The Circles - Book Seven - Chapter 37

The Circles - Book Seven - Land of Treachery
Chapter Thirty-seven
Farewell to the Oasis
Written by Angmar and Elfhild

As the twenty-ninth day of July dawned upon Southern Gorgoroth, the caravan of the House of Huzziya made ready to embark upon the final stages of the journey to Nurn. After a hasty breakfast, laborers began tearing down tents, loading wagons, saddling and harnessing horses, and hitching up teams of oxen. As part of the alliance between Shakh Esarhaddon and the Dolrujâtar, a small party of the Dagrí Clan's fiercest warriors would be accompanying the caravan to the Gap of Nurn to provide protection against orcs and other bandits. Once the caravan reached the Fortress of the Setting Sun, the tribesmen would return to the Oasis of the Solitary Cedar. When the next group of captives was transported from Gondor to Mordor, the Dolrujâtar would provide an escort for the duration of the journey through Gorgoroth and Lithlad.

That morning, Esarhaddon had dined with Shakh Najor and his sons. The occasion had been a most somber meal, for they all knew this would be their last one together, at least for a while. They tarried as long as they could over their food and wine, but the inevitable moment of departure finally arrived. The old shakh gave Esarhaddon a parting gift of a fine scimitar made of steel so strong that most blades would be shattered by the force of it. Najor drew Esarhaddon aside, excitedly telling him that the making of the blade was a closely guarded secret known only to the smiths of the Dolrujâtar and the Giver of Gifts Himself. The blade's worth was incalculable, and Esarhaddon was quite impressed, impressed so much that he almost – but not quite – wept when he was presented the weapon. The two men vowed that their friendship would endure forever and a day, and promised that they would maintain a correspondence by courier whenever an opportunity presented itself.

As the two men said their farewells, Najor wept unashamedly, the tears streaming down his face. The Dolrujâtar were an emotional people, violent and savage towards their enemies, but generous and kind to their friends and families. They were not averse to displaying their emotions publicly, so no one thought anything of it when men wept upon parting with friends and comrades. Overcome by emotion, Shakh Najor embraced Esarhaddon, kissing him on both cheeks. Then, his arms on his friend's shoulders, he looked in the direction of the Dark Tower and asked that the blessings of the Lord of Gifts be upon the slaver and all his possessions. He then implored the ancestral spirits of the Dolrujâtar to guide his friend through the wastelands, providing him with clean water and making certain there were always salt and food upon his table.

While Esarhaddon and Najor shared one last conversation ere the departure of the caravan, Shakh Zarkfir glanced in Khaldun's direction. Though he remembered his loyalty to Özlem, still he found himself yearning for the captain. Alas, that was just the sort of man he was, always pining for the unobtainable, even when it caused him great pain! His kohl-lined eyes were damp and filled with longing, and he choked back a sob. Most of the men thought that he had been caught up in the farewells, while others sensed that he harbored a secret infatuation towards the captain. Khaldun acknowledged Zarkfir with a perfunctory nod, his expression unreadable. The time to depart had arrived, and though he would remember the handsome prince from time to time – perhaps even aching for him in the silent loneliness of the night – he was glad that he had resisted the temptation to stay. His duty lay in one direction, and that was with the House of Huzziya. Perhaps someday he would find some man or woman whom he could truly love, but for now he was determined not to give his heart to anyone.

When all the farewells had been said, Esarhaddon mounted his new mare Zûbardniz and rode her to the head of the column, Khaldun and his other men beside him. Guards barked orders to the captives, forming them into orderly rows as though they were soldiers in Mordor's immense armies. Chains had already been hooked to the collars about their necks, their hands bound in front of them. The head slaver had no desire for any of his valuable merchandise to wander off and become lost, or attempt to escape into the trackless wastes of the desert. A blare of horns sounded, signaling that it was time for the caravan to move. The long line of people and animals jerked sluggishly forward like a sleepy sun-warmed serpent slithering its way across the green plain.

