The Circles - Book Five - Chapter 15

The Circles - Book Five - Through the Valley of Death
Chapter Fifteen
A Lesson in Protocol
Written by Angmar and Elfhild

After concluding his discussion with Captain Ubri, Esarhaddon jauntily strode back to the rug where the twins were sitting, clasped his hands behind his back, and looked down at them. "Rise to your feet, slave girls," he ordered. "Slaves are always to rise in the presence of their master or mistress." He watched as the two frightened sisters hastily stood up and looked at him with uncertainty. "Keep your eyes downcast in the presence of your superiors! No sullen looks, and do not let your arms dangle aimlessly at your sides! Clasp your hands at your waists!"

"As you command, my lord." Elfhild straightened her back and dropped her gaze to look at her hands as she folded them. She wondered how she and her sister had displeased the Southron this time.

Folding his arms across his broad chest, Esarhaddon glanced over to Inbir, who was boiling water for tea over a small fire. He watched him for a few moments before turning back to the girls. "Under usual circumstances, there would no necessity for slaves of your rank to do menial work, for it is the lesser servants who tend to such matters. However, now that the slave boy Ásal is no longer in my service, I shall assign some of his duties to you." Seeing the surprised expressions on the girls' faces, he chuckled. "Surely you did not think that my men and I would wait upon you!"

"No, of course not, my lord," Elffled giggled nervously. Oh, if only the slaver knew the fantasies she had been having in which she was the mistress and he was her slave! She was exceedingly glad that the man did not possess the power to divine thoughts.

"Since neither of you has been trained as servants, I have assigned the task of your instruction to Ganbar until we rejoin the rest of the caravan." Esarhaddon turned away from them and looked towards the fire, where Inbir had just finished brewing tea and was pouring the scalding hot liquid into small green glasses. "Ah," he sighed, smiling, "the tea is ready. You tarry here too long; Ganbar awaits you near the horses. Go," he dismissed them with a wave of his hand. "Perhaps if you perform well, he will not beat you." Esarhaddon laughed as they scurried away. He sat down on the rug and waited for Inbir and the tea.

Ganbar leaned against a young oak and gave the twins a brief nod as they presented themselves to him. "You know me as Ganbar, and you will discover that I am a man of few words and blunt-spoken." He looked them over for a while and then shook his head. "There are some things you have to understand right from the very beginning. All during the journey this afternoon, you chattered between yourselves in the barbarous language of Rohan. From now on, that must stop! Speak only in Westron." His forehead creased in deep wrinkles as he scowled at them fiercely. "You incurred the Shakh's displeasure with your rude behavior. Never speak that infernal language again, or there will be punishments!" He studied their faces until he seemed satisfied that they looked frightened enough, and then he allowed his expression to relax.

"Now," he continued, tapping his fingertips together, "the two of you are probably lazy and incapable of learning very much, but you need to put yourselves to it or things will go hard for you. I realize that you were both born in an ignorant land of wild tribesmen, and there was no way that you could have been taught correctly." Ganbar scratched absentmindedly at a swollen welt below his lower lip, where he had been bitten by some insect. "There is a strict system of decorum you should have been taught when you were first captured, but that was the time when you decided to run away. Now you will have to learn it from me. If you learn quickly, it will spare me the trouble of having to whip you." Ganbar had an unpleasant habit of staring at them for long moments and saying nothing. The girls found this intimidating, and they wondered if at any moment he might lose his temper and really whip them.

After a particularly long silence, Ganbar reached down and picked up a small branch and snapped it in two. The girls jumped at the sharp sound. Ganbar smiled as he used one of the lengths to scratch his back. "From now on you are never to call your superiors by their given names. You are a slave and you will refer to men either as 'Master' or 'my lord,' and women as 'Mistress,' or 'my lady,' depending upon your rank and their station in life. I am Master Ganbar.'" He looked at Elfhild. "What am I called?"

Clasping her hands tightly at her waist and staring down at her toes, Elfhild attempted to keep her face as expressionless as possible. "If a dull, bland look is what they want," she told herself, "that is what I will give them." An attempt at holding her face totally impassive, her eyes vacant and her jaws slack, resulted in the urge to giggle. She bit the inside of her jaw to keep the laughter from escaping. "You are called Master... Master."

