The Circles - Book Seven - Chapter 30

The Circles - Book Seven - Land of Treachery
Chapter Thirty
A Party for the Bride
Written by Angmar and Elfhild

The third day that the caravan was camped at the Oasis of the Solitary Cedar passed by much more slowly than the first two. Elffled had spent the first day marching across the desert to get to the Oasis, and most of the second day preparing game in the kitchen tent, but she had whiled away a good part of the third day sitting around in the large pavilion reserved for the Rohirric captives. She was excited for that evening, for she would be meeting her sister's friends at last. Rose Petal had told her that in the lands of the South and East, it was customary for the bride to host a grand party on the day before the wedding to celebrate her upcoming marriage, and that there was always much feasting, dancing, and music at these celebrations.

After Rose Petal had finished his daily lesson in the language and customs of Mordor, he allowed Elfhild and Elffled the use of his tent to ready themselves for their visit to the Dolrujâtar village that evening. Because they were considered examples of the fine merchandise offered by the House of Huzziya, the twins were to be bathed and perfumed with fragrant oils to banish any odors brought on by the sweltering desert heat, clothed in the best dresses that could be found in the caravan supply wagons, and given some simple ornaments that would enhance their beauty.  

Unbeknownst to the twins, while class had been in session, a steady stream of servants had entered and departed from the inner chamber of the tent where Rose Petal kept his personal effects. The servants used the rear entrance so as not to disturb the eunuch's teaching, and they had tried to be as quiet as possible while they labored. Therefore, when Elfhild and Elffled pulled back the cloth divider which separated the tent, they were surprised to see a large tub of steaming hot water awaiting them. They were even more surprised when three of their friends from the troop jumped out from under a large pile of cushions and greeted them. 

"We are here to help you get ready for the party," Beorthwyn announced, grinning at the twins. Making herself at home, she sat down cross legged in front of a low table and plopped a dried date into her mouth. Though she claimed her purpose for being there was to assist Elfhild and Elffled, she looked more like she had come for the food.

"I am surprised the overseers gave you all permission to be here," Elfhild remarked, her gaze falling over each of the three girls. Beorhtwyn and her younger sister Burghilde were there, as well as Hereswith.

"The caravan laborers needed help carrying buckets of water to the tub, so we volunteered," Hereswith explained. "They allowed us to stay and assist you in bathing and dressing, for they said it would be good practice if any of us were bought by a wealthy noblewoman who was in need of a lady's maid." 

"We really do not need any help," Elfhild told her politely as she pulled her clammy dress over her head and stepped into the tub. 

"Oh, I do not know…" A mischievous smile played over Elffled's face. "I would not mind at all having a maid!"

"Oh! Oh! I will be your maid!" Burghilde exclaimed, giggling and clapping her hands. 

"We were all so thrilled that you are going to the party that we just had to share your joy." Hereswith beamed as she milled around the tub, sniffing the lotions and soaps which had been set aside. "Oh, this smells good!" she exclaimed as she took a whiff of a jasmine scented bar of soap.

"I can scarcely wait to see what you will be wearing!" Burghilde exclaimed, clasping her hands and jumping up and down in youthful exuberance. Her eyes went to a stool upon which rested a package wrapped in a length of blue silk tied with a golden ribbon. The silk seemed to glow and shimmer in the light of the lamps and candles. "You will not mind if we just take a little peek, will you?" Her dark green eyes huge and pleading, Burghilde gazed wistfully at the twins.

"Go right ahead," Elffled told the little girl, watching in amusement as she hastily unwrapped the silken bundle and murmured in admiration at the fine garments within.

"Oh, those dresses are truly beautiful!" Beorhtwyn got up from her cushions and went over to look. Taking out an ivory gown edged in yellow, she held it up against her body. "If I wore this, I would feel like a princess," she giggled, twirling around in a circle.