"I will miss the oasis," Elfhild sighed, her mood gloomy. The iron collar around her neck rubbed uncomfortably against her skin with the movements of her fellow captives, and it seemed that the chains were heavier than they had ever been. She had spent the past sixteen days in relative freedom, and to go back to being bound and guarded all the time was a sore burden for her spirit to bear.

"I wish Lady Shabimi could have purchased us from the slaver." Elffled's voice was heavy with disappointment. "It would not be so bad to live among the Dolrujâtar."

"According to the laws of this land, foreign captives must be sold upon the auction block. If this were not so, I have no doubt that Lady Shabimi would have made an offer." Elfhild's own words sounded strange to her ears. Here she was, discussing herself in such cold, impersonal terms as though she were some sort of commodity. But, unfortunately, that was what she was considered by the denizens of Mordor. A harsh truth, indeed, but one that she had grudgingly come to accept.

"Although I was only at the oasis for a few days, the people there seemed kind," Elffled remarked. "Would that we could have sojourned there longer!" She twisted her head back for one last look at the village. She saw little, though, for the village was rapidly becoming swallowed up in the rolling cloud of dust stirred up by the many feet and hooves of the caravan.

The twins' conversation was interrupted by the sudden crack of a whip. "No gawking now, slaves! There is nothing back there for you!" a guard barked hoarsely in the growing morning heat.

Too intimidated to defy the overseer, Elfhild and Elffled fell silent, their gazes fixed upon the desolate landscape before them. With each step that took them towards an uncertain future, they felt their spirits sinking with an ever-deepening despair.


The caravan reached the Nurn Road by evening. The Rohirric captives were exhausted from the day's march, and they felt a sense of relief when the overseers gave the signal to halt. The journey seemed longer and more arduous than usual to legs that had become accustomed to idleness during the lengthy sojourn at Dâltgund Cistern and the four-day reprieve at the Oasis of the Solitary Cedar. The green palm trees and crystalline waters of the oasis were far behind them now, and once again they were surrounded by the barren wastes of Lithlad. At least here in Southern Gorgoroth, there were clumps of greenish gray grasses and succulents to break up the reddish brown monotony of the desert, but the landscape still seemed quite bleak to those accustomed to the verdant fields and snow-covered mountains of Rohan.

As the sun sank beneath the Ephel Dúath to the west, the peace of the evening settled over the camp, the darkness gradually deepening as the stars began to come out one by one. While the captives and the caravan laborers rested from the day's journey, another member of the camp was wide awake and making ready to embark upon a journey of his own. Ulimaghûlb, former vizier to the late King Thaguzgoth of the Kafakudraûg Clan of the Sand Orcs, was ready to return to his own people, now that he was far from the treacherous Prince Ashpar and the bloodthirsty Dolrujâtar warriors. His pockets were heavy with coin, for he had been richly rewarded by the House of Huzziya for his tracking services during the search for the two missing slave girls, and he had been given provisions for his journey and weapons to protect himself should he be unfortunate enough to chance upon his enemies. All that remained now was to bid farewell to Captain Khaldun, whom he considered a friend, as much as a goblin could consider someone a friend. Raising a toast to both their futures and their fortunes, the captain and the vizier drank from a jug of Nurnian wine that had been provided by Shakh Esarhaddon.

"Your master has excellent taste," Ulimaghûlb had remarked, smacking his lips. "Far better than that miserable popskull my people brew! That stuff tastes worse than goat piss!"

"Ulimaghûlb, my friend," Khaldun chuckled, "how would you know how goat piss tastes? Surely you have never drunk it!"

"If your kind bothered to learn anything about my people, you would know that we live by necessity, utilizing whatever circumstances provide us." Ulimaghûlb eyed Khaldun speculatively before his thick, greenish lips turned up in a smile. "To answer your question, no, goat urine is not at the top of our menu. The only time I ever drank it was when I was on a dare as an imp. Nasty stuff!" He shook his head. "Utterly nasty!"

