The Circles - Book Five - Chapter 23

The Circles - Book Five - Through the Valley of Death
Chapter Twenty-three
The Caress of Silent Lips
Written by Angmar and Elfhild

When the slaver and the twins returned to the second chamber, they found that the floor around the hearth had been cleared of debris. Stoked and supplied with more wood, the fire blazed brightly in the fireplace, cracking and popping merrily. In an obvious attempt to provide privacy, a large oilskin had been hung over the doorway, blocking out the light and much of the noise from the other room. The crimson and gold rug had been spread over the floor near the hearth, and the shakh's pillow, quilt, and woolen blankets awaited on the carpet, beckoning invitingly. Though it was warm and comfortable by the fireplace, occasionally the storm drove a gusty draft of air through the broken windowpanes, raising gooseflesh over the skin. The slaver did not seem to mind that minor annoyance, though, for when he glanced over the room, he smiled in satisfaction.

"Between the two of you and the fire, I should stay warm enough tonight, although I would find it more enjoyable if there were more meat on your bones." Esarhaddon grinned at the two girls as he warmed his back by the fire. The twins smiled nervously, evading his gaze and keeping their eyes fixed firmly upon the floor. "Now the time has come for us to retire." The arrogant ring of absolute self-confidence in his deep, commanding voice warned the girls that it would be foolish to defy him. His eyes slanted over to Elffled as he sat down on the hearth. "Remove my boots."

"Yes, my lord," Elffled murmured as she dutifully moved over to him. Kneeling, she tugged off first one boot and then the other. Standing up, Esarhaddon unwound the long sash from around his waist and then drew his long tunic over his head and arms. His fingers lightly grazed over Elfhild's outstretched hands as he gave her both articles of clothing to place on the hearth. She pretended not to notice his touch as she quickly folded the garments.

Now clad in only his breeches, Esarhaddon sat down cross-legged on the carpet. "Strip down to your undergarments and join me," his voice was a husky invitation as he turned over on his back and slid the pillow under his head. "Elfhild on my right and Elffled on my left, two lilies on one stem." The embodiment of chastity, they looked so unbelievably innocent as they lowered themselves gracefully to the carpet. "Do not be so shy," he chuckled as his powerful arms slid under their slender waists and pulled them to nestle against his sides. "Too thin," he thought as his fingers bumped over their rib cages and moved down to feel their protruding hip bones. "Their skinny arses need more flesh." This was an inadequacy which he vowed would soon be remedied.

"Two virgins, prime flesh for deflowering..." Esarhaddon thought to himself. Women were considered as part of the spoils of war, and when a man raped and deflowered a virgin of an enemy tribe, it was considered as just retribution. Should a child be bred upon her body, the woman's swollen belly would serve as a further reminder to her tribe that they had been defeated. Though the triumph was not so great as slaying an enemy warrior, still tribal honor and pride had partially been satisfied, and the revenge was very, very sweet. Though the temptation was tremendous, Esarhaddon knew he would not be the man to claim the red flower of the twins' virginity. As much as he longed to despoil that rich unopened treasure, he valued gold more highly. He prided himself upon his supreme self-control and, while he would enjoy taking their sweet innocence, he would do nothing more than dally with them now and then.


Elfhild lay beside the slaver, helplessly trapped in his strong arms. He held her so tightly and possessively that she found breathing to be somewhat difficult. Squirming, she craned her neck upward. Away from the warm glow of the fire, shadows brooded ominously. Oft since they had begun traveling through this valley, she had felt the most peculiar sensation of being watched. The feeling had abated during the storm, for when one is being pelted by driving rain, the mind tends to forget about invisible watchers and unseen eyes. But now, in this dank, gloomy chamber, she was reminded once again of that nagging worry that someone was spying upon her.

A distant crack of thunder startled Elfhild. Frightened, she shrank back against Esarhaddon. Suddenly the heavy weight of his thick, muscular arms was a comfort instead of a threat. Surely he would protect her from danger! She looked boldly into the darkness, her eyes flashing a challenge which, thankfully, was never met. A slight smile flickered over her lips and she nestled her head into the curve of her arm.

