The Circles - Book Five - Chapter 22

The Circles - Book Five - Through the Valley of Death
Chapter Twenty-two
Chamber of Shame
Written by Angmar and Elfhild

As the slaver strode swiftly across the hall, Elfhild and Elffled followed at a respectful distance behind him, holding their wet burnooses away from their bodies. The men had a fire blazing in the hearth, and they had shed their burnooses, laying them atop the fume hood to dry. With little regard for the twins' delicate sensitivities, the men turned their backs to them and stripped nude, adding their wet tunics, shirts, pantaloons and undergarments to the wet cloaks drying on the hearth. Flushing, the twins stared at the floor, refusing to look at the collection of three unabashedly nude male backsides. This show of maidenly virtue amused Ubri, Ganbar and Inbir, and they laughed unmercifully at the girls as they passed by.

Halting in front of the fireplace, Esarhaddon directed the girls to spread out their cloaks on the stonework. Each felt a little tremor of dread as they wondered to themselves if he, too, planned to disrobe. They were relieved when he shed only his burnoose and left the wet garment to dry with the others.

After exchanging a few words of conversation in Haradric with the men, the slaver took a lighted torch from its sconce. "Come along," he ordered the captives as he led them through a doorless entryway which stood to the right of the fireplace.

Entering the room, he lifted the torch high above his head, sweeping it round in an arc. The flame threw flickering light and shadows over the somber, musty chamber. The light fell on bare walls, where traces of the old, faded paint could still be seen on the cracked and crumbling plaster. Upon the floor lay reminders of past visitors - several shattered wine bottles; a broach with a twisted fastener; a discarded pair of torn black breeches; a few old bones from which the flesh had been picked; and other assorted detritus which had accumulated from years of careless misuse. Though the splendid frescoes which had once graced the walls and ceiling had long since faded into muted outlines, the sisters were relieved that at least none of the obscene drawings of the Dark Enemy profaned the walls.

Esarhaddon walked over to a large stone fireplace with kindling and firewood neatly stacked on the hearth. "Ah, good!" he exclaimed, a pleased expression on his face. "Though some of the lodgers of this shelter are not fastidiously clean, whoever the last ones were, at least they had courtesy enough to replenish the wood that they burnt. This will be our chamber for tonight," he informed the girls, smiling as he slid the torch into a sconce near the fume hood. "Perhaps you will be pleased to learn that your rest shall not be disturbed by the men's loud snoring, for they will be sleeping in the great hall. Now for some heat to warm us up," his deep voice rumbled good-naturedly as he dropped his saddlebags to the hearth and took a tinderbox from one of the pouches.

Lightning ripped across the sky, driving towards the land in vicious forks and streaks. For brief moments, the chamber was illuminated with white light as the heavens exploded in a silverish blue display of majesty, and then all went dark and dim once more and the only light was from the torch and the fireplace. Great blasts of thunder shook the walls, rattling the stained glass panels in the windows. Gawking at their surroundings, the sisters nervously paced about the chamber, although they did not stray far from the torch's light.

"Watch where you walk," Esarhaddon warned them as he knelt by the fireplace. "After we have eaten, the men will clear the floor of debris." Mounding up kindling in the fireplace, he struck flint to steel, sending sparks flying to catch the tinder. Soon a cheerful blaze burnt in the stone hearth, driving away the chill brought by the fading daylight. Rising to his feet, the slaver turned around to look at the twins, and with an expression of self-assured arrogance on his tawny face, he told them, "You will now disrobe. I would see my property revealed before me."

The twins gaped at him in shock, uncertain if what they heard was what he had really said. Elfhild was the first to reply. "But, my lord," she stammered, "do - do you mean you want us to take off our clothes in your presence?"

"That is what the word is commonly taken to mean," he replied, his grin telling them that he looked forward with great pleasure to their disrobing.

"What will we wear, my lord?" Elffled asked shyly, a slight flush coloring her cheeks.

"All that has been provided." He smiled gently at Elffled as he sat down on the hearth. "Each of you should realize that when I tell one of my slave women to strip before me, she considers that there are few honors higher. Elfhild, you will be the first to display your charms. Your sister will remove my boots and place them by the hearth."

"Yes, Master," Elffled softly murmured and knelt beside him.