"Very good, slave girl." Ganbar turned from her to Elffled. "Now you seem to be the brighter one and learn quicker. How are you to address me?" He stroked his beard as he studied her.

"Master Ganbar, we are to call you 'Master,'" Elffled returned sweetly, somehow managing to keep her face expressionless. She considered this whole dialogue idiotic, but she would tell him whatever he wanted to hear just so long as she kept out of trouble.

"Elffled - that is your name, I believe - you did far better than your sister, who mumbles in such a dull, tedious monotone that I scarce could hear her. Raise your head, Elffled, and come stand in front of me. Then turn and face your sister. Try to walk gracefully, girl, and not like a lumbering cow on her way to the barn, her milk sack flopping with each step."

"Yes, Master, I will try," she murmured as she walked towards him, careful to keep her gait fluid and not shuffle her feet. When she reached him, she turned around slowly to face Elfhild, wincing when she felt his hands clamp down on her shoulders.

"Did you learn anything from that, Elfhild?" He arched an eyebrow expectantly.

"Yes, Master, I have."

"And what is that?" he asked eagerly.

"If I wish not to walk like a cow, I should study my sister, Master," Elfhild replied, her tone dulcet.

Elffled, who stood with her back towards Ganbar, crossed her eyes, wrinkled her nose, and stuck her tongue out at her sister, safe in the knowledge that the guard could not see her face. Not daring to retaliate, Elfhild clenched her hands together so tightly that her fingers turned red and her knuckles turned white.

"What does she mean?" Ganbar asked himself. "Is she implying that she should avoid walking like her sister, because she walks like a cow, or is she saying that her sister should be imitated, because she does not walk like a cow? Neither these girls nor I know Westron that well, but they are better with it than I am. Perhaps something has been lost in translation." Puzzled, Ganbar decided that questioning the girl would confuse matters even more, so he pretended that he understood.

"Yes, excellent; you should study your sister so that you will not make mistakes." He looked down to Elffled and squeezed her shoulders. "You may now go back to stand beside Elfhild." He gave her a little push on the back.

When both girls were standing in front of him again, he clapped his hands together, startling them. "That was to get your attention. Whenever I clap my hands, you are to cease whatever you are doing and come immediately to me." He shifted his weight slightly and returned to tapping his fingertips together. "Now that you both have learned the proper terms of address, you must remember that you are always to speak in a soft, sweet, melodious voice. Never talk too loud and never laugh in the presence of your betters. That is considered quite rude. Both of you have very pretty voices, by the way," he complimented them, "but, Elfhild, you have a tendency to sound moody and sullen. You will correct that."

"Yes, Master," Elfhild chirped in a voice which sounded far too cheery to be sincere.

Nodding, Ganbar reached for the waterskin which was stored in the fork of the tree behind him and took a drink of the lukewarm liquid. "Now that you have learned the proper way to address your superiors, you will learn how to perform acceptable obeisance. When you are in the presence of your superiors, you will bow respectfully from the waist, keeping your eyes downcast, your hands at your middle. That is simple," he laughed. "I do not think you will have any trouble remembering that.

"Now this is very important, and you must not forget anything that I tell you, for it concerns your master!" He crossed his hands over his chest and looked imposing. "When the Shakh approaches, you will immediately kneel and touch your forehead to the ground and remain there until he gives you leave to rise. When you are summoned to him, you are to walk into the room, halt ten paces from the Shakh, and bow from the waist. There you will stand with your head bowed and your hands clasped to your waist until he calls you to him." Ganbar again reached for the waterskin and slaked his thirst before continuing. "The only exception to this protocol is when you are serving food or drink. Obviously, you cannot bow or kneel with a tray in your hands." He scratched his back up and down on the oak tree.

"There are many things for you to learn and you cannot learn them all in one day, but you will at least learn how to serve the Shakh his meals while on the trail," Ganbar remarked, absentmindedly rubbing his earring. "Tonight you are to assist in serving supper. Since we made camp so late, the meal tonight will be plain." He took another deep drink from the skin, wiped off his mouth on the back of his hand and closed the vessel. "I suppose you two know how to cook." He gave them a questioning look, and the twins nodded enthusiastically, proud of their cooking skills. "Ah, I see you do. Good! Tomorrow evening, you will be preparing the meal under my direction. Your duties tonight will be simple, however."