She wondered why she was not asleep yet. She was tired, yes, but it was the weariness caused by a long day's journey and not the all-encompassing stupor brought on by the drugged wine. Then she realized - she was not drugged! How could the slaver have made such a mistake? The sleeping potion had worked its somnolent spell upon Elffled. Elfhild was baffled. Then an idea occurred to her, abrupt and unexpected like lightning's brilliant flash - maybe Esarhaddon was testing her!

Perhaps he wanted to see if she would attempt to escape. He knew that she longed for freedom and chafed under the yoke of slavery. He must surely think her a fool then, for she would have to be completely mad to try fleeing through the winding corridors of the moldering castle, dragging her drugged sister in tow. No, Elfhild had reluctantly accepted defeat, even though she hated to admit it. She would pass the slaver's accursed test of her own free will, just as she had accepted slavery when she could have chosen death.

When she was confident that Esarhaddon had fallen asleep, Elfhild allowed herself to relax. As he softly snored, his breath gently rustled her hair and occasionally his fingers twitched and jerked spasmodically upon the soft flesh of her stomach. Despite the soft carpet beneath her, Elfhild was uncomfortable. The soothing balm that Esarhaddon had spread over her back earlier seemed to be losing some of its potency, and her back was stinging from the stripes he had given her. She shifted her body, moving her hips slightly. The slaver moaned in his sleep and tightened his hold on her. She froze in place, terrified that her movement had awakened him. Sighing heavily, he rolled over on his back, falling against Elffled, who groaned and turned to the side. His eyelashes fluttered but his eyes did not open.

Unable to sleep, Elfhild sat up cautiously and looked down upon the Southern scoundrel's face, illuminated softly by the fire's waning light. How peaceful he looked, his eyes closed in slumber, a slight smile curving up the corners of his mouth! But yet, even in repose, the slaver radiated power and might, like a resting wolf. His features serene, he looked almost gentle. One of his hands twitched and then was still. As he snored softly, his lips rippled, flapping a little as they opened and closed. Shuddering once, he brushed his hand across his mouth and sighed heavily. The snoring stopped, only to resume again as his wide stomach rose and fell, its rounded curve like a small knoll.

Though some would consider Esarhaddon far too fat to be called handsome, Elfhild thought that the extra weight made him all that more attractive. She sighed ruefully as she studied his peaceful face. What a powerful man he was, so strong and muscular, in spite of his bulky middle! Oh, if only his personality matched his good looks, and his kindness were as generous as his belly!

The sudden, inexplicable urge to touch his face came over her, and her fingers hovered in the air above his cheek, twitching as she reached out for him. Then she realized what a ridiculous, utterly foolish idea it was to assume that a mere slave had any right whatsoever to touch her master without his permission! She drew her hand back as though it had been scorched by fire. He could turn on her in a moment, furious, enraged like a bull which will attack anything when he is provoked.

Angry tears stung her eyes as she browbeat herself for allowing Esarhaddon's handsome appearance to beguile her into harboring feelings of affection towards him. Oh, why had she been struck by such a horrifying desire to touch the very man who had brought her so much pain and humiliation? Who had threatened to leave her tied to a tree if she did not surrender to him? Who had been on the verge of beheading her sister if she did not submit to his will? She should want to gouge his eyes out with his own dagger or plunge his scimitar deep into his chest, not caress his face!

Rolling to her knees, Elfhild rose to her feet. Sullen and resentful, hating both the slaver and herself for her moment of weakness, she did not wish to return to his side to stew the rest of the night in a fitful slumber. She decided to pace around the room for a while to clear her thoughts. If Esarhaddon awoke, she would simply tell him that she had to answer the call of nature.

Like it or not, the fat Southron was her master, and she was his slave. Perhaps she should treat him with the respect and courtesy befitting a lord of her people. Of course, in truth, his people were her people now, because she would be living amongst them. She was reminded of how little she knew of the Haradrim. Would she fit in amongst her new master's household? She understood that these people could have more than one wife. She knew she would feel very awkward wedding a man who already had several others, and she would feel even worse being only his mistress. Surely the other women would be jealous of her and think her an outsider!

And then there was the matter of her sister. The only way they could stay together was if they had the same owner. Being brought up in a monogamous society, Elfhild could not even comprehend sharing a man with her twin. Would they fight all the time, each one jealous of the attention that their husband paid to the other? Elfhild hoped that they would be treated as equals. She could not bear the thoughts of continual war with Elffled - the guilt that she would feel if their master favored her over her twin; and the resentment that would eat at her if he loved her sister more.

