The Circles - Book Seven - Chapter 32

The Circles - Book Seven - Land of Treachery
Chapter Thirty-two
A Wedding in Gorgoroth
Written by Angmar and Elfhild

Elfhild and Elffled would always remember that hot summer day that they attended a Dolrujâtar wedding in the wastes of Southern Gorgoroth. And what a day it was! After an eventful shopping trip to the village marketplace, the twins returned to the tent of Lady Shabimi for the noonday meal. A goodly number of village women were gathered inside, excitedly chattering about their expectations for the wedding ceremony that afternoon and the feast which would follow in the evening. The marriage of Shakh Zarkfir and Özlem provided the women with an ample source of gossip, for many had previously believed that the chieftain's son would never wed. Everyone in the Dagrí Clan knew that Zarkfir favored men, so when word got out that he was marrying a woman – and a foreigner no less – tongues started wagging in earnest. About the only thing more astonishing than this sudden marriage would be if a three-headed fell beast descended from the heavens and began singing children's rhymes while juggling and capering about in a merry dance.

Once again, Özlem was seated in the place of honor along the back wall of the tent. Perched upon a thick leather cushion with her wedding gifts piled about her feet, she looked very much like a newly crowned queen basking in the adoration of her subjects. The twins suddenly felt very shy and wondered if their gifts were worthy enough for the bride of a desert prince. As they made their way through the crowd, they found their minds gripped with all sorts of fretful thoughts: that the village women were all staring at them, silently judging them and finding them to be lacking; that Özlem would be insulted by their gifts and consider them terrible friends; that they would somehow commit some social blunder which would strain the alliance between the Dolrujâtar and the House of Huzziya and result in everlasting enmity between the two groups. It was one thing to attend a wedding as friends of the bride, but another matter entirely to be there as Esarhaddon's ambassadors.

The twins' fears were quickly proven needless, however, for Özlem's face lit up when she saw them approach. Rising to her feet, she embraced both Elfhild and Elffled and kissed them upon either cheek. "How good it is to have your sweet presence to grace this tent once again!" She stepped back and looked at them as though she had not seen them for some time, even though they had spent the previous night in her company.

"We are very grateful for your invitation." Humbly bowing her head, Elfhild pressed her hand to her heart.

"Everything is so lovely," Elffled exclaimed as she looked around at the cheerfully decorated tent. Her eyes took in the dragon's hoard of presents, and she hoped that if she ever got married, she would receive just as many gifts, if not more. She hid her avarice with a respectful bow.

"I hope you will find our gifts pleasing," Elfhild told Özlem as she presented the bundle. She wondered if perhaps she should affect more formal airs. After all, she was only a slave, while Özlem was soon to be the wife of the chieftain's eldest son and heir. 

"If you do not like the first one, you are sure to love the second," Elffled giggled as she handed the basket of date pastries to Özlem.

"I am sure I will adore them both," Özlem replied graciously as she unwrapped the pillow cover. "Oh, how lovely!" She held the present up for all the women to see and smiled at their compliments. When Özlem had finished examining the gift, she gave it to Azul, who was serving as her attendant. Soon the pillow cover joined the other gifts on display.

Elfhild blushed as Özlem inspected the basket of date pastries and then showed the present to the well-wishers. She tried not to fidget as she waited for her friend's reaction.

"This looks delicious," Özlem exclaimed. "I do have a taste for sweets. Thank you both for such wonderful things! I will certainly put them to good use."

"We are so glad you like them," Elfhild told her, pleased that her friend approved of the gifts. 

Özlem moved several presents out of the way and patted the cushions beside her. "Come, my friends, sit with me. We have much of which we must speak!" When the twins had sat down, she turned to them and eagerly began discussing her plans. "Lady Shabimi tells me that it is the tradition among the Dolrujâtar for the bride to be accompanied by several attendants in the grand procession through the village. It is my wish for the two of you to serve as my maids."