As Elffled divested herself of her garments and joined her sister in the large wooden tub, she smiled to herself as she watched the antics of their "maids." In the month that she had been traveling and camping with them, she had become well acquainted with the girls in her troop, and with the exception of Tove and Cyneburh, she considered them all friends. They had tried to comfort her as best they could when Elfhild had been taken by the uruks, and she would always be grateful for that. Elffled had to admit, though, that the trio of Beorthwyn, Burghilde and Hereswith made for terrible maidservants, as they were more interested in rifling through the garments, jewelry, and perfume that had been left for her sister and her than they were in doing anything useful.

Although she tended to be the quiet observer in crowds, Elffled did appreciate the company of others. She felt rather apprehensive about the party that evening, however. She wondered how she would get along with Elfhild's new friends. She was very curious about these Dolrujâtar girls, what they looked like, what they wore, their manner of bearing and customs of speech. Since she would be spending the rest of her days in Mordor, she did not want to do anything that would cause undue attention to herself, or make others think she was ignorant or strange. Most importantly, she did not want the Dolrujâtar to consider her an enemy… even though they were her enemies, and she was theirs. There would be no returning to Rohan, and she was determined to do everything she could to survive in this harsh land… Therefore, studying the women of Mordor and learning their ways felt like wisdom to her.


"Khaldun, are you sure it is absolutely imperative for me to attend this party?" Ulimaghûlb asked as he peered at his image in the handheld mirror. Giving his hideous face one last affectionate look, he lay the mirror down on the table, wrapped scarves around his face and head, and then pulled his hood down to conceal his glittering feline orbs. A pair of gloves hid his greenish-gray hands with their ghastly claws.

"You certainly know that it is not my idea, Ulimaghûlb," Khaldun muttered gruffly. Pulling on his boots, he rose to his feet and looked down at the goblin. "Lady Shabimi invited you, or rather it would be more correct to say she invited Amara, my supposed 'wife.'"

"And it would be the height of poor manners to refuse them. A breach of etiquette and all, I know, I know," Ulimaghûlb grumbled. 

"The purpose of this party is to prepare the bride for her wedding," Khaldun explained. "I must warn you that a popular activity at these celebrations is the adornment of the hands and feet with henna. After the bride is finished with this beautification ritual, many of the guests indulge themselves as well. When my sister was married, it took hours for her friends to paint intricate designs and drawings all over her hands and feet. I never saw such an elaborate array of flowers and vines on a canvas of skin."

"Surely I do not have to submit to such undignified modifications of my person, do I?" Ulimaghûlb asked loftily, a shiver of disgust twitching his broad shoulders.

"No, of course not. Remember, my friend, that my wife is supposed to be mute and hideously ugly, and for this reason, she refuses to show her face to anyone but me." Considering the goblin's stringy dark hair, catlike eyes, and mottled skin, Khaldun decided that the ugly part was closer to the truth than anything. "Just bow to Lady Shabimi, nod your head politely if someone speaks to you, and keep your face, hands, and feet covered at all times."

"I have no intention of doing anything that would provoke the ire of these wretched goatherders," Ulimaghûlb assured him. "I don't want to be flayed alive and have my head hoisted on a spike from the village walls!"

While "Amara" had been invited to Özlem's party, Khaldun had been invited to a separate party which would be held in honor of the groom. Esarhaddon and the other lieutenants would also be attending the festivities, with Tushratta coming along to ensure the slaver did not overexert himself. Slipping his crimson burnoose over his blue tunic and baggy tan breeches, Khaldun reached down and took the mirror from the veiled goblin's hand. "How do I look?" he asked, somewhat dubiously.

"Dashing. Just simply dashing!" the goblin tittered. "It will be perfect, believe me, after you put on your turban."

"You truly think so?" Khaldun remarked, admiring himself in the mirror as he turned his head from side to side.

"You will have all the women throwing themselves at your feet," Ulimaghûlb laughed, feeling a spark of envy. Though the Dolrujâtar were the enemies of his people, he would not mind at all having a harem of their women.

"Help me with my turban, will you, Ulimaghûlb?" Khaldun's words broke into Ulimaghûlb's lusty thoughts. "You seem to have the knack of it far better than I."

