The Circles - Book Five - Chapter 3

The Circles - Book Five - Through the Valley of Death
Chapter Three
Written by Angmar and Elfhild

Esarhaddon uHuzziya was in a much better mood than he had been the day before. Then he had been so discouraged by the failure of the search for the escaped slaves that he had been close to abandoning the hunt. Though it appeared now that the other slaves would never be retrieved, at least two of the most valuable had been found. "The rarity of blonde twins in the lands of the South and East should command a price high enough to offset the losses incurred by the escape of the others," Esarhaddon calculated, mentally tallying his costs compared to the going market rate for attractive virgins in the Nurnian slave market. He certainly hoped that the twins were still virgins. One could never be completely certain when it came to the chastity of these wanton Northern peasant girls.

Riding over to the tree where Elfhild was tied, the slaver's excitement at his triumph intensified. He threw his right leg over the pommel of his saddle and dropped to the ground. Tossing down the reins of the well-trained mare, he strode forward until he stood directly in front of the bound girl. At the sight of her, his breath caught in his throat, the sudden stirring in his loins verifying her desirability. Tied and helpless, so vulnerable in her bondage, she was even more alluring than an experienced courtesan. What could be more stimulating than possessing complete power over such a beautiful woman? No man could enjoy that pleasure more than he!

When Esarhaddon caught the flash of aquamarine eyes, he could not deny the effect she was having on his body. He breathed heavier as he beheld her flushed face, heaving chest, and the streaming golden hair which had escaped from her braid and trailed over one shoulder. How her naked breasts jutted delightfully from between the tight ropes wrapped about her chest! His piercing eyes shone with growing fire as they raked over the contours of her hips and long, shapely legs, plainly visible in the men's breeches which she wore. How this little barbarian from the North was arousing him! He envisioned how she would look in the throes of passion, moaning as she yielded herself completely to him. Aye, she was a tender flower who had been created for love!

He must not think that way! Profit was far more important than fleshly pleasures that lasted but a short while and then were over. Gold was all that endured! This one and her sister would be set aside to be sold as virgins. Perhaps if they proved worthy, he would keep them in his harem for a time to receive training and education. This would cause their value to increase even more. No matter how much it cost him in personal frustration and discomfort, he would sell both of these girls as virgins upon the auction block in Nurn.

If Elfhild had known the thoughts of the man who stood but a few feet away from her, she would been appalled. Fortunately for her, she was not yet aware of the surging desire which raged like wildfire in his heated loins. Still dazed by her close brush with death, she could only stare at the Southron as though she were in a trance. Gradually through the cloudy mists which filled her mind, the horrible reality of who he was flooded her addled senses - Esarhaddon uHuzziya - the cruel Southern slaver who claimed ownership of all of the captives!

Instinctively, she cringed against the tree, the rough bark digging into her back. She desperately wanted to cover her nakedness, but her arms were tied behind her back. She could feel the slaver's eyes boring into her bound breasts; did he guess the purpose of the cruel bonds, the obscene tortures which she had suffered? Would he feel pity and rescue her, or would he subject her to torments even worse than those of Sharapul? After all, she had dared to defy him by trying to escape, and no doubt he had been angered by her audacity. Perhaps he would punish her for her disobedience by slitting her throat and leaving her for the carrion birds!

The slaver halted a short distance from the girl, his eyes gleaming as he gazed at her exposed breasts. Bowing slightly from the waist, he touched his fingers first to his heart, then his lips, and finally to his forehead in a mocking parody of his people's custom of greeting. "After a long and arduous chase, at last we meet again, O most comely daughter of the North! Peace be unto you! May the worthy sire who sowed his seed in your mother's fruitful womb be eternally blessed, for your beauty surpasses the Moon in his fullness!"

His dark brown eyes smiled predatorily at her from beneath thick black brows which nearly met in the middle. Elfhild noticed that the slaver had a small mole under his right eye, which gave his face even more character. A high, proud nose curved like the hook of a hawk's beak was set over his full, sensuous lips. Well-groomed and oiled, a black mustache and beard tinged with only a hint of gray set off his handsome, arrogant face. A magnificent white turban was wrapped around his head, the uniqueness of the bizarre headdress only making him appear more foreign and exotic to Elfhild's eyes.