Her eyes wide with wonder, Elfhild clasped her hands to her heart. "Truly, I am grateful that you have bestowed such a superb privilege upon us!"

"I – I do not know what to say," Elffled stammered. "You are paying us both a great honor! Thank you for your kindness!"

Özlem beamed at the twins. "It is my way of showing gratitude for your friendship."


After the noonday meal was over, preparations for the wedding began in earnest. Lady Shabimi and her five handmaidens fussed over Özlem like a group of mother hens competing for the attention of a single chick. Since Özlem had few possessions of her own, Shabimi had given her the gown and bridal headdress she had worn at her own wedding to Shakh Najor. 

"When the day comes that your firstborn daughter is to be wed, give her this dress to wear, and thus continue the tradition," Lady Shabimi had told her. "This gown belonged to my mother, and the designs upon it were embroidered by my grandmother."

The dress was an exquisite one, deep crimson in hue with flowing bell sleeves. In Dolrujâtar culture, red was considered an auspicious color, along with orange and gold, for these hues brought to mind the flames that wreathed the Great Eye. The front of the gown was decorated with an embroidered bib of white and yellow desert flowers and twisting green vines; widely spaced vertical stripes of the same design ran down the skirt. After the handmaidens had assisted Özlem in dressing, they placed upon her head a brightly embroidered cloth hairband adorned with silver discs. Completing the outfit was a lavish parure crafted by skilled Dolrujâtar jewelers. A necklace featuring three large silver circles set with colorful gemstones was placed around the bride's neck; discs of hammered silver graced her petite ears, and chunky silver bangles hung loosely from her slender wrists. 

Once Özlem was clad in bridal finery, it was time for the application of cosmetics to enhance her beauty. Elfhild and Elffled watched in fascination as Özlem darkened her eyelids with smoky brown pigment and then lined her eyes with a kohl stick. The final result was quite dramatic, drawing attention to her large brown eyes and making them appear more luminous. The bruises on Özlem's face were a fading memory, but an application of a flesh-colored cream hid them completely. Taking a small brush, she applied a dark rosy powder to her cheeks to give her face a flushed appearance. A deep red stain upon her lips accentuated her pearly smile. However, Özlem's toilet was not yet finished. Lady Shabimi explained that Dolrujâtar brides painted their faces with mystical symbols that were meant to ward away evil spirits and grant the wearer health and happiness. Soon Özlem's forehead, cheeks, and chin were adorned with sacred symbols of fortune and fertility.

When Lady Shabimi had finished painting Özlem's face, she excused herself from the tent, explaining that she needed to make inquiries concerning the wedding ceremony and the subsequent feast. Planning a wedding could be quite a complicated affair. The handmaidens remained behind, keeping the bride and her friends company. 

As they waited for the lady's return, Elfhild took in Özlem's elaborate ensemble. "Oh, you look so beautiful!"

"You make a lovely bride," Elffled added, grinning. 

Özlem's heavily rouged cheeks blushed even more. "The Dolrujâtar are so generous. I came to them wearing rags, and they gave me clothing and food. Truly I am blessed."

"Indeed, they have been good to us," Elfhild agreed, remembering all the kindness shown to her by the desert people.

"It is a great honor to wear the wedding gown which once belonged to Lady Shabimi's mother," Özlem exclaimed, spinning about in a circle to let the full skirt flare out in all its embroidered floral splendor. 

"Truly a beautiful heirloom," Elffled remarked, fascinated by the beautiful crimson frock and the exquisite needlework that adorned it. "The lady must have spent hours carefully embroidering each flower and vine."

"The gown is so pretty and unique," Elfhild agreed. In Rohan, there was no specific dress that a bride wore to her wedding, although it was customary for her to wear a crown of flowers and wheat upon her head.

The five handmaidens fawned over Özlem, showering her with kind words and compliments and doing their best to relieve any anxieties the bride might have about the coming ceremony. About a half hour had elapsed when Lady Shabimi came rushing into the tent, breathless and wild eyed. "Shakh Esarhaddon and his men are preparing for the bridal parade as we speak," she exclaimed as she approached the three girls. "There is no time for talk. Come, we must hurry!"

