The Circles - Book Five - Chapter 24

The Circles - Book Five - Through the Valley of Death
Chapter Twenty-four
Unseen Eyes
Written by Angmar and Elfhild

When the slaver and his party departed from the foreboding castle and began their ride down the steep path, the dawning sun had just peeked through the scowling dark blue and gray clouds which hung over the Mountains of Shadow. The overcast skies portended yet more rain, and the memory of the havoc of last night's storm was still fresh. The torrential downpour of the night before had left its mark. Branches that had been ripped from mighty boles lay strewn haphazardly upon the ground. A number of trees had been wrenched from the earth, leaving their naked, exposed roots still clinging to the soil like broken fingers. As the riders made their way down the trail, they found that a mighty pine had fallen across the road. With much grumbling and cursing, Ganbar and Inbir dismounted, took their axes, and began chopping out a path through the mangled trunk.

As the entourage waited, Elfhild and Elffled looked with curiosity at the rugged terrain about them. They had been unable to see their surroundings clearly the previous evening, for the sheets of rain had obscured their vision. The damp, cool air had a crisp freshness to it, and the sisters inhaled deeply of the mingled scents of earth and evergreens. Though the wounds of the long darkness were far from healed, still the girls found that this land of Ithilien was a fair one. Well-watered and cloaked with woodlands, the foothills provided cover and browse for the many creatures of the forest. The hills fell away to gentle hollows and valleys where long ago farmers had tilled their fields and villages had thrived. Far below them, they could see the Morgulduin shining like a blue and silver ribbon, the sun making the rippling waters shimmer as though diamonds floated on their surface.

When the road was at last cleared of the fallen tree, the party resumed its journey down the hill. The brooding castle far behind them, both sisters prayed that they would never see the place again. Though relieved to be on the road once more, Elfhild's mind could not help returning to her terrifying experience of the night before. She looked over to her sister, who smiled gently back at her. "Elffled seems well enough today, as she should," Elfhild thought to herself. "She was not the one who saw a ghost!"

There was no use in trying to talk to Elffled about the ghost that morning. Esarhaddon had demanded that they speak only in Westron, and since the men could understand every word that was said, they had no secrets. Elfhild missed having long conversations with her sister, and this lack of closeness added to her growing feeling of isolation. When they reached the caravan, she hoped that the slaver would allow them to rejoin the rest of the captives. Perhaps there they could talk in peace. She had so much to tell Aunt Leofgifu.

At least this morning their wrists would not be bound together. The Shakh's men still led their horses, but the sisters did not mind that. There was no reason given for this new privilege. Possibly Esarhaddon and Captain Ubri had decided that it was far too dangerous for the girls to travel down the steep hill and try to control their horses with their hands bound. Whatever the reason, the twins hoped the practice was a permanent one.

They had just maneuvered around a sharp switchback on the trail and came to a gentler section of terrain. Sniffing, Ganbar wiped his nose with the side of a finger and glanced up at the sky. Completely unsolicited and totally unexpected, he told Elfhild, "In the land where I was born, we seldom see such storms as the one last night. In the desert reaches of my homeland, it might not rain for years. Other places, which are better favored, there will be rains in the summer, but the majority, only in the winter. I am continually amazed that the people here take the rains for granted, while in Harad, every life-giving drop is precious! I should like to live in this land, for the water is so abundant and the land seems so fertile. Perhaps I will come back someday..."

Fantasizing about having his own villa in Gondor, he turned away from Elfhild and stared into space. He envisioned walls lined with blue-and-white tiles depicting tiny gardens and fountains. There would be a fine house and stable, barns and outbuildings, quarters for the slaves, orchards and vineyards, and well-stocked storehouses. Most of all, he thought of the harem section, which would be filled with beautiful women, many as fair-skinned and lovely as the two maids riding beside him. He imagined himself lounging on a great divan while luscious, nude slave girls played erotic melodies on their instruments and other equally delightful girls danced for him. As their lithe bodies undulated to the rhythm, he could see the supple muscles rippling in their arms, stomachs and thighs, and the cheeks of their buttocks sliding over each other, sensuous and inviting to the touch. His pleasant fantasies were shattered when Captain Ubri announced matter-of-factly, "We will soon be down this miserable trail and back on the main road."

