned unpleasantly. "You know, Inbir, this little wench thinks she is pretty foxy. Maybe she ought to be marked with a penalty brand that proclaims to one and all that she is a runaway! It would not take long for me to have the irons glowing hot and ready to mark her flesh. It will take the approval of someone higher than I am to do it, though. What say you, Master Inbir? Will you ask the great Shakh's permission to brand her so all can tell by the marks that this little vixen is a troublemaker?"

"What!" Inbir laughed, shaking his head at the blacksmith's audacity. "Marring her flesh would lessen her value, and you know how the Shakh views that."

"You know best, Master Inbir," the blacksmith grunted. "Now to beg your pardon, I must be about my work."

Inbir nodded and returned to staring out at the street that passed by the shop.

Pushing aside Elfhild's hair, the blacksmith pressed the two ends of the collar together, inserted the key, and locked the collar securely around her neck. Seething with anger at being denied his cruel punishment, he had worked himself up into an agitated state, his dilated, hairy nostrils taking in short, quick puffs of air, his chest heaving like the bellows that fanned his forge. By the time he was ready to fit Elffled's collar, a sheen of sweat had coated his forehead, and he wiped it off with the back of his forearm. Leaning over Elffled, he caressed her hair before pushing the thick mane away and placing the collar about her neck. Unseen to Inbir's eyes, the aroused blacksmith rubbed his crotch against the trembling girl's back as he drew the two pieces of the collar together and locked it.

Remembering the humiliating treatment which she had received only the week before, Elffled cringed at his touch and moved away. "Please, have you finished yet?" she asked coolly. Closing her eyes, she imagined hearing the loathsome man's screams as his feet were whipped. Would he bellow like an ox, or scream like a little girl? It mattered little to her, as long as he suffered for what he had done.

"I had not even started!" the blacksmith guffawed as he quickly slid his hand beneath the apron and smoothed down the raging monster in his breeches. "But, aye, you can go," he replied, squeezing her shoulder. He dared make no overtures to the twins while Inbir was in the shop, for that would only cause him trouble. He reassured himself that the young Southron had been too occupied with his casual surveillance of the street outside to take notice of his mild indiscretion. "Master Inbir," he looked to the entryway and raised his voice, "their new collars are locked around their pretty necks. They will not be getting these off anytime soon!"

"A man's work is always rewarded." Inbir gave the blacksmith a cool, detached smile. Taking a small silver coin from the pouch at his belt, he flipped the silver to the man. The blacksmith would probably need it once Awidan dismissed him from his service.

The smith caught it in midair. "The master is generous," he bowed low from the waist.

Inbir nodded, motioned to the sisters to follow him, and, turning on his heel, he led them through the open entryway.

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