As Lady Shabimi and her servants hurriedly assisted Özlem and the twins in last minute preparations, Elfhild hoped that her friend's marriage would be a happy one. The poor girl had suffered so much misery in her brief life, and she deserved to know happiness at last. Elfhild prayed that Zarkfir would prove to be an affectionate and considerate husband. She really did not know much about the man, except that he was handsome and had an air of nobility about him which befitted a desert prince. Elfhild had heard that slave girls seldom became true wives; they were usually concubines because of their lowly status. So perhaps Zarkfir truly loved Özlem, for it was said that only the most lovestruck of men made his concubine his wife. Özlem seemed excited about the wedding, but Elfhild suspected she was more excited about her new life of privilege as the wife of a shakh than she was about Zarkfir himself. Even if the marriage did not turn into a union of love, at least Özlem would have wealth and standing, but most importantly she would have Lady Shabimi, who would be a kind and supportive figure in her life.


Weddings were always lively affairs for the Dolrujâtar, and there were many time-honored traditions associated with these joyous occasions. One such custom was for the bride to be escorted by a parade of well-wishers to the wedding pavilion, representing her leaving her childhood home to start a new life with her husband. Since Özlem was to be the wife of the chieftain's eldest son and heir, it was expected that her procession through the village would be accompanied by more pomp and ceremony than would be reserved for the wife of a common herdsman. Before the wedding festivities were to begin that evening, Özlem and a small entourage of attendants had surreptitiously slipped away to the nearby caravan camp, where they began preparing for a grand parade back to the village.

As the bridal parade set out from the caravan camp, the peaceful desert erupted with the pounding of kettle drums and the high-pitched whine of reed pipes. Özlem rode at the head of the parade upon a lavishly decorated mare; at her side rode Esarhaddon, who was acting in the role of her father, since she was a slave from a foreign land. Behind her rode Elfhild and Elffled, who were serving as her maids. A small party of musicians came next, setting the pace of the march with their boisterous sound. Ganbar, Inbir, and Khaldun made up the rear guard, although their presence was more for show than it was for protection.

A veil of crimson silk stitched with tiny beads hung down over Özlem's face and trailed down her back, giving her an ethereal appearance. It was the custom of the Dolrujâtar for a woman to conceal her identity whilst on the way to her wedding, for it was believed that this would confuse any evil spirits who would dare attempt to steal the bride or do her harm. The bride's attendants were also given matching veils to wear so that the spirits could not be certain which woman was the bride. It was hoped that all these obstacles would convince the dark ones that kidnapping the bride was simply not worth the trouble. Elfhild and Elffled had asked Lady Shabimi if it was a common occurrence for brides to be kidnapped by evil spirits. She had assured them that these sorts of tragedies happened rarely… but they did happen. This was Mordor, after all. As the twins watched the scenery pass by through a crimson haze, they hoped that no trouble would befall their party.

Laughing and cheering villagers crowded around the bridal procession, following it as it entered the gates and wound its way through the dusty streets. Visitors from outlying settlements and curious caravan workers swelled the numbers of well-wishers, and it seemed that the tiny village had suddenly doubled in size. As the twins followed Özlem along the winding parade route, they were delighted to be on horseback once again. For a few brief moments, they could almost forget that they were slaves. 

The wedding pavilion had been set up in a grove of tamarisk and cedar along the rocky banks of the salt lake. Two smaller tents had been erected on either side of the grand pavilion, for there were too many guests to be housed in a single tent. Surrounding the tents were strings of lanterns that had been hung from wooden poles or draped over the boughs of trees in preparation for the feast that night, although for now the lanterns remained unlit. Long strands of feathery pink blooms hung thick as grapes from the tamarisk trees, adding to the romantic ambience of the grove. Elfhild and Elffled looked around in wonder at their surroundings, amazed that Southern Gorgoroth could hold such hidden beauty.