When Captain Ubri had given him the task of instructing the twins, Ganbar had been hesitant. Teaching slave girls had never been part of his duties. In the harem of a wealthy lord, the Mistress of the Harem or the eunuchs would have that responsibility, and Ganbar hardly fit either of those two categories. "Captain, what should I tell them? I know nothing about how to detail the duties of slave women to ignorant peasants. I am a guard!" he had protested to Ubri.

"Nobody expects you to give them a complete treatise on slavery," Ubri had explained. "Just show them where the food and utensils are and give them the basics of etiquette and protocol. If they possess any wit at all, they can figure out the rest. Regard it as evidence of the Shakh's continuing confidence in you."

"Captain, I am unsure of this. Sometimes my tongue has difficulty saying the right words," Ganbar had muttered, but in the end, he had grudgingly obeyed his orders. Born a son of a poor Sangkur fisherman who had far more children than he had the resources to feed and clothe them, Ganbar had gone to work with his father on the family's fishing boat when he was very young. At the age of eight, he had known that the sea was no life for him, and at the age of thirteen, he secured employment with a caravan which was leaving for the west the next day. He had left the caravan after two years, and, always restless, he had roamed from one place to another.

Occasionally settling for a short time in one small village or another, he had taken whatever jobs he could find until one day he arrived at the great city of Turkûrzgoi. After the solitude of wandering, the large city with its throngs of people, its mighty fortress, great buildings, temples, and markets had impressed him, and he decided to stay there and look for work. Eventually, he had found employment as a night watchman at the immense slave market of the House of Huzziya. By the time he had worked there for five years, he had so impressed Esarhaddon uHuzziya with his conscientious and loyal service that the Shakh had made him one of his bodyguards. When Esarhaddon had offered him the opportunity to go on one of the very first slave buying missions to Gondor, he had never hesitated in accepting. He had come a long way from his days as the son of a poor fisherman, and he was determined to continue improving his lot in life.

The clear voice of Elfhild brought an end to his reverie. "Master, what are our duties? I understand that we are to serve supper to the men."

"Aye, that is correct," Ganbar told them. "Before you begin serving, however, there are a few things you need to know. Shakh Esarhaddon's mercantile house supplies food and medicine for the men and horses. You will find the packs containing the food over there." He pointed to several large bundles. "Each man provides his own eating utensils, waterskin, rug and bedding, weapons and clothing and other personal items. You are to touch neither the Shakh's property nor that of his men. You have permission to open the food packs only. Do you understand that?" he asked, and waited for the "Yes, Master" which quickly followed.

"You will follow me now." Ganbar reached into the fork of the tree for his waterskin and slung the strap over his shoulder. In the soft glow of the lamp hanging over the stable yard, he pointed out the food bundles to them. "Both of you will be responsible for unpacking the food and readying the communal plate from which all eat. With a meal like this - dried meat, hard bread, cheese and dried fruit - there is really little to do except cut up the dried meat and hard cheese. And, no," he allowed a small smile to filter over his lips, "if you have any ideas about taking the knife, you should forget it, for I will be watching you with the eyes of a falcon. Any questions?" He looked towards them. "No? Then we will proceed to the next matter.

"Before the meal is served, the two of you will take a ewer of water, a bowl and towels and go to each man, starting in order from the Shakh. One of you will hold the bowl while the other pours water over the man's hands so that he may wash the dirt of the trail from himself. Once each man has cleaned and dried himself, you will place the food tray upon the rug. After the meal is over, you will clean their hands again and clear the table. Of course, you are responsible for washing the dishes. I will be watching you all the time." Ganbar felt proud of himself. He was sure that he had forgotten nothing. "You need give no concern to the making of tea or coffee, for it is customary that men do that. That was one of the slave boy Ásal's responsibilities, but now he is gone and Inbir has been assigned his duties. That should be all. Do you have any questions?" Ganbar asked, absentmindedly scratching the welt on his chin.

"Master, I have one question," Elfhild spoke up.

"Yes, you may ask it," Ganbar replied, impatient to have them begin preparing the food.

"When do we eat, Master?"

His eyes were wide with surprise as he stared at them. "Surely you know the answer to such a question! Custom and common sense should have answered it for you." He looked at them and laughed. "Perhaps you do not know, however, since you are ignorant foreigners. You eat when slaves always do - after their superiors have finished eating!"

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