The Circles - Book Five - Chapter 4

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

"Surely you would not leave me here to die!" Elfhild’s tear-filled eyes raised pleadingly up to his, searching his inscrutable expression for some sign of mercy. "You just saved my life! That - that monster was going to torture me to death! How could you simply abandon me now?"

"It was your own choice, not mine," Esarhaddon replied somberly. "You have refused my offer, preferring freedom over slavery. Now you are free. Still I would take pity upon you and not leave you bereft of all comfort. Therefore, we shall part upon good terms and with a kiss of farewell."

With the raw zeal of a lion pouncing upon his prey, Esarhaddon grasped her face in both hands and kissed the astounded girl first on one cheek and then the other. Too shocked and confused to protest, Elfhild looked up at him, her blue eyes wide. The slaver's hungry lips sought her mouth as though it were a comb dripping with honey. As his hard, unrelenting mouth consumed hers, sucking at her tongue and drawing the sweet nectar out with it, a little gasp of protest escaped her lips before his kisses smothered her outcry into moans. His strong hands caressed her body between the ropes, his touch searing her flesh. Her breath came harsh and quick as the ropes crossing about her breasts squeezed them tighter and thrust them out against the slaver's chest. Her eyes fluttered closed as he pulled the braid from behind her shoulder and began to loosen the silken tresses. The slaver was almost tender as he sifted the strands between his fingers. In the depths of her being, she sensed that this man could be a gentle lover if he wished, but he must first possess and force a woman to his will. She wondered if he could ever drop his guard and allow anyone to see his soul beneath his unyielding urge to dominate.

Then, suddenly and unexpectedly, his taunting lips slipped away from hers, leaving them bruised and wet from his harsh mouth. Her face flushed crimson with shame, for she knew that he was fully aware of how her traitorous body had reacted to his touch. His fingers curling under her chin, the pad of a thumb pushing against her lower lip, he laughed in her face.

"Remember this caress, for there will be no others." Bending down, he kissed her gently on the forehead. Giving her a last sad look, he pivoted on his heel and strode to his horse.

"No! Wait! Please! Do not leave me here! I will starve to death! Please take me with you!" Utterly and completely astonished, her hopes broken, Elfhild watched the slaver walk away.

For a heavyset man, Esarhaddon carried his weight well, and when he swung into the saddle, he was as agile as a leopard. "Farewell!" he called out. Inclining his head, he touched his fingers to his chest and turned his horse to ride away.

"No! Wait!" Elfhild screamed, straining against the ropes which held her securely to the tree. "I never said I rejected your offer! Do not leave me! Please do not leave me! Mercy! Mercy!" Panic surged through her, and she began to sob hysterically. She would die out here in the wilderness!

She saw his wide shoulders straighten as his head turned sharply to one side. He had heard her! A touch of the rein on the mare's neck, and Ka'adara turned back obediently. He looked down at Elfhild for a long moment before dismounting. She gasped in fear as the slaver unsheathed his knife and walked briskly towards her. She saw the dagger slicing through the air towards her face, and she screamed, closing her eyes tightly, waiting for the death blow. As the flat side of the steel kissed her throat, she heard the slaver's mocking laugh, and her body went limp.

The slaver swiftly cut the ropes which held her to the tree, and when she fell forward, his arms were there to catch her. She was too weak and shaky to stand on her own, and, bracing her against the tree, he sliced through the cords which bound her wrists together. Cursing to himself at the sheer number of ropes which the orc had used to tie the girl, Esarhaddon cut through the final bonds, freeing her breasts from the hated cords. Elfhild felt an overwhelming surge of gratitude, but she was too shaken to speak. Then his strong, muscular arms were around her, lowering her to the ground. Through a dark sea of confusion and pain, Elfhild heard his husky voice murmuring softly in the seductive language of the Haradrim.

Kneeling in front of her, he briskly rubbed her numb limbs. She struggled to a sitting position, and her hands shook as she clumsily tried to cover her bare breasts with the tatters of her tunic. As the imprisoned blood poured through the restricted vessels within her arms and chest, pain exploded in a million bursting torrents. Moaning in agony, Elfhild sagged against the slaver and sobbed upon his shoulder. He cupped her chin in his hand and lifted her face up to his. With a finger, he traced the meandering trail of a teardrop down her cheek.

