The Circles - Book Eight - Chapter 12

The Circles - Book Eight - A Mordorian Bestiary
Chapter Twelve
Travesty of a Farce
Written by Angmar

Far above the dusty plain and the treacherous path up the mountain, a tall, lanky figure peered down from a narrow window in the fortress' topmost tower. Hands trembling with excitement rubbed together as the lean body shook with peals of laughter, not the innocent mirth of a good humor, but the deranged gaiety of a maniacal impulse towards hilarity. Overcome by the fit, the man found himself becoming choked, and laid a hand upon the window casing until the coughing subsided.

It had been too long since he had been granted leave from the post, far too long. Life in the isolated fortress had begun to wear heavily upon him, until he felt that he had imploded upon himself and was trapped within the chambers of his own mind! Of course, he knew that was not really the case, for had he indeed imploded, he would no longer be there, and he knew that he was there, for his men talked to him every day, and only a lunatic would carry on a conversation with nobody. Just to make sure, though, he would often halt in the middle of conversations, and inquire about the veracity of his existence... His generals thought him odd – they were all plotting his doom anyway, but it amused him to keep them alive because he was curious about how they planned to destroy him – but knowing for certain if he was truly real was far more important than maintaining the favor of his treacherous underlings.

But now the tedium and monotony of his life would soon be over for a time, for he would have a visitor! And a most special visitor it was, indeed. His old friend Esarhaddon uHuzziya, the slave trader from Nurn. He clapped his hands and giggled like a little child. Oh, this would be such fun!

General Favarti had a score to settle with the slave trader. Back in the spring, the General had worked feverishly to complete a play more wonderful than any he had ever written before. He had locked himself in his chambers for days at a time, scarcely eating and refusing to bathe or change his clothes, sometimes even urinating on himself, all for the sake of art. At last he left his chambers, but only when he was satisfied that his play was indeed a masterpiece, more memorable than any play which had ever been written in all the past ages of Middle-earth. General Favarti was a man who recognized his own genius.

On the way north to Gondor in the spring, Esarhaddon's caravan had been forced to stop at Lug Aanzaabr and buy water. While there, he and Tushratta had been the honored guests at the premiere of the play, and General Favarti had spared no expense to entertain them. Sumptuous food that would tempt the palate of the most jaded royal and drink from the finest vineyards had adorned the tables. Favarti had taken special pains to see that the great hall was cleaned and embellished, even planning and designing many of the decorations himself. Festive garlands and banners of blue, white and silver were hung from the posts in the great hall, and for the occasion, Favarti had even loaned a handsome and expensive tapestry. The wall hanging, which had been commissioned by Favarti, adorned his private quarters, and showed the General dressed as a handsome young shepherd in a pastoral landscape.

The slaves had constructed a temporary stage on one side of the hall, and Favarti had kept them occupied for weeks painting backdrops and building elaborate sets. Unfortunately, several slaves had earned harsh beatings when they did not fully capture the mood which Favarti wanted to convey. "Less than perfect is not half good enough," Favarti had admonished them as he personally lay the whip to their bleeding backs and flanks.

The setting for Favarti's epic work had been the snow-capped mountains, and he had decorated the hall with an alpine theme. Snow concocted from cotton was spread across the floor, and a herd of goats was set loose in the great hall to gallop and gambol among the audience. Though Favarti had found the goats delightful, many of the guests became irate with the animals, who nibbled at their clothing and clattered across the tables, spilling food and drink and sending dishes shattering upon the floor in their wake.

Favarti had named the crowning theatrical work of his life up to that point, "The Song of the Lonely Shepherdess." The cast was composed entirely of men, for he believed that women were incapable of conveying the same depth and passion in acting as their male counterparts. This creative decision was not considered all that unusual, for in some regions of the South and East, women were forbidden to ascend to the stage, unless they were entertaining an all-female audience.

Figuring prominently in Favarti's opus was a group of milkmaids, all sisters, and their elderly father. Their aged sire was stooped and weary, and he needed young blood to help him shepherd his flocks. He had gone to the matchmakers to help him find suitable husbands for his daughters, but no matter how fine and strong the young men were, the girls all refused them. Throughout the play, the father constantly bemoaned his lack of sons-in-law, and often supporting him in his sorrows were the sisters' friends, who chided and admonished them whenever one of them turned down another prospect.

