The Circles - Book Six - Chapter 1

The Circles - Book Six - Across the Wide Hamada
Chapter One
The Road to Cirith Ungol
Written by Angmar and Elfhild

Cirith Ungol, June 26, year 3019 of the Third Age under the Sun

After the dreadful little skirmish before Cirith Ungol, Esarhaddon and his men, under a heavy guard of fearsome Mordorian uruks, were escorted up the winding mountain road which led to the grim fortress. Their hands bound, they walked with the solemn silence of condemned men on their way to the gallows, the only sound an occasional groan from Ubri. Whenever their steps faltered, the uruks drove them forward with the glinting points of their spears. The prisoners beheld the jagged peaks of the Morgai towards the East, and beyond that the dismal plateau of Gorgoroth, which stretched as far as the eye could see. With each step, their apprehension grew, so that by the time they had reached the great arched gate of the stronghold's outer court, their disquietude was almost a palpable entity, brooding and intense. Their eyes wide and fearful, Elfhild and Elffled cast furtive glances around at their surroundings. Though the land around Cirith Ungol was bleak and grim, this might be the last time the sisters ever saw mountains, the sun, the sky.

Flanking the gate were two fearsome statues, the likes of which the twins had never seen before. Each immense grotesque depicted three sitting figures with the bodies of men, the heads of vultures, and the hands of clawed beasts. All six of the mighty figures faced a different direction - outward, inward, and towards the open gate. As the girls were dragged through the gauntlet of their stony gazes, a shiver rippled through their bodies and a darkness passed over their minds. Not only did these statues depict evil beings, but they were evil in themselves. Though they were made of stone, the statues were somehow alive, filled with malice and ill will. Her teeth chattering, Elfhild forced her trembling legs to take her onward. Elffled dogged her steps, her head bowed and her gaze downcast, not daring to look up at the barbaric uruks or the foreboding tower which loomed before them.

Risking a furtive glance at Esarhaddon, Elfhild winced when she saw his blood-soaked pantaloon leg, the rich crimson oozing from a gash in his calf. Her heart was moved by pity, and she longed to bind his wounds and comfort him. Why had this terrible calamity befallen them? She thought Esharaddon was a prominent and influential man who was a respected ally of Mordor and had many high-ranking friends in the military… But perhaps such a powerful man had powerful enemies as well. Elfhild remembered the incident with the Morgul Toll, and how Esarhaddon's fit of temper had angered the Seneschal of the City. Perhaps the slave trader liked to pinch coins too much for the likings of his superiors, and his miserly ways would be the doom of them all.

What tortures awaited them all in the dungeons of Cirith Ungol? Would Esarhaddon and his men be executed for whatever crimes they had supposedly committed? What would become of her and Elffled if they lost their only protectors? Would they be executed alongside their master, or given over to the uruks for sport? The blood drained from Elfhild's face, and she became ashen pale. She glanced over at Elffled, who shared her grimace of terror.

During the doleful ascent, Esarhaddon had not attempted to speak to his men or the captive girls. Reaching the entrance to the tower, he turned his head and looked beyond them towards a point on the distant mountains. His expression undecipherable, he stayed there only a moment before one of the guards grabbed his shoulder and shoved him roughly inside. Ganbar and Inbir, their bodies aching from innumerable minor wounds, bruises and scratches, shuffled into the tower behind their master. Ubri, who had suffered a head wound, was carried unceremoniously by two resentful uruks. The two brutes, who looked much put upon, would have been overjoyed if they could simply hurl his limp body over the sheer cliffs below the tower.

Each of the Southrons struggled with his own overburdened thoughts, save for Ubri, who was past the point of having any thought at all. Esarhaddon, a master at concealing his emotions, gritted his teeth and tried not to give in to the pain in his wounded leg, but every time he took a step, he left behind a trail of blood. Ganbar could barely see through eyes that were swollen almost shut. Still he looked back at the girls and gave them a bleary smile. "Do not lose--" was all he had been able to say before a tall uruk cuffed him in the side of the head.

Plodding along behind the others, Inbir wondered how soon it would be before the comrades of the uruks whom he had slain or wounded decided to wreak their revenge upon him. He felt sick with despair when he considered what horrors might be awaiting the slave girls in the tower. They were innocent and did not deserve whatever cruel torments their captors had in store for them. He also worried about the fate of the party's horses, which had been forcefully led, struggling and bucking, to a stable yard beside the tower. He had always heard that the orcs had a taste for horse meat, and he wondered if at that very moment the fine Southern steeds were being butchered.

Once inside the tower, the six prisoners were led down the main hall, a long, torch-lit corridor. The great hall was a chamber of nightmares to the twins, for everywhere they looked they saw leering orcs, hulking uruks in whose veins ran the blood of both man and orc, and small mountain goblins who shunned the sunlight. On the walls were displayed standards of the Great Eye and the banners of prominent orc tribes and clans hailing from the territory around Cirith Ungol. Here and there doors branched off the main corridor, leading to other halls and chambers. Stopping before one of these branching corridors, Corporal Bekir conferred with the uruk at his side before addressing the rest of his men.