Elfhild stared at the slaver for a few moments, and then, hanging her head, she sighed in resignation. Though she was loath to undress before this lecherous man, she might as well get it over with; if she refused, he would probably give her a whipping that was even worse than the one she received that afternoon. After tugging off her boots and setting them down on the hearth, she unwound the long sash which was tied about her waist, stretching it to its full length to allow the warmth from the fire to dry the sodden material. Loosening the drawstrings on her pantaloons and under-breeches, she pulled them off the rest of the way and spread them out to dry on the warm stone. She felt the torrid heat of Esarhaddon's searching glance scorching her, hotter than the fire which blazed in the fireplace, and her face flushed a deep shade of red. Cringing inwardly, she gathered up the hem of her tunic and slowly rolled it over her head and arms, wincing as every movement brought a resurgence of the pain in her back. Her hands trembled as she tried to summon the courage to take off the last garment, the white undertunic embroidered with runes of protection, which was the only thing remaining to protect her modesty.

"Come now, why do you hesitate to reveal yourself to me?" Esarhaddon demanded impatiently. He picked up the riding crop and used the wide leather tongue to lift the hem of her undertunic up to her waist. Elfhild gasped in dismay, while the slaver gasped in delight. "At long last my eyes behold your milk-white belly which is set like a pearl above your topaz-colored curls."

Knowing she had been defeated, Elfhild capitulated completely and wrenched her undertunic up over her head and arms. He had seen everything that there was to see anyway. What was the use in fighting him now? Tears streaming down her cheeks, she stood there naked before the slaver, her head bowed in shame, her damp hair hanging limply over her shoulder. Her clammy skin had turned to goose-flesh, chilled by the dank air of the chamber. She sniffed again and stood there mutely as his eyes studied her body.

Esarhaddon drew his breath in sharply as he saw her nude body revealed before him. "Beautiful," he murmured in a voice so thick with lust that it sounded as though he were in agony. True, she was dreadfully thin, the skin stretched tightly over delicate protruding ribs, but she would fill out quite nicely in the languor of the harem.

"Turn around," he told her, turning his finger around in a circle. "I would see the rest of you."

Stroking the tip of his beard, he studied her movements, watching approvingly as she shyly rotated in place until she faced away from him. He rose to his feet and traced his fingers over the red welts that streaked her back. His touches brought fresh pain to her seared flesh, and Elfhild bit her lip to keep from whimpering. Esarhaddon reached over to his saddlebags, opened one of the pouches and took out a small jar of unguent.

"This will help with the pain," he told her as he rubbed the cool, herbal-scented cream over her skin. "You will find towels and fresh clothing in the saddlebags." After dismissing Elfhild, he turned to Elffled, who had been cowering near the wall. "Little flower, now it is your turn to change out of your rain-soaked clothing and undress before me." His eyes half closed with lust, he murmured in delight as he saw her beauty revealed to his gaze. Such magnificent wenches, he thought to himself, with their clear blue eyes, their skin unblemished save for moles and freckles, lips which were soft and made for kissing, and their curvaceous shapes... Ah, he must not allow himself to envision their sensuous bodies writhing beneath his thrusting hips, for he well knew that things which were unattainable were all the more desirable.

After Elffled had dressed, Esarhaddon dismissed her to sit beside her sister upon the hearth. He took another towel and a clean set of clothing from his saddlebags and walked away to change in a shadowy area of the chamber where the light barely reached. He had considered returning to the two slave girls clad in nothing but the towel wrapped about his loins. This would give them their first clear sight of the bulging muscles of his arms and the sculptured outlines of his broad chest. That should heat up these cold little maidens of the North and set their blood to racing! He was contemplating their chaste, maidenly reaction when he looked down at the bulge of his protruding stomach. The sight was always sobering. He decided that this, along with his robust manhood, might best be revealed at a later time. He shook his head in disgust. He was a large, tall man, heavyset and prone to carrying too much weight. He fingered the flab on his middle, rolling it between his fingers, and then lightly slapped it, watching the fat as it jiggled like meat jelly. As he dressed, he promised himself that he would make a concentrated effort to cut back on what he ate... soon... very soon.

Returning to the hearth, Esarhaddon snapped his fingers, summoning Elfhild and Elffled to his side. "You are not required to serve the supper this evening, for tonight's meal is Inbir's domain. However, you must clean and dry the diners' hands before and after the meal as usual." He strode away towards the entrance to the great hall. Subdued, both sisters dutifully followed three paces behind, as he had taught them was the proper custom for the women of the South.

Looking up from the brazier where he had been seasoning a pot of lentil soup, Inbir rose to his feet as the slaver stepped into the room. Ubri and Ganbar, who had been talking in muted tones, also stood up. Bowing their heads, they touched their hands to their chests and exchanged greetings with Esarhaddon, careful to suppress any knowing smiles.

"What savory dish has the captain of the cooking pot prepared for us this night?" Esarhaddon boomed out amiably. "Ah, I think I can guess by the aroma of the garlic which tickles my nostrils and sets the juices working in my stomach!"

"My lord," Inbir announced, a smile lighting up his face, "you are correct! A warm and steaming pot of rice and red lentil soup, seasoned with bay, garlic, coriander and cumin, awaits your pleasure."