"Yes, my lord husband," Ulimaghûlb simpered coquettishly as he rose to his feet. He picked up the long roll of fabric and lovingly rubbed his finger over the cotton. Twisting the yards of blue material until they were flat, he skillfully wound it into a turban around the cap on Khaldun's head. "Take a look at yourself now."

Khaldun smiled almost boyishly as he saw his image in the glass. He thought he resembled a prince, with the bright blue turban crowning his long, thick locks. "Remarkable," he commented, wondering to himself how the goblin's clawed hands could be so gentle and skillful.

"By the way," Ulimaghûlb affected a flirtatious tone to his voice and swayed closer to the Captain, "how do you like my perfume? It is jasmine with undertones of amber and musk. I think the fragrance is simply divine!"

"You still smell like an orc. It would take a barrel of that stuff to hide your stench," Khaldun retorted. Ducking as the goblin threw a hairbrush at him, he watched, amused, as it bounced harmlessly off the tent wall.

After requesting permission to enter, a servant of Shakh Najor slipped unobtrusively into the tent. He bowed and announced, "Shakh Khaldun, I have been sent to escort you and your wife to the feast whenever you are ready." 

Turning to Ulimaghûlb, Khaldun addressed him formally for the benefit of the servant. "My esteemed lady," he took the goblin's gloved hand, "I know how eager you have been to attend the celebrations. Now it is time for us to join the others." Both amused and discomfited by the situation, Khaldun darted a barbed glance at the former vizier. At least he did not have to look at the goblin's grotesque face, which he was sure was twisted into a satisfied smirk. He knew that Ulimaghûlb was taking a fiendish pleasure in this farce, but he had to play his role, or risk offending Shakh Najor. There could be no mistakes, and nothing must be done that would jeopardize the alliance with the Dolrujâtar, and so he would have to suffer for a while longer. He composed his face into an impassive mask and followed the servant from the tent, with the orc mincing daintily along behind them.


As the twins walked down the dusty path that led to the village, they could hear the sounds of music and laughter wafting over the walls and mingling with the droning hum of insects. A soft breeze stirred the evening air, causing the torches which lined the path to sway and flicker. Thrilled at being allowed to visit Lady Shabimi and her handmaidens, the girls chattered excitedly as they followed Akil, who was serving as their escort. The muted sounds of the caravan camp faded behind them as they neared the pounding throb of the music which seemed to explode from the gates of the village wall.

Although the wedding itself would not be held until the next day, many of the villagers had decided to get an early start on the celebrations, and the usually peaceful oasis had become a blur of lights, noise and activity. The beat of hourglass shaped goblet drums and mighty kettle drums composed the heartbeat of the celebration, the high-pitched whine of reed pipes its voice, the merry ring of tambourines its tinkling laughter. As the twins made their way through the throng, a lute player and some of the drummers struck up a lively tune, and one of the village matrons began to sing, her rich, nasal voice warbling out a wedding song. The crowd clapped to the rhythm of the music, with many dancing along to the sprightly beat. Darting in and out of the assembled revelers, children played their youthful games, laughing and shrieking with joy.

Adjacent to the village square was the marketplace. Though some merchants had closed shop for the evening, others continued to hawk their wares, hoping to find new customers among those who had journeyed to the oasis for the wedding, as well as the caravan workers who were camped nearby. On most days, the village marketplace was quite modest, but momentous occasions such as seasonal festivals or the weddings of important tribal personages always drew a crowd of merchants, artisans, and craftspeople. As Akil led the girls through the marketplace, the twins gawked with wonder at all that their eyes beheld. Some vendors displayed their merchandise upon tables or racks, while others arranged their wares upon rugs laid out over the ground; a few sold straight from the carts or wagons they had used to transport their goods into the village. 

Elfhild could swear that the coins which she had so carefully hidden had grown hot as fiery embers and were threatening to burn a hole through her clothing. "Say, have you seen our fortuneteller friend anywhere among these shrieking sellers?" she asked her sister, keeping her voice low. 