"My friend, I will miss you." Khaldun's face grew solemn. "I have met few, either man or orc, who could make me laugh as easily as you." He lay his hand on the goblin's shoulder. "You are a rare individual."

"I regret that I can no longer enrich your life, Captain." Despite the mild sarcasm in his words, Ulimaghûlb looked away to hide the sadness in his yellow eyes. "We both know that my deception is no longer needed, and that my continued presence in the camp would only raise questions. Actually, I am surprised that no one discovered our secret."

"I am glad that they did not. Things would have gone very poorly with the Dolrujâtar had it been discovered that my 'wife' was really an exiled goblin vizier." His brow deeply furrowed, Khaldun looked down at his cup. "I have enjoyed working with you, Ulimaghûlb."

"I have enjoyed our partnership, Khaldun, but the time has come for me to leave." Setting his cup down on the table, the goblin vizier rose to his feet. "I must be on my way to find my own people."

"Not even enough time for another drink?" Khaldun asked dolefully.

"Unfortunately, no," the goblin replied. "Dawn is not that far away, and I must get a head start before the sun rises."

"Farewell, Ulimaghûlb, my good friend and boon companion... and wife." Khaldun's voice broke slightly as he and the orc embraced.

"Farewell, Captain. Perhaps we will meet again, and even if we do not, maybe you will be lucky someday and find another goblin to be your bride, but he will not be half as good as I am!" A lopsided smile pulled Ulimaghûlb's mouth to one side, and his eyes glittered with mirth.

Opening the tent flap for him, Khaldun watched as the laughing goblin disappeared into the night. He felt certain that the wily vizier would find his way back to his own people.

Khaldun had never thought that he would miss the ugly brute, but he found that he did. He had grown so accustomed to the orc that he half expected to turn around and find the stealthy fellow behind him, reminding him that it was time to go to bed. Khaldun had always thought of goblins as unintelligent creatures, little better than animals, but he had been amazed by Ulimaghûlb's remarkable mental acuity. That quick brain and cunning nature should not have surprised Khaldun, for Ulimaghûlb had been the grand vizier of the Sand Orc court. Both witty and crafty, he had shown himself to be a remarkable actor, playing his part so well that everyone at the Dolrujâtar village was convinced that he really was a woman. More than that, though, he had proved himself to be a loyal friend. Now he was gone, and once again Khaldun found himself alone.


During the evening meal, Elfhild and Elffled were assailed by questions concerning the three-day-long wedding celebration that commemorated the union between Özlem and Shakh Zarkfir. The girls in their troop were intrigued by the Dolrujâtar and their curious customs, and more than a little bit jealous that they had not been permitted to attend the festivities. While most of the girls tried to hide their envy out of friendship for the twins, Tove and Cyneburh were especially venomous that evening, for they resented the fact that two lowly peasants had been granted special privileges by Shakh Esarhaddon. Of course, there would have been little reason for them to attend the wedding of a group of strangers, but it was the principle of the matter that caused them great offense. Elfhild and Elffled tried to ignore the incessant whining and snide remarks of the two haughty daughters of the nobility, but it was a sore challenge at times.

Fortunately, Tove and Cyneburh decided to retire early, and the twins were left with the girls and young women whom they called friends. Though they missed their friends among the Dolrujâtar, it was good to be among their own people once again. The little group talked for a good while until they were silenced by the orders of the guards, who informed them that it was time for all the captives to go to sleep. It was with much disappointment that the girls took to their bedrolls, for they wanted to know more about the twins' adventures at the oasis.

Although the day's march had left their legs aching and their feet sore, Elfhild and Elffled found sleep elusive that night. Their hearts were heavy with grief, and their minds were filled with worry. The Oasis of the Solitary Cedar had been Elfhild's dwelling for over a fortnight, and for a brief moment in time, she had experienced once again the stability of having a home and a family. Ever since she had been captured, she had felt as rootless as a tumbleweed in the wind, always being tossed and shuffled about by forces out of her control. Though no one could ever replace her family, Lady Shabimi had been so kind to her, and her handmaidens had made for delightful companions. She had learned so much about the ways and customs of the Dolrujâtar, and her knowledge of Black Speech, although still lacking horribly, had begun to blossom and grow.

