The Circles - Book Six - Chapter 20

The Circles - Book Six - Across the Wide Hamada
Chapter Twenty
Doom Shall Fall
Written by Angmar

"Tushratta, does this have to be so damned painful?" Esarhaddon growled, glaring at the physician. Having finished treating his employer's other wounds, Tushratta was suturing up the wicked looking gash on his forehead. "I thought you applied some foul concoction to dull the pain!"

"I used an unguent composed of mandrake extract and other salubrious ingredients, Shakh, but apparently I did not apply quite enough." Tushratta sighed, much put upon. "If my lord had only listened to my advice—"

"Your advice be damned!" Esarhaddon rumbled as a slave boy handed him a goblet. Wincing in pain, he took a hefty swallow of wine. "Just be quick about mending me! The execution will begin shortly, and my presence is required!"

"My advice would have stood you in good stead if you had only taken it," Tushratta replied patiently. "It is beyond my comprehension why you insisted upon going about that business last night when you could have sent your men." The physician stepped back slightly and surveyed his work. "You were not satisfied with reopening your leg wound - no, you had to break your middle finger and get your head laid open! Not to mention numerous lacerations, scrapes and bruises!" His hand steady, Tushratta seemed to jab the needle through the torn skin on the slaver's forehead with a vengeance.

"Damn!" Esarhaddon shouted, suddenly raising off the cushions where he was propped. "Are you trying to puncture my brain?"

"Trepanation is not warranted for this injury, my lord," Tushratta remarked dryly, a sparkle of amusement in his eyes. "Be patient a little longer; I am almost finished now." The physician looked pleased at his neat, crisscrossing stitches.

"Finally! I think you did me more damage than did the uruks!" The slave trader's supply of patience was almost exhausted. With a sigh, he sank back into the cushions.

"There, done," the physician announced as he tied off the thread. Turning to the slave boy at his side, he placed the bloody needle and thread in the metal tray that the servant carried. After he had bandaged Esarhaddon's head, Tushratta pushed back the sleeves of his tunic and washed his arms up to the elbow, careful to scrub under his fingernails.

"I thought you would never be done with stitching me up, Tushratta!" Esarhaddon exclaimed hotly. "What is the time anyway?" He glanced at the small sand clock on one of the low tables.

"Halfway through the fourth watch, my lord," Tushratta informed him. The physician dried his hands, glancing at his blood-spattered sleeves before turning them down. "It will be dawn soon." He sighed, weary from the long night. Treating his employer had taken up a lengthy amount of time, and he still had others to attend. Far too many had been wounded in the melee for Aziru and the servants to handle alone. At least Esarhaddon had given him permission to enlist those captive women who had experience in tending the sick to help with the wounded. The Khandian doctor had actually been surprised at the number of women who willingly offered their aid to help both friend and foe. He had to admire their compassion.

"Master," Carnation cleared his throat to attract Esarhaddon's attention, "it is time for you to change your clothing before the execution."

"I do not want to keep the honored guests waiting, so let us make haste." Esarhaddon smiled. "Help me stand." He nodded to the tall eunuch, who assisted him in rising to his feet. Suddenly his wounded leg crumpled under him, and he let out a low moan.

"My lord," Khaldun exclaimed, concern filling his luminous brown eyes, "let me be of help!"

"No need for that, Lieutenant," Esarhaddon replied as Carnation and the slave boys helped him take off his bloodied garments. Solicitously the servants inquired if he wished for a bath, but he replied, "No time for that. Just a bowl of water will do."

After the servants had cleaned their master's body of dried blood, they dressed him in a white linen undertunic embroidered with charms against evil; a crisp white silk shirt and long green tunic; tan pantaloons; and a green sash about his middle. Completing Esarhaddon's ensemble were soft leather riding boots and a dark green burnoose. His turban, which a servant wound carefully about his head, was creamy white, adorned with a gray aigrette studded with a ruby. He looked so splendid that an observer would have thought he was dressing for a state occasion.

He turned to Carnation, who hovered nearby, his hands fluttering nervously at his sides. "Is my horse saddled?"

"My lord," Carnation bowed, "no—"

"Why not?" Esarhaddon bellowed, riveting the eunuch with a malicious look. "I ordered that Ka'adara was to be readied for me!"

"My lord," Carnation looked to the physician for help, "I was told that a horse was unneeded."