By the time the parade arrived at its destination, the entire village had come out to celebrate the marriage of the chieftain's son, and a jubilant crowd was waiting in front of the wedding pavilion to welcome the bridal procession. Chief Najor and Shakh Zarkfir stood at the forefront of the throng, surrounded by the Dagrí Clan's finest warriors. A strangely dressed man clad in black robes and wearing a horned turban was among them; Elfhild recognized this imposing personage as the clan's shaman. She had never spoken to the man, and had only seen him a few times in the village, but his presence was an ominous one. There was something about the large Eye-shaped amulet about his neck which frightened her, and she found that she could not look at the gleaming jasper for long before she was forced to turn her gaze away.

Servants strode forth to help the women alight from their horses. With Esarhaddon by her side and the twins following behind, Özlem gracefully glided towards the center of the grove. Leaving the company of the other men, Shakh Zarkfir strode forward to meet his bride.

"Now which one of you is Özlem?" Laughing, he looked at each of the three women with mock bewilderment. 

"I am, my lord." Özlem drew the veil away from her face, folding it backwards atop her head. The twins copied her action, glad to be free of the filmy material which clung to their noses and mouths.

"You look supremely beautiful, my lady," Zarkfir told her as she knelt and kissed his hand. As he helped her rise to her feet, she beamed up at him and gazed longingly into his eyes. 

Shakh Najor stepped forward and addressed the assembled crowd. "Esteemed guests and members of my household, my family and I are honored that all of you came this evening to wish my eldest son and his bride best wishes and felicitations. This is a day that will live forever in my heart." As he touched his hand to his chest, his gaze went to Lady Shabimi, whose eyes had grown misty with tears of joy. "I give my approval and blessing to this union, but it is Shaman Zhargal who must call upon the blessings of the Giver of Gifts." He gestured towards the shaman.

Located in the center of the grove was a column of flat stones that had been piled one on top of another until they stood at waist height. A dark basin filled with gleaming coals rested upon the uppermost stone, blazing hot from the bright amber fire within. The black-robed shaman glided up to the altar and motioned for Zarkfir and Özlem to approach. After the betrothed couple had positioned themselves on the opposite side of the pedestal from him, the shaman lifted his hands towards the heavens and began speaking in a loud voice. 

"It is upon this momentous day that I beseech the Lord of Middle-earth to bestow great blessings upon Zarkfir son of Najor and Özlem of the House of Huzziya. To appease the Giver of Gifts and ensure His favor, a sacrifice must be made."

Taking a jewel-hilted knife from his belt, Shaman Zhargal kissed the blade and held it high above his head, intoning a prayer in Black Speech. The crowd fell into a breathless silence, lowering their heads in reverence. The shaman instructed Zarkfir to draw back his sleeve and extend his arm over the coals. Clasping the young shakh's forearm in one hand, the shaman drew the knife over his inner arm, drawing a line of blood which dripped into the fire and sizzled upon the coals. Clenching his jaw, Zarkfir stoically bore the pain of the sacrifice. When it was Özlem's turn, she closed her eyes and turned her head away so as not to see the wickedly sharp blade do its gruesome work. 

"The Lord of Middle-earth always rewards the devotion of the faithful," the shaman murmured, gesturing for a servant to tend to the couple's wounds. "May the Great Eye always watch over your path."

The twins watched the proceedings at the altar with confusion and then with horror. They had heard of blood oaths before, but the concept of shedding blood in offering to a deity was completely alien to them. They felt like they had watched something that was forbidden and profane, and once again they were reminded that they were in Mordor.

Even more disconcerting than the sight of supplicants willingly spilling their blood to appease the Dark Lord were the great praises that were heaped upon that terrible personage. These people did not refer to Sauron as the Enemy or the Nameless Foe, but instead by numerous honorifics and titles of great reverence. Lord of Gifts they called him, but no gift had He ever given to the Rohirrim; no, He had only taken, sending His armies to invade their land. But the Dolrujâtar worshipped Him, humbly beseeching Him to bless them in their daily lives and continue looking upon their tribe with favor. The twins wondered if any marriage blessed by the Dark Lord would prosper. Was the Evil One capable of doing anything good? They certainly hoped so, for Özlem's sake.