"Aye, Captain," Ganbar agreed, glumly tugging on his earring as he imagined a djinn with the face of Ubri, who laughed fiendishly and turned his villa into a bluish cloud of smoke.

To the right the riders saw a stream which raced, splashing and gurgling, over rocky ledges and emptied into a shallow stream near the base of the hill. While the usually placid stretch of water had been a raging torrent the night before, overflowing its banks to tear at the soil, that morning the stream was once again within its banks. Though the current still moved swiftly, its waters tinged with brown, the bed was so shallow that there was little danger that anyone would be washed downstream.

Halting, the slaver and his first lieutenant watched the rush of the water and then looked back at the rest of the group. "Men, we will all take turns bathing. While two of us guard the women and have some breakfast, the others will take baths. The Captain and I will be first." He looked over to Ganbar and Inbir. "Take the women downstream and have them prepare breakfast."

After all the men had finished bathing and broken their fast, it was time for the sisters to have their turn. While Ganbar and Inbir stayed at the temporary camp guarding the horses and cleaning up after breakfast, the Shakh and his captain took the twins to the stream bank. As they stood gazing out at the sun sparkling on the stream, the girls glanced uncertainly over to the two men, fearful that the loathsome slaver would command them to turn the simple act of bathing into some sort of erotic spectacle.

"Go on! Why do you tarry?" His eyebrows arching questioningly, Esarhaddon gave them a perplexed look as he motioned with his hand towards the stream.

"Please, Master, do not make us wash in front of everyone!" Elfhild pled desperately, knowing she would probably be punished for making such a demand.

"My little beauty, what should I want to look? Have I not seen everything you have before now?" he returned, his eyes raking hotly over their bodies and stripping them of their clothes.

"Please, Master," Elfhild begged.

"Captain Ubri has not seen us naked, Master," Elffled grumbled petulantly, her eyes never leaving the ground. "Surely you would not have us displayed in such a demeaning manner! Is it not true that the men of the South value modesty in women?"

"At least she has been paying attention!" Esarhaddon laughed heartily as he turned to the captain. Greatly amused at the slave girl, Ubri joined in his laughter. "What you say is true to this extent, little beauty," the Shakh told her as he walked over to stand beside her. Slowly he ran a hand down over her pantaloons, pausing to rub her bottom, obviously relishing the feel of the firm contours. Elffled gasped, and the slaver felt the firm muscles beneath his hand stiffen at his touch.

Frowning, Elfhild noticed the spark of lust in the Captain's eyes as he watched the slaver and her sister. While Ubri appeared to be paying rapt attention to every word of his master, his eyes were drawn to Esarhaddon's broad, hairy hand as it groped the slave girl's bottom. With distaste, Elfhild realized that the ardent prong beneath the bodyguard's pantaloons was obscenely strutted straight out before him. She wondered if the men were planning to ravish them on the stream bank, and when the deed was done, share them with the other two before leaving.

Apparently in no hurry to relinquish Elffled's bottom, the slaver pressed, probed and kneaded her taut flesh as he spoke again in his deep, husky voice. "The men of my tribe will not allow their wives, concubines and slave girls to go out in public unless they are guarded and protected, and many women wear veils to conceal their beauty from the eyes of men not of their family. But until they are sold, barbarian slaves such as you are available for the gaze of any man's eyes. Perhaps one look at your charms will bring an eager buyer."

Giving her bottom a stout slap, Esarhaddon boomed out a loud chuckle as he released her and then turned to Ubri. "Captain, we will give the women privacy while they take their baths. Though I anticipate no trouble from orcs or anyone else, still you and I will guard them. Expect a very dull and tedious time while we wait." Elffled's shy, questioning eyes caught his. "At a discrete distance, of course, little flower. I promised you privacy, did I not? Surely, you do not think I would break my promise?" An offended expression upon his face, the slaver groaned as though he were greatly put upon. "Come along, Captain. Let us find a good vantage spot from which we can watch for enemies."

"Aye, Shakh." Ubri looked down, his appearance as disheartened as his master's.

"Do not be so downcast, Captain. We will make the best of our exile with a skin of wine. Perhaps when we return, Inbir will have tea waiting for us." Esarhaddon slapped Ubri across the shoulders as they walked off together into the trees.