Blinking away her tears, she took in every detail of her captor, admiring his broad shoulders and muscular build. She sensed the power that lay within the man. How confident and proud he seemed! How strong he must be -- and, oh, how dangerous! If he had entered one of the strong man contests in one of the fairs in the Mark, he would surely put the strongest Rider to shame! She yearned to touch his muscular arm, to feel the bulging biceps, to squeeze them and feel them flex. Oh, what was she thinking? She felt a hot blush infuse her cheeks, but yet she could not look away from this brawny Southron who transfixed her with his eyes.

His long, flowing dark green burnoose was open, revealing a tan tunic and loose-fitting brown trousers. A red sash was wrapped about his middle, which was on the thick side, giving evidence that he was a connoisseur of rich viands and good living. She shuddered at the sight of the jewel-hilted scimitar at his waist and remembered its recent deadly work - deadly work, aye, but a blow from that blade had saved her life. A feeling of gratitude washed over her, and she felt the urge to thank him, to grovel at his feet in appreciation. The thought horrified her, for he was an enemy of her people, and his trade was one of the most despicable and shameful upon the face of Middle-earth!

"Flower of the Northern forests, how foolish you were to suppose that you could elude me for long!" he stated, his voice both admonishing and amused. His tone irritated her, for he sounded condescending, as though she were a silly child and he had caught her in some naughtiness. "Perhaps in your present state of distress you do not remember me, beauty, but I am your master, Esarhaddon uHuzziya! I have come to reclaim you and take you home!" he exclaimed with an elaborate rolling flourish of his hand.

"I remember you," Elfhild whispered. All too well, she thought. This very man was the one of the reasons why the women had made their desperate escape attempt!

Closing the short distance between them, the slaver stood in front of her, arms crossed over his chest. The bejeweled rings on his fingers sparkled as they caught the sunlight and reflected a myriad of flashing rainbow colors into Elfhild's eyes. A lowly peasant, she felt intimidated by the slaver's ostentatious display of wealth. The urge to lower her eyes before this rich lord came over her, but she did not want to cower before an enemy, even though she was half naked and bound to a tree. She blushed as she realized he was openly lusting for her, and the ruddy flush that had spread over her face and neck deepened when she realized that this sensual, worldly Southron was having a strong effect upon both her mind and body.

Methodically, the slaver's eyes ranged over the hills and valleys of her slender form, taking in every detail, comparing the virtues to the faults and calculating the total value. He could have been a mapmaker charting and graphing a contour map of her body. Seemingly satisfied, he smiled arrogantly and leaned forward, his face just inches from hers, his breath smelling pleasantly of mint. She started, her frightened eyes darting back and forth as his large, hairy hands pressed against the tree trunk on both sides of her head.

"Which one of the two sisters are you?"

Elfhild summoned up all of the courage she could muster. "Elfhild daughter of Eadbald of Grenefeld," she replied proudly.

"That name is displeasing to my ears, but no matter. I will change it when I find a more suitable one." He flashed her a stern look that told her that this was a man accustomed to commanding others, and that he would accept no argument. "Beauty, as you know, I just slew a uruk in my employ. I would like to know the reason why this worthless dog turned rogue and committed such acts of treachery." His voice was nonchalant, but the troubled expression in his eyes did not match the careless smile on his lips, and the right corner of his bottom lip began to twitch involuntarily. Elfhild suspected that he was far more bothered by the fight with Sharapul than he was revealing.

"That orc was a cruel and wicked monster." Elfhild shuddered with the memories of the abuse she had received at his hands, and the ghastly fate that could have befallen her had not the Southron slain her tormentor. "My sister and I had adopted the disguise of boys, hoping that if any of your men should come upon us, we would not be recognized..." Though the slaver did not comment on this disclosure, she saw his eyes flicker with newfound understanding, the hint of a smile turning up the corners of his mouth. "However, ah," she averted her eyes and cleared her throat, "it seems that these orcs like other..."

"Males. Aye, I know." He nodded his head. "But continue."

"When Sharapul found out that my sister was not a boy, he became enraged. He then came for me, and I fainted dead away. While I lay in a stupor, he and his friend must have come to blows, for when I awoke, his friend lay dead upon the ground. Sharapul blamed me for his demise. It was his intent to – to take out his vengeance upon me. He was going to rip off my toenails and then skin me alive! That is why he bound me to this tree, so I - I could not escape!" Elfhild's voice quavered and then broke with emotion. She began sobbing, her body shaking against the ropes which bound her.

Esarhaddon glanced away from her to where Âmbalfîm lay. "What you say does not surprise me; these half-breeds such as Sharapul are sometimes worse than the pure strains, for they combine man's cunning with orc treachery. Aberrations are common when monsters are mixed with man." He turned back to the captive girl and studied her intently. "Your lip is split - I suppose the bastard did that to you." His voice was gentle as he touched a finger to her mouth.