With the solemn ceremony of union complete, the wedding celebrations began in earnest. Laughing and cheering, the villagers made their way to the wedding pavilion. All the misgivings that Elfhild and Elffled had about the blood rites and the prayers to the Dark Lord were temporarily forgotten when their eyes beheld the lavish feast before them. There were such delights upon the tables that even the most jaded palate could not help but be impressed. The cooks of both the village and the caravan had been quite busy preparing a wide variety of dishes, from lamb with cucumber yogurt sauce seasoned with dill, to chicken stuffed with herbs. There were trays of meat and cheese pastries, vegetable stew, a medley of pilafs, and stuffed eggplants. For dessert, there were a wide variety of sweetmeats, pastries, and little cakes, as well as fresh fruits such as melons and figs. To drink there was date beer and Nurnian wine, as well as coffee and tea.

Enthralled, Elfhild and Elffled watched as the Dolrujâtar men, ranging in age from beardless youths to venerable elders, formed two lines facing each other. Wearing their finest clothes, they danced and jumped, gleaming scimitars in their hands. The two lines performed a mock fight, thrusting and parrying, their swords gleaming in the light of the setting sun. The crowd became ecstatic, many of them clapping, cheering, and ululating. The frantic beat of the drum and the high-pitched sound of the reed pipes urged the men to dance faster and faster. Their faces streaming with sweat, the men obeyed the beat of the musicians' rhythm until the dance's final conclusion. Breathing heavily, the men raised their scimitars in salute to the bride and groom, and the crowd went wild with cheers.

When the men had returned to their seats, the women of the tribe rose to their feet and began dancing. The dance of the women was far less dramatic than that of the men, but no less energetic. Their colorful skirts flaring about their legs, the women twirled around the pavilion to the pounding rhythm of the drums. Some of the more skilled dancers performed breathtaking feats of acrobatics and balance, while others danced with colorful strips of cloth, waving the fabric through the air as they spun about. The twins thought that their graceful movements resembled a flock of brightly plumaged birds in flight, and they gasped in awe and clapped with joy at the wonderous sights they beheld.

After the women had finished dancing, the men rose to their feet and joined them. Together the men and women of the tribe clasped hands and performed a joyous dance in celebration of the marriage of Shakh Zarkfir and Özlem. Taking the leader's position at the head of the line, Shakh Najor twirled a brightly colored handkerchief and stomped his feet to the music of the drum and pipe. The young women of the tribe were beautiful in their flowing gowns, and the men were splendidly dressed in ceremonial attire. While the dancers kicked and stomped their feet, other guests clapped their hands in time to the rhythm. The dance grew wilder as the spectators applauded, cheered and ululated. Everyone was overjoyed at the good fortune of the bride and groom. The dance symbolized the union of the pair, and the hopes for a long and prosperous life together with many fine sons.

Elfhild was fascinated by the wedding customs of the Dolrujâtar, even though she had found the bloodletting ritual quite disturbing. In Rohan, weddings were usually held outside, often in scenic groves such as this one by the lake. The bride was escorted by her family to the wedding site, although this procession had far less pomp and ceremony than the grand parades that the Dolrujâtar held for their brides. During the wedding ceremony, the groom gave the bride his family's ancestral sword, while the bride gave the groom a weapon provided by her kin. Couples exchanged rings and spoke their nuptial vows over the hilt of the groom's sword. After the ceremony was complete, it was time for feasting and merriment. The groom's party then raced the bride's party to the hall, with the losers having to serve ale to the winners at the wedding feast. How long the proceeding celebrations lasted depended upon the wealth of the families involved, with noble families hosting week-long fetes with singing, dancing, storytelling, wrestling, and other amusements.