Favarti invariably chose the strongest, brawniest and most manly men to portray the enticing milkmaids. Though few dared to comment, many soldiers wondered why the General did not pick more comely young males for the part. Favarti could care less what his soldiers thought, and seemed to obtain a perverse satisfaction from seeing the roughest and doughtiest men playing the parts of beautiful young shepherdesses. Other soldiers, whose tastes ran to their own gender, were delighted with the General's choices, and always looked to the General's plays as an opportunity to lust and drool. No one could deny that some of the younger warriors did look absolutely fetching with their plucked eyebrows, kohl-lined eyes, painted ruby red lips and rouged cheeks. However, for the most part, the men, especially the battle-hardened and grizzled warriors, seemed ridiculous and uncomfortable in their girlish roles.

During a rehearsal, when one of Favarti's assistant directors had suggested that the men would look "more appealing" if their beards, chests, legs, and arms were shaved, Favarti flew into a fit. Screaming, he grabbed a pot of stage paint and threw it into the man's face, splattering paint in all directions. The unfortunate assistant director was hauled off to the dungeon, where he endured the agonies of the rack until he confessed that he had absolutely no taste in matters of art. Favarti rewarded his penitence by giving him a role as one of the sprightly milkmaids. After this dramatic confrontation, no one ever dared challenge the hairy legs and thick, muscular calves and thighs which peeked from beneath scandalously short skirts.

The play was preceded by a great and wondrous feast which took the fortress' cooks days to prepare. A camel stuffed with a whole sheep served as the highlight of the meal, much to the awe and delight of the guests. After the dishes were cleared by the servants, all eyes went to the stage, where the goats from the prelude baaed and bleated from their corral. With their stomachs satiated on excellent food and their wine goblets filled to the brim, the guests were prepared to sit back on silken cushions and enjoy the play.

When the first act opened, the milkmaids were gathered around their leader, who was singing a sorrowful song about a girl who was trapped in a loveless marriage to a man much older than she. Accompanied by a young captain who softly plucked the lute, the other milkmaids joined the soloist for the chorus.

Every soldier in the garrison – except for those close enough to death to feel its cold, frigid shadow cross over their faces – were expected to be present at the play. Although word had filtered out at rehearsals that Favarti had written a romantic comedy, many of the soldiers still had hopes that it would really be an adventure depicting manly men doing brave and daring deeds. Disgusted and disappointed that their comrades in arms were forced to portray women, they bit their tongues and suffered in silence. The reality of seeing their hairy legged fellow soldiers appearing in short chitons draped and pinned at the shoulders and slit on the side from the armpit to the knee did not sit well with their ideas of manhood. Still, their faces showed no emotion, and they clapped politely under the watchful eye of the General. They all knew that Favarti was totally mad, and very, very dangerous.

The play progressed as slowly as the growth of hair on a corpse, and any laughter that could be squeezed out of the stilted scenes seemed hollow and unnatural. Up until the second act, Esarhaddon uHuzziya had paid scant attention to the antics of the players, for he had been drinking away the memory of the production before it had a chance to etch itself into his mind. The wine had finally taken effect, and the slaver had drifted asleep, his head lolling back as he snored loudly. Seeing his employer's condition, Tushratta gently shook him to wakefulness. "My lord, you must try to stay awake! It is never wise to bait the lion in his den."

"Lion?" Esarhaddon laughed, far too loudly. "More like a demented hyena."

"My lord, speak softly, for even hyenas have long teeth and very good hearing," Tushratta advised, keeping his voice as low as possible. All heads had turned to look in their direction, including the men in the cast, but their notice did not alarm him so much as did the eyes of Favarti, who had fixed them with an expression of icy malice.

"We have been enduring this meaningless tripe for over an hour," Esarhaddon grumbled as he accepted a goblet of wine from a passing servant. "How much longer will this farce of a play last?"

"My lord, please, the General will be offended at your remarks about his play," Tushratta put in judiciously. "He feels strongly about his art." His employer had already consumed far too much wine, and was not thinking clearly, or he never would have abandoned his usual courtesy and good manners. It was useless to argue when the slaver was in this condition, and continued disputation would cause an unpleasant scene. Tushratta put on his usual mask of indifference and tried to suffer through the play.

"You are too kind, Tushratta," Esarhaddon replied, his voice even louder than before. "This is not art! It is the insipid work of a deranged mind, a travesty of a farce." Favarti could not help overhearing the slaver's comments, and marked down every insult and barb in his unforgiving brain, storing them there to brood over in the days to come.