"Take the slave trader and his companions to the cells in Corridor Three!" the Corporal told the uruks. "After they have been stripped and searched, they can cool off for a while before the Commandant interrogates them! You know where to take the wenches. I will join them later. That will be all." After acknowledging his men's salutes, he turned on his heel and walked with the uruk, their footsteps echoing hollowly along the corridor.

Escorted by two guards, Elfhild and Elffled were herded down the main hall and marched up a winding set of stairs. Their surroundings passed by in a blur of shadows and flickering torchlight, leaving them disoriented and confused. When they reached the second level of the tower, another long, torch-lit hall met their eyes, and down at the end of the passageway stood a closed door. Their spears crossed over the entry, their feet spread wide apart, the two huge uruks who guarded the entrance growled menacingly at the girls. Gasping, the startled sisters let out a frightened cry and jumped backward, cringing against each other in terror.

"Let us pass, Gloklaguz! We have orders from the Corporal to take this pair through," one of the twins' guards snarled. Drawing out a rolled up parchment from the pouch at his belt, he presented the orders to the door wardens. Grim and silent, his fellow looked on, keeping a watchful eye on the twins.

"More play toys for Bekir, eh, lads?" Gloklaguz chortled, eying the girls with lust-filled eyes. "And I always thought 'e preferred them fancy-smellin' Khandian youths with eyebrows that meet in the middle and eyes made up like women!"

"You fool! None of that stuff!" the guard bellowed. "These two are special, real special! Keep your filthy paws off 'em! You got to treat 'em delicately like! Now get out of our way!" Growling, both guards glared at the impertinent door warden.

"Certainly, certainly, Conog and Pagoj! Don't get all huffy!" Gloklaguz grumbled as he and the other warden moved their spears aside and opened the great iron door.

Before Elfhild and Elffled lay a circular chamber which had many doors branching away from the center, each door policed by fierce uruks. In the middle of the room burned a small brazier, its charcoal glowing dully in the gloom. There were benches and a large trestle table on one side, the furniture showing marring and damage from drunken rough-housing. The air was heavy and oppressive, reeking of stale draught, sweat and urine. As the twins entered the room, all eyes turned in their direction and they were met by a rousing ovation of hoots, whistles, and lewd remarks. Their hearts pounded in terror. They would die here, raped by the orcs and the men who commanded the fortress!

"Ho, Conog!" one of the uruks called out, looking up from his game of bones. "By Melkor's randy black cock! Did you and Pagoj bring us some quim?" Eying the twins from head to foot, he licked his lips. "Looks a lot fresher than last time!"

"Ay', not like those 'e brought a few months ago!" his partner in the game snorted as he rolled a three and a four. "Those wenches were eaten out by the pox! My brother caught it from them, and the scourge nearly rotted off 'is prick, it did! Ain't nothing left of it but a little nub, an' now they all call 'im Master Stub!" Howling in laughter, he slapped his thigh. The other orcs joined him in uncouth mirth, chuckling and hooting.

"Shut up, you mangy elf buggerer!" the other uruk growled, rolling the die again. "You're just trying to distract me from the game!"

"You ain't got no appreciation for poetry, and besides, I've already won the game!" The brute's yellow eyes flicked to the die and then back to his partner. Smug in his triumph, he flashed a toothsome grin, his lips pulling back from his fangs as he gathered up his winnings.

Their faces flooded with shame, the twins were led past the jeering orcs to the third door on their left. Conog presented Bekir's orders, and after a quick perusal, the guard stepped aside to allow them to pass.

The twins found themselves in a small anteroom, surprisingly well-lit and pleasantly appointed. The chamber was decorated in the Eastern style that the girls were coming to find as familiar as the thatched roof huts of their homeland. Tapestries hung from the wall and exotic rugs covered the clean wooden floor; an ornate brass brazier stood close to a low table. On one side of the room, there was a low couch of ebony-wood, its seat covered by gold and burgundy cushions.

The doorman, a short, squat goblin who was slightly humpbacked, rose from his bench by the door and greeted the two uruks. "Well, Conag and Pagoj, what do you have for me today?" Licking his lips, he ogled the twins, who, despite their petite stature, appeared tall and statuesque to his eyes.

"See for yourself, you deformed runt!" Conag glared as he shoved Bekir's orders in the orc's face.

"Oh, I see!" the doorman smiled broadly as he took a step closer to the twins. They noticed that he walked with a limp; probably a wound incurred in the war or in one of the many orc brawls. "He wants them taken to the playroom! This should be bloody good fun!" Clapping his hands together, the orc cackled fiendishly.

Scowling, Conag bared his fangs in a vicious snarl, which sent the smaller orc cringing. "Not fun for you, Sokul, unless you want your balls cut off and your legs broken before you are thrown head first into the latrine!" The other guard's yellow eyes narrowed menacingly, further emphasizing Conag's threat.