While there were many differences between Rohirric and Dolrujâtar weddings, there were just as many similarities. Perhaps if Elfhild ever learned how to read and write, she would chronicle her time among the nomads of Lithlad, and compare the customs of these two very different cultures.


Seated upon a thickly tufted cushion beside her new husband, Özlem felt giddy with excitement. Here they were, the center of attention, with revelers coming from near and far to celebrate their union. The voices of the crowd blended into a buzzing hum reminiscent of a merry hive of bees, and the strings of lanterns twinkled like stars overhead. The evening felt almost magical, and Özlem often wondered if she were dreaming. As she studied the contours of Shakh Zarkfir's handsome face, she could scarcely believe her good fortune. Never in all of her life had she imagined that she, the daughter of a prostitute, would become the wife of a desert prince. 

A blissful dream this was indeed, one from which she never wished to wake. But the foundations of this future that she was establishing for herself were built upon lies and stories untold, and there was always the fear that it would all crumble under the weight of the truth. Her new family did not know of her past, and if they did, they would surely spit upon her with disgust. A child of the brothels of Harad, she had been forced to lie with degenerate men when she was still a child herself. Though her music had saved her from a life of misery and degradation, many would consider her a fallen woman, unfit to be the wife of a prince. Still, perhaps the Dolrujâtar could find enough pity in their hearts to excuse her sordid upbringing, but they would never be able to accept a woman who had been defiled by orcs. Their hatred for those foul creatures was so great that some families would banish their own daughters if a goblin had so much as touched them. But no one would ever know of Özlem's torment at the hands of the orcs. The old midwife had made sure of that with a tincture of pennyroyal.

Özlem tried to push such worries from her mind; it was her wedding day, after all, and she did not want to spoil such a happy occasion with fretful imaginings. There were few who knew her secrets, fewer still once the caravan departed from the oasis. Zarkfir would never say anything that would disgrace her, and he assured her that the old midwife was discreet. Özlem was immensely grateful that she had won the favor of such an understanding man. Although she sensed that he regarded her more with pity than passion, only a fool would find dissatisfaction with this arrangement. She had gone from being an assistant music teacher with an uncertain future to the wife of the future chieftain of the Dolrujâtar tribe.

As she gazed upon her handsome husband with fond affection, Özlem was certain that she would grow to love him. Though she had only known Zarkfir for one day short of a fortnight, she knew in her heart that he was a good man who loved his family and his tribe, a man who treated strangers in need with compassion. She would be forever indebted to his mercy and kindness, and she felt honored that he had chosen her to become his wife. She looked forward to the day when she could give him an heir, for the arrival of a son would solidify her position in the tribe.

Giving Zarkfir an adoring smile, Özlem turned back to watch the crowd of jubilant villagers that had gathered in the wedding pavilion to eat their fill of the great feast. Though they were there to celebrate the marriage of their lord's son, they were also there to see her, to pay homage to the first wife of their future chieftain and seek out her friendship and favor. She smiled softly to herself, taking pleasure in her newfound privilege and power.


As the celebrations continued into the night, a pensive mood came over Shakh Zarkfir. Perhaps it was the heady Nurnian wine speaking, but he began to wonder if this marriage had been a good decision. Özlem was a beautiful woman, resilient and brave, but was he truly in love with her? Or had he been moved to pity by her sorrowful tale and charmed by her skillful dulcimer playing? 

For years his parents had demanded that he take a wife, and when he came upon Özlem stumbling through the desert, it was as though she had been sent to him by the Lord of Gifts. After all, he had first met the lovely Haradric girl upon the very same day that a messenger from the Kukumak Clan arrived at the oasis to propose a union with Lady Latagúniz, the daughter of that clan's chieftain. By marrying Özlem instead, Zarkfir would be spared the company of the chieftain's daughter, who was hideously ugly and had a reputation for being an ill-tempered shrew. Indeed, the unexpected arrival of the fair santur player had been a great boon. 