"Perhaps you will find that the yoke of slavery is not such a heavy burden to bear, but we shall see." He smiled at her look of frightened uncertainty, and felt a sudden warmth in his groin. Disentangling himself from her clinging arms, he stood up and stepped over to his mount. Soon he had returned with a waterskin, and, kneeling down, he held the opening to her parched lips.

"Drink deeply and forget the terrors of the past, my little beauty. Fate has smiled upon you, and you will find that now you have many other things with which to occupy your mind." He flashed her a grin, his full, sensual lips parting to reveal strong white teeth.

Elfhild looked up into the seething depths of the Southron's dark brown orbs, which boldly proclaimed endless torrid nights of steaming passion wrapped in his strong arms. She felt herself close to fainting. "Thank you... my lord," she mumbled weakly, struggling to bring her trembling hand up to steady the waterskin. What a fearful thing to fall into the hands of this fierce man! Perhaps she should have chosen to remain tied to the tree, but it was too late to turn back. Whatever the future brought, she and her sister must survive and stay together and hope that the winds of fate might change their direction in time. But, oh, how she dreaded to think what abuse and degradation might have to be endured until then!

"Already the color is beginning to return to your pale cheeks, a sign that you are regaining your strength," he announced, bringing his fingertips up to stroke over her cheek. His hand trailed down over her chin and under her jaw, exploring more as it dipped further down her torso. "Now what have I found here?" he asked as he pushed aside her hand, which had been desperately trying to hold together her torn tunic.

"No! Please! Do not!" she whimpered.

"Hush, girl! I am only trying to determine how severely your breasts have been damaged. Blemishes will lower your price." His fingers lightly touched the many bruises, cuts and scratches which marred her skin. "Those accursed ropes came close to cutting off the flow of blood! You probably know what would have happened had that occurred - your breasts would have rotted off." He frowned as he saw the look of fear in her eyes. "Now do not be frightened. I believe I found you in time to save you. Now I need to find something for you to wear. Although I have enjoyed feasting my gaze upon these luscious pomegranates, you cannot go around naked, especially since my men will be here soon." He rose to his feet. "I have a spare shirt in my saddlebags. That will have to do until we return to the caravan."

He walked to his horse and returned with a green shirt, much too large for her. "Here, cover yourself with this," he ordered her as he tossed her the garment.

"Thank you, my lord," she answered dully, turning away from him to strip off her old tunic. As she hastily pulled the new one over her head, she heard the pounding hooves of many horses.

Esarhaddon turned to face the sound, and, shading his eyes with his hand, gazed across the clearing. "Do not be afraid, little beauty. Those are my men." He smiled. "They must have finished with the task of disposing of the uruk's body and are now coming this way. If you will look there to the edge of the clearing," he motioned with a wave of his hand, "you will see a horse double-ridden trailing behind the others. That will be my man Inbir with your sister."

Following the sweep of his hand, Elfhild looked at the approaching horsemen, and her eyes lit up with joy when she saw her sister. She sent up a silent prayer to the Gods that Elffled had been able to escape the orcs. Now, though, she worried what the Southrons might do to her twin… what they might do to them both. Truly she and Elffled must have been born under an ill-fated star, to live in such horrible times.

Esarhaddon's men whooped and shouted as they trotted their horses into the clearing. Inbir had finally caught up with the others, and he looked past Elfhild as though she were part of the scenery. The four loyal uruks, who had been loping along behind, halted at a distance from the riders, spears held in their hands as they silently waited for new orders. Elffled, riding behind Inbir, peeked shyly around his shoulder at her sister.

"Silim, Shakh Esarhaddon uHuzziya," Ubri bowed, touching his hand to his heart. "It took us a while to cut a pole, but now the filthy uruk's head rests atop it, giving a warning that steel is a harsh vindicator. There, Sharapul's body will remain until the carrion birds, flies and wild animals have had a meal of him." Laughing, Ubri looked sideways at Ganbar, who sat slouching in the saddle. "My lord, did you know that we have a wit of surpassing excellence amongst us? I was never aware of his marvelous talent either, until Ganbar wrote an appropriate epitaph. It did not faze him a bit to affix his rare poetry to the brute's chest with a horseshoe nail."

"Perhaps not a literary achievement as those things go," Ganbar drawled as he turned his lanky frame in the saddle and smiled at Ubri. "But considering that I wrote it in the language that the beasts know, they should have no trouble in understanding it."