"And why not? Am I supposed to walk?" Esarhaddon asked, his face turning dark with indignation.

"My lord," Tushratta's calm voice replied, "considering all your innumerable injuries, I thought it unwise for you to ride. Instead I have ordered a litter to take you to the execution."

"A litter!" Esarhaddon exploded. "What do you think I am? Some pampered concubine to be hauled about in a fine litter filled with cushions and hung with silken curtains?" Looking quite murderous, he clenched his left fist in fury, but a sharp pain tore through his broken finger. Wincing, he took a deep breath and waited for the pain to subside.

"My lord, since you have been injured, you placed your life into my hands, and I feel that it would be far better if you rested a few days before traveling." Tushratta's placid, solemn gaze met Esarhaddon's angry eyes. "Not only have you suffered a mild concussion, but you have sustained a wicked gash on your head. Your leg wound has reopened, and there is always the possibility that, in spite of all I have done, it could turn poisonous. If you were not as strong as a bull mûmak, you probably could not even walk. Other men would take to their beds."

"I am not other men to let a few injuries turn me into an invalid," the slaver fumed, deep, scowling lines puckering his forehead.

"Then, my lord, what is the point in having a healer if you will not listen to him? I have done all I can do, and if you will not follow my advice, I do not accept the consequences," Tushratta replied in his unemotional voice. "Now if you have nothing else that you require, I will take my leave." He rose to go.

"Tushratta, I have not dismissed you," Esarhaddon spat out a warning. "When you tell me to ride in a litter like a pampered concubine, I consider your advice nonsense! Now order my horse saddled!" He leaned down to pick up his goblet, and immediately a wave of darkness passed before his eyes. Dizzy, he staggered, and instantly Khaldun and two servants were by his side. He would never admit it to Tushratta, but his head throbbed as though a djinn were dancing inside it, his leg wound ached with the pain of ten thousand dragon bites, and he could hardly take a deep breath without the pain slamming into him like the blow from a hammer. To top it all off, his splinted broken finger was a nuisance that he constantly caught on the hem of his sleeve. "All right, Tushratta," he wheezed, "you have convinced me. I will take the litter!"

When Esarhaddon had been brought back from the orc camp early that morning, one of his first directives to his men concerned the death sentence of the savage uruk attackers. His original plan had been to detail a few men under Lieutenant Ubri to take the surviving rebels outside the camp and quickly slay them. If possible, the body of their chief, the priest Drâgh, would be recovered, his head severed and placed on a pole to serve as a warning to any who might be contemplating rebellion. Then his headless corpse, along with the carcasses of the other rebels, would be thrown on a great pile and left to molder, food for maggots, ravens, vultures, and the fell beasts of the Nazgûl. While the bloody work was being carried out, the slain girl would be buried under a cairn of rock far from the mound of her murderers. Feeling a surge of kindness, Esarhaddon had agreed to allow the girl's mother, sister, and a few friends to perform any rites as were customary for their people.

However, a deputation of guards had come to him with requests from the women. Citing the tragic death of the slain girl and the many sufferings and depredations which they had endured during the mutiny, the women pled for redress. "Give us revenge, O gracious lord!" they had entreated him. The guards had been mildly amused by the women's vehemence, but they had presented their petitions to the chief slaver just the same.

Considering his own injuries and those of his men; the deaths of several of his Haradric guards, all kinsmen; the murder of a valuable slave girl; the rape of three others; and the consequent loss of a percentage of his profit, Esarhaddon was willing to be merciful to the Rohirric captives. He would agree to let all the women and their children be present at the execution. When messengers traveled about the camp announcing his decree, many of the women bowed down at the sound of his name, kissing the earth, and hailing him as "Esarhaddon the Just." Of course, they wanted blood, and if he would give it to them, they would love him for it - at least for that day.

There were a number of benefits in making the execution public, the slave trader's cunning mind told him. His men held no love for the uruks, and a spectacle could be just the thing to improve their morale. With their thirst for vengeance satiated, the Rohirric women might be more tractable. Though Esarhaddon had lost in numerous ways, this plan might provide an opportunity to achieve intangible benefits. He would allow a delay in the departure of the caravan for a few hours while the festivities took place, and all would enjoy the chance for a holiday. With those satisfying thoughts in mind, he turned himself over to the physician, who smiled softly as he placed the blessed poppy draught in his hands.