"Don't want none of that!" Sokul shuddered at the thoughts of being tossed into the reeking cesspit. "Here, here, don't let your bowels get in an uproar! I'll let you in!" Opening a narrow arched door to the side, he led the way into a large rectangular room. High above, the thin slit of a barred window let in a dim shaft of light, the chamber's only illumination. The cold, dark room had an evil aura about it which sent chills down the twins' spines, but Sokul's next words frightened them far more. "Now, me fine lads, let's search 'em, and in no time at all we'll have 'em all trussed up and pretty for Bekir." The doorman chuckled menacingly. "Who knows how long they will have to wait before the Corporal gets to 'em?"

Unable to bear anymore, Elffled screamed, her shrill voice echoing off the stone walls of the spacious chamber. She was going to die in this miserable place, just another wretched prisoner of the tower! Horrible things happened in this room; horrible, unspeakable things. Blood soaked the walls and floors, blood that would never dry, blood which puddled in impenetrable dark shadows, the essence of suffering. The stains on the grim stone told a gruesome narrative of anguished screams and fiendish laughter, the agony of those being tortured and the perverse glee of those dealing out their torments. Soon she and Elfhild would be just another gory tale, another stain upon the wall. When Conag lay a beefy paw on her arm, Elffled burst out into loud, wailing sobs, her body shaking uncontrollably. She and her sister were going to die!

"Stop blubbering, wench!" Sokul snarled as Conag held the hysterical girl while he yanked off her cloak. "If you don't want your clothes ripped from your body, then you'll do what we say!" Laughing and jeering, the uruks forced a terrified Elffled to undress before them. When Elfhild tried to rush to her sister, Pagoj seized her by the arm, wrenching it painfully behind her back. Whimpering with discomfort, she was forced to stand still, the uruk's heavy breathing blowing hot against her ear.

"Don't be in such a hurry, wench!" Pagoj hissed in her ear. "It will be your turn soon enough!"

"Oi, will you look at this?" Sokul exclaimed as he saw the undertunic that Elffled wore. "It is covered in runic embroidery! Now 'ow would a slave girl from Rohan come about a fine garment such as this?" He cautiously touched the raised stitches, as though afraid they would burn his fingers. "The Corporal will be very interested in 'earin' about this!"

Nearly insensible with fear, Elffled closed her eyes and sobbed as the uruks pawed over her body and rifled through her garments. She tried to imagine that she was back in Rohan, but she found that she could not remember her old home clearly. Scenes which she tried to conjure up from her memories seemed blurry and out of focus, faded with the passage of time. In desperation, she tried to think about more recent memories, although few of them were pleasant. She thought back to the meads of white flowers which lay about Minas Morgul, and imagined that she stood before the splendored city, which shone softly in the muted light of dawn. As the light grew steadily brighter, she and Elfhild watched in awe as the streamers of gold and peach which painted the heavens turned the walls of the city into shades of apricot and coral. Hand in hand, they looked in awe as the golden orb of the Sun rose over the horizon. The glorious light sparkled off the alabaster walls and reflected from the silver domes and spires of the tall towers.

"Put yer clothes back on, wench," Sokul growled as he threw her garments at her feet. "We'll be keeping this fancy tunic and the silver coin that was in your pocket."

"Usually when we search prisoners, we lock 'em up naked and let 'em stew for a good long while, but our orders say to treat you real special like, since you're fine ladies." Conag threw his head back and laughed.

When Elffled had finished dressing, Sokul dragged her over to the wall and shoved her back against the stone. Thoroughly humiliated and disheartened, she did not even struggle as the orcs snapped manacles on her wrists and ankles. Soon her arms were chained to a bar high above her head, her feet shackled to the wall.

"All right, bring over the other one!" Conag directed as Pagoj pushed Elfhild forward. Her face burned with shame as she was forced to strip before the leering uruks, who hooted and whistled as she removed each garment. The sweat from their foul, groping hands left her skin feeling dirty, as though loathsome filth had been smeared all over her body. Her tormentors seemed especially interested in the strange embroidered undertunic which Shakh Awidan's servants had given her in Minas Tirith, and the silver coin which the Seneschal of Minas Morgul had tossed to her in a mocking jest. She did not understand why the tunics and the coins were the cause of such fascination, but she had a feeling that this did not bode well at all.

At last the humiliating inspection was over and the uruks gave her permission to dress. Soon Elfhild was chained beside her sister, who stood with her head bowed dejectedly, her long, yellow hair obscuring her tear-soaked face.

"Have an enjoyable wait until the Corporal is ready for you," Sokul laughed menacingly, a cruel smirk upon his ugly face. "You'll talk plenty when he tightens up the clamps on your nipples!"

Howling with laughter, the three uruks stamped out of the chamber and slammed the door behind them.

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