In a black mood of despair and frustration, Elfhild wandered away from the hearth and slowly made her way to the wall with the windows. Prowling the shadows, she sulked and brooded like the sullen storm outside. "Damn!" she cursed as she stepped upon a piece of glass and cut her big toe. Angrily she cast the glass away from her, not caring if the slaver heard the shard tinkling as it skidded across the floor. Her mood became even more foul when she felt blood seeping between her toes, making them feel damp and sticky.

Sighing heavily, she leaned against the wall beneath one of the tall windows. The storm had quieted, and a gentle breeze blew a light mist of rain through the broken window. The cool droplets felt refreshing against her anger-heated skin. Her toe continued to ooze blood, as small cuts are wont to do, and she wished she had a strip of cloth to bandage the minor wound. Gnawing her lower lip, she looked longingly to the saddlebags. She could use one of Esarhaddon's handkerchiefs as a makeshift bandage, but after he found out what she had done, he would be wroth with her. If she burned the rag when she was finished with it, he would notice its absence and demand to know who had taken it.

While Elfhild fretted over her injured foot, the tempest had begun to brew again, this time with an even stronger vengeance. Driven upon mighty winds, the dark, angry clouds surged forward, sending pelting rain lashing against the castle and surrounding hills with a savage fury. Gone was the gentle drizzle of rain, replaced by a deluge of sheeting water. Gasping as the chill droplets blew in through the broken window, Elfhild was forced to move, lest she find herself drenched. Great forks of lightning split the heavens, making the night seem as bright as day. Brilliant white light streamed through the tall, arched windows of the chamber, rending the shadows asunder and sending long pinnacles of light blazing across the marble floor. Elfhild cringed against the wall as a mighty explosion of thunder rattled the broken windows and shook the castle to its foundations.

The wind shrieked around the ancient structure, its mournful cry like the baleful howling of hungry wolves as they gather for the hunt. Another burst of lightning raked across the skies and filled the chamber with silvery radiance. Elfhild's breath caught in her throat and her heart seemed to stop in her chest. Caught within the lightning's argent glow was a woman clad in a gown of palest white. A silver circlet rested upon her brow, and her long, dark hair streamed over her shoulders and down her back to fall at her hips. As the ensuing rumble of thunder shook the walls, the chamber was plunged into ebony darkness once more. Yet the glowing apparition did not vanish as the boom of the thunder rolled away into the distance. Praying that her vision had deceived her, Elfhild rubbed her hand across her eyes. When she looked again, the spectre had drawn closer.

Instinctively Elfhild recoiled. She took a step backwards, only to feel her heel hitting against the wall. There was no place to escape! Her fingers clawed the cold, crumbling plaster behind her and dug particles of chalky dust which wedged uncomfortably under her short fingernails. Her chest heaved in stark terror, her breath coming in quick, ragged gasps. Her eyes darted to the hearth at the other side of the room where Esarhaddon and her sister lay sleeping. She found to her dismay that the fire had burnt down and nothing remained in the inky darkness save the glowing red of the dying embers, which gleamed like the eyes of some angry beast.

Elfhild felt alone, abandoned in the gloomy chamber. A tingle of icy fear tickled down her back. Suddenly she was very cold. She whipped her head around, praying that the death-spawned pale spectre was no longer there. Then a fear filled her, deeper and more dreadful than any she had ever known in her life. The phantom was still there! The ghost's eyes were innocent and sad as she beckoned in some gristly, macabre welcome. All the color drained from Elfhild's face and she felt a wave of dizziness flood over her.

Weaving on her feet, she trembled in abject terror as the spectre seemed to float effortlessly across the floor. Halting before her, the maiden put a graceful hand to the bodice of her white gown. The wind sighed mournfully outside as the sorrowful shade drew her hand away and extended it to Elfhild, revealing a palm coated in brilliant crimson gore. Elfhild's eyes were drawn against her will to the spectre's chest. There the filmy gown was rent, exposing a horrible wound which now gushed with a fountain of blood. The scarlet liquid poured through the gossamer fabric, soaking the tattered garment and dripping down to splash upon the floor. Elfhild opened her mouth to scream, but her throat constricted in a spasm as though an icy hand had silenced the sound.