"Aye, lord," she whispered, disarmed by his concern. Her heart fluttered in her chest, and her legs seemed to melt under her. For once she was glad for the ropes which supported her.

"And your cheek is bruised here... and here..." He lightly stroked the blotches where the orc had struck her. "The injuries will heal quickly and leave no blemish to harm your beauty," he murmured softly as his fingers wiped away one of her tears.

"You… you came just in time," Elfhild grudgingly admitted, her cheeks reddening as she looked away.

Esarhaddon’s hand slid under her chin to lift her face up to look up into his. "Now tell me," he commanded her, a harsh glint in his eyes, "what has become of the third uruk who traveled with Sharapul and his catamite?"

"I do not know... While I was running from the orcs, I fainted," she admitted sheepishly, embarrassed by her own weakness.

A gloating, supercilious look of triumph upon his face, he chuckled. "My gentle beauty, need I remind you that none of this would have happened to you had you not run away from me?" The flush on Elfhild’s face deepened, and she averted her eyes in shame. "Ha! You need not answer that. Your expression tells all. Now there are other matters which must be addressed. This other uruk - was he involved in the killing of the old man whom we found up the trail?"

"All three of them ambushed us, but it was that heartless monster, the one you slew, who killed Tarlanc," Elfhild grated out, anger surging through her at the thought of the death of that poor old man. "I am sure of that!" Then, her expression turning puzzled, she asked, "Why do you want to know?"

"So I might know whether my men and I should hunt him down and kill him. Do not think that this has anything to do with the dead man. He is nothing to me, for he was a Gondorian and an enemy of my people. What is of importance, however, is whether or not the uruk blatantly disobeyed my orders and went after booty with the others. If he did, he will die! All of my servants must obey me!" Moving closer to her, he traced the contour of her chin with his hand. "Man maintains a tenuous rule over the uruks. If we do not control these beasts and keep them under the iron grip of discipline, they will kill us all. Now we will speak no more of this, for there is a matter of far more immediate import."

"What is it?" Elfhild felt herself tensing at the slaver’s words, for there was an intensity in his face which frightened her. Tied to the tree as she was, she was utterly helpless and completely at his mercy, and she worried that this Haradric slave trader might possess only a small share of that esteemed virtue.

"Know that I am a just and merciful man, and so for that reason, I offer you a choice between servitude and freedom. I would not have you go into slavery against your best interests. Therefore, as an unwed maiden with no protector and no fortune of your own and far from your home and kin, you must admit that for your well-being and protection, you accept the necessity of servitude." His fingers lightly brushed over her neck where the slave collar had once rested. The slaver's face was very close to hers, their lips almost touching. His breath, tinged with mint, struck her cheek in soft puffs as he spoke. His body smelled of horse sweat, saddle leather, and some mysterious aroma which reminded her of a fragrant wood. Overpowering everything else was the aroma of his perspiration, an intensely masculine scent.

"And what if I will not?" Elfhild looked up at him questioningly. Though she did not want to admit it, his words held the bitter ring of truth. She was all alone in a brutal, heartless world, with no way to provide for herself and no one to protect her from the many threats which lurked in the wilderness.

"Then if you elect to remain free, I shall not gainsay you. If you agree to this, when I file all the appropriate papers with the Mordorian government, I will state that you perished in the attempt to escape, and your body was never found. It will be as though you had never existed. Far better that matters should stand this way than for me to persuade you to accept slavery when you feel that it is in your best interests to do otherwise. If you prefer freedom, it is yours; take it with my blessing!"

Elfhild raised a skeptical eyebrow. "You mean you would really let me go?" Surely there was some catch. Nothing that sounded this good could be true.

"Aye. I am a man of my word. You are free to go," he replied, brushing his fingertips lightly over her cheek.

"Are you not going to untie me?"

"Ahhh," he lay a hand upon his forehead and sighed mournfully, "That cannot be done, for when I grant you freedom, I will release you from my power, and thus I will have no more part in your destiny. If you can devise some way of untying your bonds, I will have no objections. Though I will not aid you, I will do nothing to prevent your escape." Beneath his heavy eyelids, he looked at her sorrowfully, the corners of his mouth turning down even more dejectedly. "Though I wish that it might be otherwise," he murmured softly, "our time together has drawn to a close. The moment of departure is at hand and now I must say farewell. Go in peace."

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