There was another motivation behind Zarkfir's choice of Özlem to be his first wife: it was an act both of rebellion and revenge. He had been convinced that his parents would be thoroughly outraged by his decision to wed a slave girl from a foreign land, and that thought gave him pleasure. He knew that they would be even more appalled if they knew about Özlem's past, but he vowed to take her secrets to his grave, for he would never do anything to shame her. The act of marrying a slave girl was outrageous enough as it was. A prince such as he was expected to marry the daughter of another chieftain or a noblewoman of slightly lesser station, not some random stranger he met in the desert. Petty and childish though it might be, he had hoped that his parents would froth with rage at his scandalous actions. However, instead of being shamed and embarrassed at his taking a lowly slave as wife, his parents were delighted with the girl and were eager to welcome her to the tribe. While Zarkfir was indeed fond of Özlem and wished to make her happy, he had hoped that his parents would be more offended than they were.

Zarkfir had wanted to play a jest upon his father and mother, but it seemed that he ended up playing the fool instead. O what irony! At least Özlem would benefit from this arrangement. As he glanced over at his adoring and ambitious bride, he wondered if she would be happy in their marriage. He had been honest with her, informing her that he favored men over women, and she had been accepting of his peculiarities. It was indeed a pity that Özlem was not a man, although Zarkfir found the thought of marrying another man quite absurd. The purpose of marriage was to create alliances between families, beget a brood of children who could serve as laborers and warriors, and increase one's wealth and influence by marrying off those children to other families. 

While Zarkfir preferred the companionship of men, every now and then an exceptional woman caught his attention. As the Dagrî Clan's most desirable bachelor, he often found himself fending off the advances of infatuated admirers who had dreams of becoming the wife or concubine of the chieftain's eldest son. Sometimes it was difficult just to walk through the village without pining maidens throwing themselves at his feet and attempting to win him over with fair and flirtatious words, anguished entreaties filled with desperation, or emotional declarations of undying love. He found the attention annoying at times, for he resented anyone who tried to force their will upon him. That was one reason why he preferred men: because they did not look to him to advance their position in society by marriage. Another reason was because he found the passion far more intense. A woman was a delicate flower to cherish and protect; a man was both a lover and a brother in arms. 

As Zarkfir reflected upon all the men whom he had loved, his thoughts drifted towards Jatagan, and he felt the knife of sorrow pierce his heart. Try though he might, he was having difficulty relegating the unfaithful poet to the past. The accursed villain was like a ghost, haunting his mind and holding his heart in thrall! Trying to drink Jatagan's memory away, he downed his goblet in one swallow. The heady Nurnian brew kicked like a mule, and he grimaced with discomfort. He was far more accustomed to the date beer that was brewed by his tribe, but his father preferred wine for special occasions. 

Glancing around the wedding pavilion, Zarkfir's eyes fell upon Khaldun, the second lieutenant of Shakh Esarhaddon uHuzziya's bodyguard, and he felt his breath catch in his throat. Once again he was reminded of how Khaldun possessed an uncanny resemblance to his former lover. It seemed that there was no escape from his treacherous paramour, either in the chambers of his memory or the reality of the present day. Zarkfir wondered if Khaldun bore any other similarities to Jatagan other than his appearance; did he possess an artistic soul and a love of words, both written and spoken? What sort of man was this mysterious warrior from a faraway realm? Did he, too, burn for his own kind, preferring the rough touches of a man's calloused hands to the delicate caresses of a woman? For a brief moment, Zarkfir imagined himself being held in Khaldun's strong arms as they writhed upon the perfumed couch of love.

No, no, he could not think this way! Özlem would be crushed if she knew he harbored such unfaithful thoughts. His face felt hot and red, both from shame and the wine. He could not allow himself to become smitten by this handsome man from Far Harad! Khaldun was not Jatagan, and any parallel between the two was mere coincidence. It was foolish to think otherwise! He must think only of Özlem. This was their wedding night, after all, the beginning of their life together, and he did not wish to do anything to spoil it!

Next Chapter

Previous Chapter
Main Index