A cold ghost-light surrounded the phantom's form, and as Elfhild lifted her gaze from the spirit's bleeding heart, she saw that silvery tears glistened upon her cheeks. As the translucent spirit drew even nearer, Elfhild felt her body growing colder as though her very life were rushing away. She must escape! She must flee from this horrible phantasm which wandered the night! Yet when she tried to dart to the side, she discovered that her legs were as rigid as flesh locked in death's cold embrace.

Her melancholy eyes pleading for understanding, the ghostly maiden reached a bloody hand towards Elfhild's chest. Consumed with mindless terror, Elfhild dug her fingers into the decaying plaster of the wall behind her until the tips bled. She stared down in horror as the phosphorescent hand lightly rested upon her bosom, staining her tunic with crimson and making her chest glow with silver light. The spirit's pale gray eyes seemed to light up from their shadowy hollows as though in some unholy recognition.

Elfhild's eyes rolled back in her head as she sagged to the floor. Before the darkness overcame her, she felt a gentle kiss on her lips as a lovely, melodious voice whispered softly, "You will join us one day."

My Bleeding Heart by Elfhild


Elfhild's eyelids fluttered open, and she tried to focus her vision on the yellow flames of a torch which cast its flickering light over her face. As her vision cleared, she saw above her the towering forms of Esarhaddon and his three men. Remembering the horrifying experience with the shade, she looked down at her chest and was amazed to find that the blood had vanished. She rubbed her fingertips, expecting to find her nails broken and her skin ragged and torn, but much to her astonishment, her fingers were uninjured. Had it all been a dream? But… but she could have sworn she was awake! Stars glittered before her eyes, and she feared that she was on the verge of swooning once again.

"Is she hurt?" Esarhaddon's sour voice growled loudly, echoing in the empty chamber.

"Hold the torch closer, my lord, so that I may see better," Ganbar replied as he knelt beside the supine form. "No, no, she does not seem to be." He looked up at the slaver questioningly.

"My lord, do you wish me to administer the usual punishment for a slave who tries to escape?" Captain Ubri asked as he peered down at the girl. His fingers clenched and unclenched the handle of the flail which he carried at his belt. "Perhaps she needs to be taught another lesson!" he added, a cold expression of contempt upon his thin face.

"I was not trying to escape!" Elfhild whimpered, propping herself up on her elbow. "I swear it!"

"Do not lie to me, slave girl," Esarhaddon warned menacingly, pressing the toe of his boot against her hip. "What were you doing over here? Did you think you could escape through the corner tower?"

"No, Master, no!" Elfhild struggled to her knees and crawled to Esarhaddon's feet. "I… I had a terrible nightmare, and I must have been sleepwalking!" She was convinced that the ghostly maiden had been real, but she did not want to tell the Southrons this! Not after falling victim to the enchantments of the Morgulduin! Having two bizarre experiences in one day… the Southrons might think she was mad!

"Sleepwalking?" Esarhaddon laughed as he looked down at her. "A convenient excuse, and a pathetic lie. Must I punish you for both trying to escape and telling falsehoods?"

"I speak the truth, Master!" Elfhild lied. "Sleepwalking runs in my family. Just ask my sister when she awakes." She looked up to the slaver with earnest, tear-filled eyes. "Why, several days before you recaptured us, Elffled woke up to find me missing. She found me some time later, wandering through the forest, lost in dream."

Scowling, Esarhaddon regarded her for a long moment, pondering her story. "The Morgul Vale is dangerous for a sleepwalker, and if this continues, I will be forced to make you sleep in chains. This valley is a strange place, a bizarre anomaly where the natural laws do not quite hold. Do not ask me why this is, for I cannot explain it." His expression softened as he looked down at the frightened girl, who groveled so piteously at his feet. "There are many natural poisons which exist in our world, and I suspect that the waters here are filled with poison that causes delusions and hallucinations. Possibly the plenitude of unusual vegetation which grows in this valley exudes a gaseous vapor that spreads over a wide area and confuses the mind. You must never expose yourself to such peril. Stay close and we will protect you. Now get on your feet and return to my blankets."

"Thank you, Master," Elfhild replied gratefully. "I am glad for your protection in this strange, frightening place." She thanked the Gods that her ruse had actually worked. Perhaps that was the way one survived in Mordor, by speaking flattering words and telling convincing lies…

Next Chapter

Previous Chapter
Main Index