Elfhild would also miss Özlem, the first real friend she had made among the people of the South. They had lived through the horror of the attack on Esarhaddon's tent, suffered together as captives among orcs and goblins, and wandered through the desert, tormented by heat and thirst. Many times they both thought that they would surely die, but they had survived. Now Özlem was the wife of a desert prince, a position of great honor.

"Well, at least one of us had some good luck," Elfhild mused wryly. The happy ending to Özlem's tale made her wonder about the ending of her own story, though. What would become of Elffled and her? This dreadful uncertainty had troubled her ever since they had been captured back in the spring, tormenting her thoughts in the stillness of the night with any number of terrible scenarios. No matter how weary she was, she often found herself staring into the darkness as horrible visions came unbidden to her mind, and when she at last succumbed to slumber, her sleep was restless and filled with nightmares.

Elfhild had gone to the fortuneteller's wain to seek answers for the questions that plagued her, but the seer's prophesy had only added to her woes. Treachery... war... cities in flames... What did it all mean? Had they not been taken far from the war when the uruk raiders dragged them from their burning home and the lifeless body of their mother? Their parents and brother were dead; what greater misfortune could befall them? Had they not suffered enough already?

As she futilely sought out sleep, Elffled reflected upon her time with the desert people. Though she had been a guest of the Dolrujâtar for only four days, she understood why Elfhild had grown to love the oasis and its people so much. She had enjoyed becoming better acquainted with Özlem and meeting Lady Shabimi and her handmaidens. How skillfully the lady managed her household, ensuring that all ran smoothly while she planned a lavish wedding in such a short period of time. She had done her best to make Özlem feel at ease during the wedding festivities, and ensured that all of the guests felt happy and included as well. But most amazingly of all, the lady had accomplished these feats without seeming the least bit ruffled. Did she truly possess such incredible patience and confidence, or was she merely good at hiding all of her frustrations and annoyances beneath a tranquil facade? Alas, Elffled would never get to find out.

The Oasis of the Solitary Cedar was only a brief stop upon their journey, and their destination lay far to the south in the land of Nurn. What would happen to them once they arrived? That question troubled Elffled just as much as it did her twin. Would their master or mistress be kind or cruel? What would their life as slaves be like? Would they be doomed to toil as menial thralls for the rest of their days, or would there be the possibility of advancement? And if so, at what cost would these privileges come, and would they both be willing to pay the price?

Then, too, there was the matter of Laskohki's prophesy. Although Elffled believed that there was far more theatre than truth in the fortuneteller's words, still she could not deny that she was concerned by all the talk of war and destruction. What if Laskohki was indeed correct in her prognostications? Would these calamitous events come to pass? Perhaps now that she had knowledge of the future, she would be able to recognize the signs preceding this impending catastrophe, and thus be able to stop it from happening.

Oh, these sorts of thoughts were utter foolishness! Laskohki was naught but a babbling liar who claimed that she saw spirits in her scrying stone when most likely all she really saw was the reflection of her own face. Elffled suspected that the fortuneteller had purposefully left her on tenters in the hope that she and her sister would return for a second prediction. Perhaps fearmongering was how Laskohki made her coin. If she filled her customers' heads with dreadful imaginings, they would keep coming back in hopes that her visions of their future would improve. It would be folly to pay any heed to the words of such a deceitful villainess.

While Elffled knew not what her future held, she knew that both her doom and her hope lay in Mordor. Whatever misfortune befell her, whatever cruel circumstance awaited, she was determined to survive it all and rise above, no matter what.


Here ends the seventh book of THE CIRCLES.

The eighth book is called A MORDORIAN BESTIARY.

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