"Aye, Ganbar, a scholar is not needed to ascertain your meaning. My favorite part was, 'While Sharapul lost his head after he was stiff and dead, at least he kept the part that was dearest to his heart.'" Laughing, Ubri turned his gaze to Âmbalfîm's lifeless form. "Now, Lord Esarhaddon, what about the other dirty uruk who still lies yonder, stiffening in the sun and providing a bed for maggots?"

"Treat him the same as the other one!" Esarhaddon looked scornfully over to Âmbalfîm's body. "Decapitate the bastard and mount his head upon a pole. These rebels must learn the price of treachery! And if they are not capable of learning that, they must all be killed, every last one!"

"Aye, my lord Esarhaddon. We will put him beside the other so that all those who pass by will know fear." He turned to the four loyal uruks. "See to it, lads!"

Smiling maliciously, Farmak stepped forward. "Captain Ubri, with your permission, I might suggest something, a bit of devilishness that is common among the uruks."

"What is it?" Ubri asked, curious as to what the orc would suggest.

"Well, sir, it's like this. Sometimes when you've been wronged so bad, nothin' feels so good as takin' special vengeance upon your enemy. First slice off 'is stones and stuff them in 'is mouth; then you piss on 'im." His yellow eyes bright and gleaming, Farmak leaned forward, waiting for the captain's answer.

"I will have to think on that one for a moment," Ubri replied, laughing. Taking the wineskin from the pommel of his saddle, he drank deeply. "Although it is a harsh practice, the uruks are not the only ones known for their brutality. I have heard of this very thing done in Harad." He took another drink. "Go ahead. Let the lesson be a hard one." The other uruks and men nodded in agreement.

Then, suddenly, surprising them all, Elffled peered from around Inbir’s back and shyly spoke up. "My lords, if you may allow me to speak, there is something that I wish to say."

"Who speaks? Ah, the other sister." Esarhaddon turned his head to look at Elffled. "Yes, little beauty, you may speak. Inbir, bring her closer so that I might see her better," the slaver replied, letting his gaze roam over her body. His men knew the meaning of that appraising look in his eyes. Their lusty master was already seeing the lovely maiden lying naked upon silken cushions in his bedchamber. His sultry eyes caught hers, and she looked down in embarrassment, a pink blush spreading over her cheeks.

"My lord," Elffled began, her voice wavering slightly, "the dead uruk is known as Âmbalfîm." She paused, looking around at the men. "He was not like the other one, that Sharapul, who was a fiend. He attacked the other uruk to protect us, and told me to run away as fast as I could. I beg you not to desecrate his body, but give him a decent, honorable burial. I do not think that my sister and I would be alive today were it not for him." Tears sprang up in her lovely blue eyes, and she looked away.

"My lord, this Âmbalfîm was a coward, a lover of 'is own gender!" Farmak protested, for he had never been a friend of Âmbalfîm. "'E must have bewitched this silly girl!"

"Silence, Farmak!" Esarhaddon growled. "I never asked for your opinion."

Muttering to himself, Farmak hunched his shoulders and fell silent. The other uruks shuffled their feet, none of them willing to call down the fury of Esarhaddon upon themselves. The men watched in silence, each one holding his own council.

Stroking his beard thoughtfully as he weighed the matter in his mind, Esarhaddon never let his dark brown eyes leave Elffled's frightened face. "I do not believe the girl would lie about this. I will grant her request. Let it be done as she has said," his deep voice boomed out. "Villainy must always be punished while honor is rewarded, whether it is orc or man!" He looked to the scowling Farmak. "You and your lads tend to the burial of Âmbalfîm and treat his body with respect. Now go!"

The slaver waited until the uruks had trotted away before turning to his men. "This has been one hell of a day, and it is still the afternoon!" Esarhaddon was clearly disgusted. "Sometimes I wonder if there are not better ways of making a living." He turned to look to where the uruks had begun to dig Âmbalfîm's grave, and then glanced at Ubri. "Captain, we will rest here a few hours before turning south. Have your men set up camp in that grove of trees over there." He motioned with his hand to a cluster of tall, stately oaks. "That should be far enough away that we do not have to smell the stench of the ugly brute. Corpses make for poor companions at meals."

"As you wish, my lord." Ubri inclined his head slightly and then glanced at the twins. "And the slave girls? Do you want them tied up and guarded?"

"No, Captain," he replied, a gleam of desire flickering in his dark eyes. "We have spent too much time and effort in recapturing them, and I am going to indulge myself by gazing at their beauty while I eat."

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