"I was searching for her as well." Elffled smiled mischievously. "But, sadly, I have not seen her yet." 

The two girls scanned the marketplace, searching for Laskohki, the reader of the future, who claimed to possess powers of great magic. They were beginning to worry that she had changed her mind about coming to the celebrations, but then they saw her wain of secrets and curiosities, nestled between an apothecary and a seller of soaps. In front of the wain were Laskohki's daughters, who, with drum and flute, played a raucous tune and danced round and round, attempting to catch the attention of potential customers. 

"Do not let them see us!" Elfhild hissed, quickly turning her head. "We cannot possibly get our fortunes told tonight." 

"Then when will we visit Laskohki?" Elffled asked, keeping a wary eye upon Akil, who walked ahead of them. 

"The caravan will be camped at the Oasis for four more days, so we will have plenty of time." 

"Let us go on the last night," Elffled advised sagely. "That way, if we get in trouble, whatever our punishment may be, we will not miss any of the festivities." 

Elfhild smiled wickedly at her twin. "A brilliant idea, dear sister! I fear that Lord Esarhaddon does not approve of anything connected with the occult." She remembered how he had acted in the Morgul Vale, vehemently denying that the strange occurrences which plagued his party were caused by sorcery. No, the slaver must never find out about any visits to Laskohki. 

"Falling behind, are we?" Akil chuckled as he turned back to look at the girls. "Alas, there is little time to shop at the marketplace this eve. Perhaps you can go tomorrow." 

When they arrived at Shabimi's tent, they were ushered inside by Larnîz and Azul. The tent was filled with excited partygoers: the other wives of Shakh Najor and their attendants and servants, as well as women and girls from the village and surrounding area. The guests were seated on long, low couches set around two sides of the tent, while the couch along the back wall was reserved for Özlem and the family of Shakh Najor. 

"My honored guests, welcome to my tent." Shabimi rose to her feet and greeted the twins as they entered the chamber. "You must be Elffled. Why, of course, who else could you be? You look exactly like your sister," she told the blushing girl as she took her hand. "I have heard so much about you. Elfhild missed you very much and talked constantly of you." She motioned for the twins to take a seat beside Özlem on the couch reserved for guests held in the highest esteem.

"It is an honor to meet you, Mistress," Elffled told her as she settled upon the cushions and shyly looked around at the other guests who were seated at the table. Her breath caught in her throat when she saw how beautiful Özlem appeared in a richly embroidered gown of midnight blue, her hair plaited in many braids and captured at the back of her head by a silken cord. How lovely she looked in all her finery!

"Elfhild!" Özlem exclaimed, moving closer to the twins. "I am so glad that Lord Esarhaddon gave you permission to come visit with us this evening."

"This is my sister, Elffled." Elfhild gestured towards her twin, who bowed her head in greeting.

"I remember you, though we never got a chance to speak," Özlem smiled. "I am glad that we meet again under much better circumstances."

Elffled nodded in agreement. "That was a terrible night!" She shivered at the memory of Durraiz' raid on Esarhaddon's tent. "I am so glad that you and Elfhild were able to escape from that horrible orc den."

"I am very thankful that Shakh Zarkfir and his brothers came along when they did," Özlem remarked, glancing appreciatively towards Shabimi. "Otherwise, we would have perished in the desert."

"Oh, I do not want to think about what could have happened had it not been for Shakh Zarkfir! But at least the story has a happy ending. You are a free woman now, and soon to be married to the man who rescued you." Elfhild beamed at Özlem and patted her hand. "What a wonderful tale this has turned out to be."

"Elffled, you have not yet been introduced to Lady Shabimi's handmaidens." Özlem gestured towards the five young women who were seated around the table. "This is Kaira, Nadrói, Lârniz, Zâhof, and Azul."

"It is a pleasure to meet you all," Elffled shyly replied, smiling as she glanced at each handmaiden. The girls returned her greeting, telling her that they were equally glad to meet her, and that she was welcome in their village.