The milkmaids capered and pranced, singing off-key songs about the glories of the mountains and the beauties of the simple life. Occasionally, some narrowly missed being abducted by the goat herders from the mountains across the valley, but all being fast runners, the maids easily escaped.

The climax of the last act was a scene in which two ardent swains revealed their love for the "heroine," a dark bearded man whose misshapen nose had once been broken in a brawl in a tavern. After being endlessly wooed by the two men, the blushing "maiden," her beard tied becomingly with blue ribbons, promised she would wed the would-be lover who brought her the finest goat. Then when the two lovesick suitors arrived, each with a fine young doe, she told them that she would give her hand to the one whose goat gave the most milk. While the two men were furiously milking the two does, she slipped away undetected and went to the top of a mountain. The stage lights, covered with red paper, had been dimmed to reflect a beautiful red sunset. The pure young maiden sang a long and heartrending ballad in a deep base voice.

Many of the men in the audience thought this scene must have been written for humor, but when they looked to Favarti, they saw that his face was bathed in tears. Not knowing whether the General had been so moved by his own writing that he had been driven to tears, or if he had laughed so hard that it had made him sob, the audience decided it was safer to laugh than to cry. While the heroine clenched her hands and gazed to the sky for guidance, Favarti slipped away from the stage. Everyone assumed that he was answering the call of nature, since he had always been weak in the kidneys, and he consumed a large quantity of wine.

The final scene came to a bizarre conclusion. With no explanation for his appearance in the play, Favarti suddenly strutted out onto the stage, long, twisted horns atop his head and his lanky body covered with the tangled red hair of a billy goat. Rising from between his furry legs was a pair of enormous cullions and a gigantic phallus, pointing straight as a spear. Singing in an off-key tenor voice, Favarti told the world of his love for the hirsute milkmaid. As the pair skipped off hand in hand into the sunset, the two swains came upon them. Overcome by the pang of unrequited love, they both fell on their swords and collapsed upon the stage, each man's dying hand reaching out to clasp the other. A ripple of shock, revulsion and confusion coursed through the audience.

"What in Udûn?!" Esarhaddon shouted, turning to stare at Tushratta. "You mean she eloped with the goat?"

"Yes, my lord," Tushratta answered dryly. "That seems to be the conclusion." His face emotionless, he stared straight ahead into nothing, and feared for their future.

"What was it about?" Esarhaddon persisted, his face perplexed and angry.

"It must have some deep meaning, my lord," Tushratta replied. "But I am at a loss as to what it is."

While Esarhaddon and Tushratta were not impressed by Favarti's play, many in the audience cheered and applauded. As the applause grew more tumultuous, Favarti stepped to the front of the stage, where he received a standing ovation. Those who most wanted to curry his favor threw flowers at his feet. Bleating, Favarti capered and danced among the petals, the huge phallus bobbing up and down. In a bizarre conclusion to his dance, he grabbed his leading lady and bent her over a goat pen. To the terrified bleating of the goats and the delighted cheers of some of the crowd, he flipped up her chiton and rammed her hairy hindquarters with the artificial member. The fair maiden squealed and giggled in a high-pitched falsetto voice, the blue ribbons which bedecked her beard bouncing with each thrust.

Enraged, Esarhaddon rose to his feet and stormed out of the hall with a white-faced Tushratta following behind him. Favarti's lustful leer twisted downward into a frown as he watched them leave. How dare they! The slaver's remarks and abrupt departure had tainted the glory of his crowning achievement! He considered ordering the guards to drag them back, throw them into his prison, and torture them to death! "Oh, damned," he thought, "my hands are tied there! If I kill the money-grubbing bastard and his healer, the Mighty Lord will have my head for it! Why He ever puts these scoundrels under His protection is beyond me! He spoils the merchants while honest military men like me must bear their scorn and humiliation. No matter his high connections, I will have my revenge. I must think of something that would not kill the slaver, but merely put him in his place. I will be prepared for him when he returns on his journey south!"

Now the time had finally arrived for the revenge which had been long plotted in Favarti's feverish mind. For months he planned to play a joke upon the slaver, grand in its immensity and fearful in its magnificence. As he stared out over the parapet, he watched Esarhaddon's horse take him step by step closer to the ultimate humiliation. The excitement was just too much, and Favarti began to clap his hands and rock back and forth on his heels, a deranged cackle rising up in his throat. The nervous tic in his right eye jerked and twitched three times as he cracked his knuckles in trembling anticipation.

Soon, soon...

He threw his head back and howled as wild laughter possessed him like a fell spirit.

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