Knowing Lord Esarhaddon and his lieutenant all too well, the twins tarried a long time before beginning to disrobe. When they were confident that the men really had left, they slipped out of their clothing. Their willowy forms now nude, they shivered as they stood ankle-deep in the water, allowing their bodies to adjust to the temperature. Wading farther out, Elfhild sat down with a sigh in the knee-deep water and let the soothing current be a balm to her tortured back. How peaceful it seemed with the only sounds the chirping of birds and the pleasant babbling of the stream.

"Are you going to sit there all day, sister?" Elffled teased as she tossed a small cake of soap from one hand to the other. "There is not much soap here, and if you do not make haste, I might use it all up!"

Groaning, Elfhild reluctantly stood up, the cool water delightfully soothing as it cascaded over her body. After lathering herself up, Elfhild tossed the cake of soap over to her sister.

In addition to a small pat of soap, the slaver had allowed them to use his own towels with the monogram of the House of Huzziya embroidered in the bottom right corner. "What an absolute luxury to have such wonderful things as soap and fine towels here in the wilderness! Lord Esarhaddon must be very wealthy to be able to afford to give such niceties to slaves! Only in the house of a thane could such amenities be found back in the Mark! His house in Nurn must be very grand!" Elffled mused as she splashed water on her soapy body. She hoped a kind, rich man would buy her and her sister. Perhaps she might never learn to love her future master, but at least she and Elfhild would be well provided for all their days.

Their bathing finished, the twins talked quietly between themselves. This was the first chance they had been able to speak to each other in their own language with any degree of privacy. The sisters were eager to share their experiences since they had been recaptured. Elfhild told her twin about the dreadful apparition she had seen the night before. Elffled was sure that her sister had returned to her childhood habit of sleepwalking, while Elfhild insisted that she had been awake and really had seen a ghost. Had not Lord Esarhaddon said that the valley was a strange place?

As they talked, the girls gradually felt their tensions relaxing and their spirits lifting. For a while, at least, they could be free to be themselves without worrying about constant scrutiny and endless protocol. Soon they were playing in the water like children, laughing and splashing each other. Giggling, almost giddy with the temporary freedom, the girls threw water at each other's faces. Impetuously, Elfhild gave a mighty kick and sent a wave of water raining down over her sister.

Unbeknownst to the twins, Esarhaddon and Ubri had not gone far. Angling away from the stream, they had stealthily crept back from another direction. Selecting a location from whence they could see the girls without being seen, the two men crouched low behind a dense growth of heavy underbrush and spied upon the two unsuspecting girls.

"Captain," Esarhaddon whispered as his eyes narrowed predatorily, "what do you think of them?"

"My lord, they are everything you said they would be and more! The buyers will be hot for them!" Ubri exclaimed, his tongue flicking at his thin lips, almost salivating with lust.

"Captain, if you will, envision how lovely they will be after their unseemly body hair has been removed and their ivory skin has been softened with perfumed oils!"

"I am, lord, I am!" Ubri tried to control the desire in his voice, but he was almost panting, his eyes bulging from their sockets. "Many men would die for a chance to plunder the untouched treasures between their legs and draw the ruby wine of their virginity!"

Grinning, the slaver put his hand on Ubri's forearm. "Captain, we do not want anyone to die for that pleasure. We want them to pay, and pay outrageously."

Exploring the course of the stream, the twins waded out into the deeper water. As the sun streamed down through the barren branches, the light seemed to turn the two beauties into mystical nymphs dancing in the sunbeams. Squealing playfully, Elfhild grabbed her twin's shoulders and dunked her under the water. When Elffled ascended to the surface, her hair was a thick wet curtain over her face. Bending down, she plunged her head back in the water, then flung it back, sending her soaked golden hair flying and scattering droplets of water which sparkled in the sun.

Oblivious to their silent audience, the sisters splashed and played in the stream, losing all track of time. Her cupped hands skimming beneath the surface of the stream, Elfhild launched sprays of water at her sister's face. Giggling wildly, Elffled retaliated with a series of high kicks that cut through the water and splashed her sister square in the face. Elfhild laughed so hard that she clutched her side, but then the laughter died in her throat when a slight movement on the other side of the stream caught her eye. Squinting, she peered across the water and into the trees beyond. Suddenly a monstrous shape stumbled through the trees and fell just inches from the water.

"It is an orc!" Elfhild screamed.

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