"I hope you enjoy the evening's festivities," Kaira remarked. "The bride's party is always a lively affair, with much feasting and dancing."

Elffled turned her attention to Lady Shabimi's senior maid. "I am sure I will have a wonderful time." Kaira had a warm, friendly manner about her, and Elffled felt some of her anxiety lessening. 

The other handmaidens began exuberantly discussing all of their people's traditions associated with weddings, explaining that while the bride celebrated with her friends and family, a party for the groom was taking place at the same time. However, the bride's party was a much larger and lavish affair. Elffled found her head reeling as the Dolrujâtar girls chattered away, bombarding her with anecdotes about the wedding celebrations of various couples from their tribe. Though she had difficulty keeping up with the spirited conversation, she enjoyed the jovial atmosphere and the companionship. She appreciated Kaira's attempts to make her feel at ease, and Nadrói's gentle overtures of friendship. She found Zâhof's sarcasm and candid remarks to be amusing, and she wished that she could be that bold and outspoken. With their bubbly, romantic personalities, Larnîz and Azul reminded her of the young village girls back in Rohan who giggled and gossiped about the boys they dreamed of marrying one day. With such pleasant company, it was easy to see why Elfhild had enjoyed her sojourn at the Oasis of the Solitary Cedar.

After a few more latecomers arrived, Lady Shabimi rose to her feet and motioned for Özlem to stand beside her. Everyone in the tent fell silent as the chieftain's wife began to speak. "I welcome you all on this night of celebration, a joyous commemoration of the impending marriage of my only son, Shakh Zarkfir, to this beautiful girl, Özlem." She beamed at her soon-to-be daughter-in-law and then turned back to her audience. "I welcome this lovely young woman to my household with felicitation and great affection. If I should live a thousand years and a day, I could not be happier than I am at this moment." She looked with approval upon the assembled women, who waved handkerchiefs and cheered the bride to be.

After Lady Shabimi had given her speech of welcome, servants came forth bearing large communal trays heavily laden with a variety of sumptuous entrees displayed upon beautifully decorated plates and bowls. The main course was roasted chicken with roasted vegetables, and it was accompanied by bulgur salad with cucumbers; fried aubergine; hummus and flatbread. Elffled savored each dish, delighting in the taste of fresh vegetables. Eating nothing but dried foods and meat, the weary diet of the trail, had left her famished for more appealing fare. While the cuisine of her homeland was nothing like this, she was discovering that she enjoyed trying new and exotic dishes. Perhaps someday she would entertain her own guests upon lavish carpets and plush cushions, serve them rich meals upon fine dinnerware, and have musicians regale them with peaceful melodies played upon lute, flute, and drum.

Although Lady Shabimi, Özlem, and the five handmaidens spoke in Westron for the benefit of her and Elfhild, the rest of the guests spoke in the Dolrujâtar dialect. While Elffled could only recognize a few of the words in Black Speech, she could tell by the tones of the women's voices that they were excited to be at the party and eagerly anticipated all the wedding festivities to come. For a moment, she felt as though she were back in the marketplace in Grenefeld, listening in on her mother's friends excitedly discussing the latest gossip and goings on in the village. She quietly observed the Dolrujâtar women, studying their clothing and mannerisms and comparing them to those of her own people. How different they were from the Rohirrim, with their light brown skin and dark hair, richly embroidered costumes, and sparkling jewelry of silver. Once upon a time, she had fantasized about traveling to Gondor, which was the most exotic place which a backwards Eastfold peasant girl could imagine. Now she had passed through Gondor into the mysterious Land of Shadow beyond. And the journey was not over yet! She wondered what fascinating people and places she would visit ere it came to its end.

After the guests had eaten their fill, servants cleared the tables and the musicians struck up a lively tune. Several of the women got up and began to dance, much to the joy of the assembled crowd. They shook their hips and clapped to the beat of the drums as they moved around the tent, smiles upon their faces and laughter upon their lips.