"Ah, good fellow," Esarhaddon remarked good-naturedly as he walked over to Inbir and put his arm around the young man's shoulders, "as a cook, you are worth your weight in gold."

"Thank you, my lord. I am always glad when my work is satisfactory." Inbir looked down shyly, an embarrassed flush at the unexpected attention reddening his tawny features.

"I look forward to the meal," Esarhaddon told him as he squeezed his shoulder. Turning, he joined the other two men on the rugs which had been spread a comfortable distance from the fire. "Now," he raised his arms and spread them expansively, signaling to the other men that they could sit, "let the meal commence!"

Soon the Shakh, Ubri and Ganbar were seated cross-legged on the rugs as they anticipated the arrival of a hot meal on a foul and stormy night. After the twins had lathed the men's hands with water and dried them, Inbir brought in the steaming pot of lentil soup and placed it on a mat in front of the men. Next he brought a large tray of hard crackers, some dried meat and fruit, and set it before them before taking his place on the rug. Each man had his own spoon and they all took turns either ladling out a portion or dipping bread into the common pot.

As the men ate, they quietly talked among themselves. Elfhild and Elffled had been directed to sit on a rug at a distance away from the Southrons. There they had been told to wait until the men had finished eating before they could receive their portion of food. Having learned that talking without permission was considered an extreme breech of good manners, the sisters silently studied the patterns of the carpet beneath them. They were both stinging with far too much shame and embarrassment to do more than cast a few halfheartedly curious glances over at the Southrons, dreading to meet the sneering ridicule in the men's eyes.

The sudden sharp snap of Esarhaddon's fingers brought the twins quickly to their feet. The supper was finished and they must hasten to rinse away the remnants of the meal from the diners' hands. Moving quietly among the men, Elfhild and Elffled tended to their work without spilling a single drop of water on the rug. Once their task was accomplished, they were allowed to take the remainder of the soup and picked over pieces of dried stuff back to their place.

After the coffee was brewed, the men sat about, talking amiably in Haradric to each other. Ganbar had just launched into another of his long tales, this time about an olive oil merchant who had been euchred by a seller of lamps. "Just as the lamp seller was ushered into the merchant's hall..." Ganbar related enthusiastically, waving his arms in the air for emphasis. Half listening to the story which he had already heard several times in the past, Esarhaddon inhaled the rich aroma of the thick brew. His eyes slanted to the side, taking in the view of the two Rohirric girls, who were huddled about the pot of soup.

Esarhaddon was very pleased with himself. He had made far better progress with these slaves than he had first believed possible. The Rohirrim were a stiff-necked, proud, haughty people, and even their women put up a tenacious fight to retain their liberty. The most stubborn, though, would be forced to submit eventually. Those few who did not faced a future so bleak that they would wish themselves dead... Mordor had ways of dealing with rebels, all of them unpleasant and bloody.

Letting his thoughts wander to more pleasant matters, Esarhaddon mused, "Ah, the coffee is good." When he had first recaptured them, the slave trader had given this pair the choice of slavery or death. Though he would never have carried through with his threats, they would not know it. He would let them go on believing that if they had refused his offer, he would have slain them. At least the twins would have the consolation of thinking that they had some choice in the matter. Sometimes new slaves were more docile when they believed that they had willingly accepted slavery. He chuckled when he thought of how angry they would be if they knew of this deception.

He had harbored plans for them all along - even before they escaped. When they reached Nurn, he would buy them, have them trained and educated at his villa, and then sell them for a much greater price than what he had paid for them. He had several potential buyers in mind who would be willing to pay the high price that he would demand.

"…And the merchant took a stout stick and drove both the seller of lamps and his catamite from his house... but he kept the djinn and the donkey." The men laughed uproariously at the conclusion of Ganbar's tale, and Esarhaddon joined with them, though he could recite the tale almost by heart.

"Shakh," Inbir told him as he rose to his feet, "the hour grows late, and if I am to have your chamber prepared for you by the time you retire, I need to make haste. Now if you will excuse me, I will attend to it."

"Aye, good Inbir, always thinking of my comfort. That quality in a servant is always admirable." Esarhaddon dismissed him with a benign smile and turned his gaze to the twins. "Now, my little beauties, the time arrives for your nightly draught of wine. The tensions of the day will flee from you, you will feel more relaxed, and slumber will come easily to you," he told them softly, his dark eyes half veiled by his heavy lids.

The sisters were sure that he planned to drug them again, and he did not even bother to conceal his intentions. The thought of protesting came to their minds, but what good would it do? He would only force them to drink it. At least if they were asleep, they could forget the cruel world for a while in the realm of dreams.

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