The Circles - Book Eight - Chapter 13

The Circles - Book Eight - A Mordorian Bestiary
Chapter Thirteen
Written by Angmar and Elfhild

While Esarhaddon ascended to the summit of the Mountain of the Setting Sun, the caravan laborers began setting up camp on the plain far below. The caravan would be sojourning there for two nights to allow the captives and their guards, the workers and drivers, and the pack animals to rest before pushing onward to the final leagues of the journey. This brief halt would also allow the caravan's supply of water to be refreshed from the military-operated cisterns, and supplies to be purchased from the nearby settlement of Ordthul.

As the guards released the captives from their bonds, they announced that officials from Lug Aanzaabr would be arriving shortly to conduct a roll call and inspection. This proclamation was met by a few groans of displeasure and sighs of resignation from the women and children, which were quickly silenced by the disapproving guards.

"Why do you think they are inspecting us?" Uncertain what was happening, Elfhild looked around at the other girls in her troop. Why would outsiders have need to count them? Every morning when the captives were forced to submit to their chains, the caravan guards conducted a roll call to ensure that all were present and no one had fled during the night.

"Oh, just the usual thing; they want a tally of names and numbers." Tove shrugged, rolling her eyes. "Honestly, I would think you two would be used to it by now."

"They were not with us when the caravan traveled past Minas Morgul and Utot-Dalbukot," Beorhtwyn explained, glaring at Tove. "Whenever a caravan reaches certain checkpoints, officials are required to count the number of travelers and compare their total with the records kept by the caravan master."

"They dread the thought of any of us escaping," Hereswith muttered bitterly.

"It is taking long enough to get started," Elffled grumbled, eager to have the formality over. Her stomach was growling, and she was looking forward to eating the evening meal.

A herald of trumpets announced the arrival of a party of guards from Lug Aanzaabr. The small procession was led by a Pizgal, a corporal in the Mordorian army. Turning over their authority to the Pizgal, the caravan guards retreated a short distance away to wait out the inspection. The Pizgal ordered that the captives line up in two rows facing each other. Once they were in position, fortress guards moved to stand behind the captives and at the ends of both the rows. Two officers stood in the center, waiting.

"Attention!" the Pizgal commanded. "Roll call and inspection time! Look lively! Stand straight! Pull your shoulders back! Hold up your heads! Wipe the idiotic expressions off your faces! Keep those brats in line!" He barked out the orders like an archer firing arrows. "If you slaves know what is good for you, you will be looking your best now, because you are about to be highly honored. The Officer of Inspection is the great Grat-Durgund. Remember this: if you please him, all will be well, but if he is offended in any way, he will render the fat out of your bodies and spread it over his bread."

"He will not find much fat in me," Elfhild muttered under her breath, glancing down at her twig-thin body. "The journey rendered me out a long time ago."

"Shhh!" Elffled hissed. "Do not do anything to arouse their attention! You know what happens when you do!"

"Now, I will give you a piece of good advice," the Pizgal continued. "Behave and show your best manners. When the great Grat-Durgund arrives, bow down on your knees, your foreheads to the sand! It is a great breach of courtesy if you do not, and offenders will be soundly punished – by orders of General Favarti!"

A drum began to beat. The captives turned their heads to find the source of the drumming, but as yet there was no sign of the mysterious Grat-Durgund or his escort. The wait seemed long as the women and children wondered who – or what – Grat-Durgund was. The Pizgal, who stood in the center of the square between the two lines of prisoners, shouted to them, "Heads to the front! Face me! No looking to either side! Straight ahead now!" The small children glanced questioningly up to their mothers, who had no answers, only a gentle squeeze of the hand.

Into view came a procession led by a drummer; standard bearers carried the banners of both Mordor and Nurn, and an orc bore a green skull on a pole. Marching smartly behind them was an escort of six uruks, all heavily armed. A handsome palanquin, painted in green and blue and enclosed with curtains of the same colors, was carried by three slaves on each side. Other slaves followed behind the litter, carrying a variety of caskets and chests. Behind the train, another escort of six guards followed. The litter bearers halted directly in the center of the two rows of captives and carefully lowered their heavy burden to the ground. An attendant rushed forward, bearing a large parasol to protect the inhabitant of the palanquin from the harsh rays of the desert sun. Their heads bowed, the litter bearers knelt by the poles and waited.

One of the guards drew open the curtain that covered the door, and out stepped a great, hulking being of immense size: Grat-Durgund. Surely this strange creature was some cross between a uruk and a mountain troll, the captives reasoned to themselves, for an ordinary orc could not grow to such huge proportions. Garbed in brilliant red robes adorned with golden thread, a large golden earring in each ear, he was a fearsome sight to behold.

"Down on your knees, slaves!" the Pizgal shouted. "Behold the awesome presence of the most illustrious Inspector Grat-Durgund!" Appalled by the monstrous, misshapen vision, the captives needed no further urging, and almost as one they dropped to their knees, their foreheads pressed tightly to the sand.

"That will do, my good Pizgal," the inspector huffed, his fat cheeks flapping with each word, as he waddled over to stand by the officer. The attendant rushed along behind the great creature, shading him with the parasol. "Allow the wretches up and see a sight such as they have never seen before! Parade them, parade them! I would see what I have been brought."