"Come on and dance!" Özlem rose to her feet and held out her hands to the twins.

"But I do not know how to dance in this manner," Elffled exclaimed.

"Just copy what I do," Özlem told her as she grabbed her by the hand and pulled her to her feet. 

Shifting her weight onto one foot and then the other, Özlem swung her hips gracefully from side to side. Holding her arms out from her body, elbows slightly bent, she moved her shoulders in time with the music, her wrists making intricate circles in the air. Her arms gracefully rising towards the heavens, her hands swayed back and forth as though her arms were stalks of wheat tossed about in the wind. Laughing, Özlem spun about in a circle, her skirt twirling around her like the petals of a colorful flower. 

The twins tried to copy Özlem's graceful dancing, but their unskilled muscles found the unfamiliar movements confusing and difficult to follow. After a while, both girls had started to understand the basic movements of the dance, but much to their chagrin, they performed it quite woodenly.

"It takes time for your muscles to become accustomed to the dance," Özlem told them reassuringly as her hips moved forward and back in tight little circles. "This type of dancing is common in the South and East, and there are endless regional variations. But if you have never danced before, I imagine it would feel quite strange!"

"It definitely feels different," Elffled agreed as she clumsily tried to copy Özlem's movements.

"I am sure our muscles will definitely feel it in the morrow!" Elfhild giggled, and then winced as she tried to rub out the stitch in her side with her hand.

After the girls had refreshed themselves with cups of fresh spring water, Özlem convinced the twins to dance to the next song. The girls gave it their best effort, attempting to impress their friend with their newfound skills. Laughing, Özlem praised their inelegant endeavors, and encouraged them to keep practicing.

The women danced on into the evening until at last they had exhausted themselves, their bodies aching and their feet complaining of too much merriment. Sensing that the wedding guests had wearied of dancing, Lady Shabimi stood up and addressed the crowd. "It is my earnest hope that all are enjoying this night of celebration. Since I hold Özlem dear to my heart, I want her to look perfect for her wedding tomorrow. To achieve this, I have employed Khîmi, who hails from the oasis east of our village, to adorn the bride's hands and feet with henna." She nodded to a plump older woman who stood nearby. "Come, Khîmi, and join us on the divan, where I will watch with rapt attention as you work your magic. I want the rest of you ladies to enjoy yourselves."

The twins were fascinated as they watched Khîmi apply the first thin line of brown henna paste to Özlem's palms. They noted that the woman was careful not to touch the tip of the tube to her skin, only letting a thin stream come out of the cone-shaped tube. Slowly, motifs of leaves, vines and flowers, and flourishes, swirls and geometric patterns took shape on her palms, the backs of her hands, and up her forearms. The twins looked at each other, both wondering what would be the final design that would adorn the bride's hands. Khîmi's brows furrowed in concentration as she strove to create a masterpiece of perfect loveliness upon Özlem's hands. While she was so involved, Khîmi did not dare put down the henna tube even to wipe the faint sheen of perspiration from her forehead, and so her assistant, a young servant girl, lightly dabbed her brow with a piece of linen. 

Lady Shabimi had employed other henna artists from the village and outlying areas to decorate the hands and feet of any guest who wished the service. These women were skilled in the art, but could not quite measure up to the high standards of Khîmi, or match the unique magic which she gave to her creations.

As Elffled watched the other guests eagerly submit to the ministrations of these talented women, she could hardly believe her good fortune to be invited to this wonderful party. She was almost overcome by the abundant food, the lively music, the sprightly dancing, and the sheer excitement of the upcoming wedding. She shyly held out her hand when the henna artist sat down beside her at her table.

"What a lovely hand you have," the woman told her. "Graceful, nearly perfect. With your long, slender fingers, you make an excellent candidate for the loveliest of my art." 

Elffled's sharp ears overheard a different henna artist telling Elfhild much the same thing, and she had the somewhat jaded thought that every woman in the tent must have an equally perfect hand. Still, she watched with great interest as the woman squirted out a thin stream of henna paste on her palm. "What does this design mean?" she asked, looking down at the abstract floral pattern taking shape.