While Esarhaddon's wounds were being treated, the implementation of his plans for the public execution was set into motion. Since a large number of the women, along with their children, were eager to see the spectacle, it was deemed that more room was needed. Khaldun, who had extensively scouted out the whole immediate area, recommended the women gather upon the slope of a low ridge to the south of the road and watch the execution upon the plain below.

News of the execution spread through the camp as quickly as off-duty sailors rush to a brothel. Given the caravan's proximity to Stazmûlkrak, soon the entire village was abuzz with anticipation for the gory spectacle. Seeking to make a few coins during the festivities, enterprising villagers and caravanners set up an improvised market near the base of the slope, where an amazing amount of merchandise was displayed on carpets spread over the ground. Swords, daggers, knives, axes, arrow points, saddlery, jewelry, and clothing were bought, sold, and traded. A festive air permeated the occasion, and selling was brisk. Those who were talented in playing music, reciting poetry, telling stories, singing, juggling, and miming were eager to perform for a few coppers.

One of the merchants was the wife of the caravan's head cook, a beautiful woman ebony in color and possessing deep, mysterious black eyes. A fortuneteller by trade, she often gave council to caravan laborers who were curious to know if fortune – or misfortune – lay in their future. Esarhaddon did not approve of her profession and considered her a fraud, but no one wished to offend the caravan's cook, lest he find something unpleasant in his meal. Therefore, he ignored her existence and turned a blind eye to her wagon of secrets.

"Charms, jewelry, talismans, divination!" the fortuneteller chanted as her two young daughters danced before her carpet. "Discover what the stars hold for your future!" She did a tremendous business, quickly selling out many of her wares. One of the items which sold the best were orc bones, which she promised possessed great magic powers and could ward off evil. Some of the caravan laborers avoided her, though, murmuring that she was a witch who could curse any she wished with dreadful dooms too terrible even to contemplate.

As the Rohirric captives were herded by the market area, they gazed enviously at the great variety of goods. They could not stop to explore, for the guards hurried them quickly by. With the upcoming execution, emotions were running high, and Shakh Esarhaddon and his chief men refused to allow such a great number of slaves to run about freely. The slaves far outnumbered their masters, and who knew when some zealot might foment another slave uprising?

When Esarhaddon arrived in his covered litter, flanked on each side by an armed escort and followed by a large retinue of servants, a horn was sounded and the trading came to a halt. Carried to the top of the hill, he was assisted out of the conveyance by his eunuchs and took his place on a rich carpet spread beneath a broad sun canopy. It was time for the execution to begin.

As the impatient throng crowded the slopes, another horn sounded, and the archers on the hill readied their bows, prepared to put a speedy end to any orc who tried to escape. The crowd, which was composed of Rohirric captives, caravan laborers, and villagers, looked down to the plain below them and watched as guards brandishing spears forced the prisoners to parade in a circle. When the guards halted the condemned in front of the viewing area, the crowd cheered lustily. Some threw dung, offal and bones at the prisoners, while others picked up rocks and hurled them at the guilty uruks. The guards allowed the sport to continue for a while and then demanded silence. An expectant hush fell over the crowd.

Smiling at the assembly, Ubri stepped onto the killing ground and looked up at Esarhaddon, waiting for the chief slaver's permission to proceed. At Esarhaddon's nod, Ubri turned to the waiting guards and gave them their orders. The crowd strained to hear him, but his words were audible only to his men and the closest onlookers.

A uruk, his face swollen and puffy and covered with bruises and dried blood, his body raked with innumerable cuts, was dragged from the line and thrown to the ground. As a quick stroke from a guard's knife castrated the uruk, the wretch fainted, which was just as well, for he was unconscious when a sharpened wooden stake was driven through his rectum and pushed out through his right shoulder. The end of the pole was sunk into a hole that had been prepared beforehand, and the felon was hoisted aloft. The crowd rose to their feet and screamed their appreciation, except for a small group of uruks, mates or kin to the condemned. They stood on the edges, sullen and angry.

At last all save one of the miserable uruks had been skewered upon poles and lifted high in the air to suffer unbearable agony before death finally claimed them. Their bloodlust fanned to a frenzy by the sight of the groaning mass of writhing flesh below them, the Rohirric women cried out for the last of the malefactors to be punished. This was Drâgh's brother, one of the chief instigators of the mutiny, and rage was high against him. In the belief that his death would serve as a catharsis for the collective hatred among the captives, he had been saved for the finale of the gruesome spectacle.