"Oh, my dear, the symbol stands for good fortune, while this other one," she gestured to a geometric pattern, "wards away evil spirits." 

"Well, that is certainly a good thing," Elffled remarked, unsure what to think. "I would not wish to encounter one of those." 

"Oh, most definitely not," the woman exclaimed emphatically. "You must beware the evil spirits that dwell in this land, my child. Some will steal you away to the realm of shadows, while others will banish your soul and take your body for their own. You must always be wary of such things, especially when wandering the desolate wastes."

"How terrible!" Elffled exclaimed with a shiver. "I pray that I shall be spared such a ghastly fate." She looked down at the brown paste twining up and down her arms and hands like serpents. Would these pretty designs really protect her from such powerful evils?

Warming up to her macabre topic, the woman continued speaking in low, hushed tones. "The Dolrujâtar make offerings to the spirits to persuade them not to do us harm. One does not wish to incur their ire by accident, or on purpose." She gave Elffled a gentle smile of reassurance. "I am sure you will be careful, my child. The symbols I have painted upon your arms should keep you safe... for a time."

Elffled bowed her head respectfully. "Thank you, Mistress. I truly appreciate your art!"

Whether the story was true, or was merely for effect, Elffled did not know, but she always appreciated a good ghost story. Given Mordor's ominous appearance, she was certain that there was an abundance of dark and frightening tales from the Land of Shadows which would curdle the blood and send shivers down the spine. Such stories were best told around the fire in the presence of friends, where familiar company mitigated dread of the unknown, and the flickering flames banished the shadows from the heart.


"Ahh, this is the life," Ulimaghûlb thought dreamily as he watched a group of Dolrujâtar maidens dance to a sprightly tune. As the goblin vizier sat upon a soft, comfortable cushion that was soothing on his bony rump, he pulled back a corner of his veil and sipped sweet date wine. He nodded appreciatively as a servant set down a tray of sweet pastries. As he smelled the delicate aromas, he felt the foolish urge to tear off his glove, squeeze a handful of the delicacies into his palm, and then stuff them in his mouth. The urges to revert back to a more primitive state always struck him at the most inappropriate times.

"You are above all that now. You must remember who and what you are – the former vizier of the greatly lamented King Thaguzgoth," he reminded himself as he daintily munched on a pastry. "You are also the wife of Shakh Khaldun," he almost laughed out loud at that, "so act the part!" His resolve nearly crumbled as a beautiful dancing girl whirled just out of his reach. Yes, life was good, if you knew how to live it.

The goblin did have a few awkward moments throughout the evening. Always a gracious hostess, Lady Shabimi worried about Captain Khaldun's shy wife, and wished that there were some way that she might bring the poor girl out of herself. "Amara, dear," she told her, her voice filled with concern, "your hands would look even lovelier if they were decorated. Please let one of the ladies work her skill upon you and decorate your hands and feet in patterns symbolizing love, loyalty, and devotion. Think how pleased your husband would be!"

Ulimaghûlb had vigorously shook his head in refusal. Under no circumstances could any of these women see his clawed hands!

"As you wish," Lady Shabimi replied, lamenting that she could not help bear the unfortunate girl's troubles. A servant with a question about the wedding feast the next day distracted the lady, and the goblin went back to nursing his wine.

The night passed peacefully and uneventfully in this manner. Here and there, a guest, her hands and feet swathed in bandages to protect the henna, lay down upon the cushions and fell asleep. Although some of the guests returned to their own tents, many of them decided to spend the night. The musicians put away their instruments; servants blew out the candles and turned down the wicks of the lanterns. Soon all was quiet as darkness fell over the camp. The only sound to disturb the quietude was the loud, raucous snoring of Ulimaghûlb, which the ever-sympathetic Lady Shabimi put down to some disfigurement of the poor girl's nose. 

Next Chapter

Previous Chapter
Main Index