Spitting and cursing, the brawny uruk tried to fight against his executioners, but he was bound tightly. His hands had been tied behind his back and fastened to an iron belt around his middle; the rings on his ankle manacles were attached to the belt by stout chains which clanked when he moved. As he screamed out his hatred and fury and tried to lunge for the guards, he was jerked back by the ropes attached to the collar around his neck. A guard wielding a huge battle axe was motioned to the line by Ubri, and as the uruk fought against his ropes, the executioner edged in for a strike. At the last moment, the uruk pulled away from the man, and the blow fell short, biting into the flesh and bone of the uruk's upper arm.

Howling in pain, the uruk staggered, but the guards drew the ropes tighter, and once again the executioner lifted his blade. This time his blow was true. The uruk's blood splattered against the executioner as the brute's whole arm fell to the side, dangling from the ropes which bound his wrists together. The blood spurted from the severed stump as the axe chopped off the uruk's other arm. The wretch was strong, full of bitterness and hate, and though he staggered on his feet, he managed to stand through an act of sheer will. It was not until a mighty blow from the axe lopped off both his legs that he fell on his face on the bloody ground. What was left of his body was summarily castrated and impaled. The crowd jeered and howled their ridicule, taunting the dying uruks as being beasts lower than dung.

The mother, sister, and close friends of the slain girl were taken by escort down the hill to the plain, where they were allowed to hurl stones at the quivering meat dying upon the poles. The crowd was allowed to watch and soak in its vengeance until the guards led the angry, grieving women away. It was time for their dead kinswoman to be laid to rest.

The crowd was held back as Esarhaddon's litter bearers carried him down the hill. Trailing behind the weeping women, the slaver and his retinue arrived at the place where the dead girl would be buried. His litter was set down a short distance away, and he lowered himself to the cushions beneath a silken canopy to watch the ceremony.

Turning to the physician at his side, Esarhaddon asked, "Did you find the execution appropriately impressive?"

"Impressive, my lord?" Tushratta arched an eyebrow. "That is not quite the word I had in mind."

"Distasteful?" the slave trader asked, mildly amused.

"The word I would choose is 'unnecessary,' my lord," Tushratta replied as his eyes turned to watch the women gather around the freshly washed and shrouded body of the dead girl. "You could have had them executed without the spectacle."

"That is where you are mistaken, Tushratta. The slave women and their brats needed a distraction; my men needed a distraction; the whole camp needed a distraction. Even the villagers were entertained. I thought it went rather well." Esarhaddon's lips twitched in a smile. The slaver and his retinue fell silent as the sister of the slain girl stood and sang a sad, plaintive song in Rohirric. Her long golden hair falling softly around her shoulders and spilling down her back, she looked like a goddess. "Do you know her name, Carnation?" Esarhaddon looked around to the eunuch who stood at his back.

"Master, I do not know, but I will find out if you so request."

"Inquire about her, Carnation, and have her brought to my tent tonight."

The Rohirric maid sang a long, sad dirge about a princess carried away at the first flush of womanhood by Death. As she sang, her eyes fluttered closed, her eyelashes a sooty smudge upon her face. When her song was finished, she knelt down and placed a simple copper brooch upon her sister's chest, a gift to take into the afterlife. The other women filed by the body, each leaving a small token of some sort - a bit of cheese, a piece of bread, a handkerchief, a comb - until they had finished presenting their gifts. The women placed the first layer of rock, and then Ubri gave the signal to the guards to finish mounding the stones.

"A memorable ceremony," Tushratta stated as the guards escorted the women away from the burial mound.

Esarhaddon rose to his feet, signaling to his servants and retainers that he was ready to leave. "I have ordered that all in the camp are to draw extra rations for the evening meal - in honor of the successful quelling of the uruk rebellion. Now we have a few miles to travel, my friend, before we can feast," he stated as he settled himself in the litter.


Soon after the execution and the funeral, the caravan was on its way again, heading south on the road to Nurn. A small detachment of guards was left behind, their orders to wait a few hours and then dispatch the dying uruks. Unfortunately, the guards never returned to the caravan that night, for they had been hacked to pieces by the mates and kinsmen of the executed uruks. The bodies of the condemned were taken to nearby caves, where they were mounded over with rocks, and oaths of vengeance were taken over their graves. Then the uruks slipped quietly into the night and were not heard of again for some time to come.

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