The captives were almost too shocked to move, but when the guards brandished their spears, the women and children forced themselves to their feet, moving forward. How disgusting and humiliating it was to be driven around like cattle on market day, and all for the pleasure of a bloated beast who resembled a hog!

"Halt!" Grat-Durgund bellowed out. "Lads, I have seen enough. Bring them back and divide them once again into two lines. The Pizgal here can call the roll and make sure all the chattel is present. After we have made sure that all our tattered beggars have been accounted for, I shall walk among them and inspect them more closely." The fortress guards soon had the women and children formed once again into two columns. After the roll was read and answered, and it was determined that no slaves were missing, Grat-Durgund clasped his hands behind his back. His eyes hidden under heavy eyebrows set in a thoughtful scowl, he walked to the end of one line and began marching down its length, the faithful parasol-bearer following behind.

"You there," he shouted and waddled closer to a young mother who was holding a small baby in her arms. "You there, the golden hair with the suckling babe." He reached out and took one of the woman's breasts in his meaty paw, squeezing firmly until a drop of milk darkened her dress. The woman kept her gaze lowered to the ground, a blush of shame and embarrassment reddening her cheeks.

"As anyone can see, you are far too gaunt, and your pathetic breasts won't make enough milk for your little piglet. We must not let him get too lean or he won't be worth the eating!" The inspector threw back his head and laughed and rubbed his stomach. "The fat ones are the most tender, nice and chubby with such succulent flesh. ...I eat them, you know," he leaned into her face, "and like them plump and juicy. None of those stringy little runts for me. I'll save the bones for you, though, and you can make them into a necklace, or use them in a stew." As he roared in laughter, the other orcs joined him, their mirthful guffaws rising in a clamorous braying of sound.

"Lads!" Grat-Durgund exclaimed. "See that she has an extra portion of food this evening so that she will give more milk! We must have fat little ones for the pot!" He left the shocked mother and continued his walk down the line until he came to a woman with a small boy by her side.

Bending down, he caught the boy about the waist and pulled him closer, peering down into his face. His other hand pinched the boy's chubby cheek. "Little fat pig," Grat-Durgund sang, "dance me a jig, and I'll roast you and toast you, let your fat sizzle, I'll pour it in a drizzle, over my jam and bread. Dimpled little darling, chubby face so charming, mother's all alarming. Chubby flesh of rumpling, I'll have you cooked with doughy dumpling!" The frightened boy tried to pull back, but the huge creature held him fast.

"We are a merry lot here, aren't we, lads," Grat-Durgund looked to his men, "and we like our piglets dripping with fat, tender and juicy. They call me Foshânhâl, 'Baby Eater,' for I like to munch on them now and then. I never want them overdone, mind you, but never underdone either."

He left the yowling boy and walked over to another cringing woman holding a baby, and took the screaming child in his arms. "Look at that," he remarked as he pulled the covering away from the child, "look at that won't you!" He pinched the fat thigh of the baby and listened to its screams. "Fat little one, isn't he?" The mother stood and trembled, rooted to the ground in her terror. "Thrifty, you kept it. Now," he handed the babe back to the mother, "keep him fat. I'll serve him with dumplings!"

"No!" the mother wailed, closing her eyes tightly. "No, no, please, no! Let him alone!"

Grat-Durgund stepped back from her, straightening himself up to his full height, which was far taller than any of the other orcs around him. "Well, maybe I will," he chuckled, "and maybe I won't. But I likes them fat. Not too fat, for they are blubbery like that. Just enough fat, you know, tender and sweet, and not too lean. I don't like them like that. Stringy little bastards, tough muscle and sinew. I like them just right." He laughed and slapped his bulging stomach as the uruks roared with laughter.

Grat-Durgund ignored the mother, who was close to fainting, and looked down the column of women and children. "Now I want all of you to walk about some more! Else how can I see how much meat you have on those rumps! There's nothing like rump meat to invigorate the appetite! Haunches and thigh, all baked in a pie, and when it's done, there's even more fun... I'll have it with a dollop of cheese."

His great glowing yellow eyes followed the slaves as they marched about him. "Viewing so much flesh, all moving about me, makes me quite hungry, and more than a little dizzy.... and very, very thirsty. Why, bless my bones! Is it time for tea?" He opened his eyes wide and pulled a huge golden clock out from his robes and peered at the face. "No, no, it is not even three! Well, diddle dee dee, that must be changed!" He made some adjustments on the clock until it was the proper hour, and then he ordered two slaves to fetch him refreshments from his palanquin. They quickly returned, one with a low table and cushions, and the other with a tray of tea, a stack of honey cakes, and a gigantic cucumber sandwich nearly a foot and a half tall. When the boys had finished setting the table, they placed a bouquet of roses in a delicate fluted vase in its center. The parasol-bearer stood silently beside the table, holding aloft the sun-shade as though he were the trunk of a tree.

"Oh, can you bear it? Can you bear it?" the monstrous creature moaned as he lowered his tremendous bulk onto the pillows. Tying a checkered bib about his neck, Grat-Durgund rubbed his hands together and began to eat. Some of the captives swore later that he must have somehow unhinged his jaw like a snake and swallowed the sandwich whole, while others stated that he simply smashed it between his huge hands and crammed the whole mess into his gaping maw. Whatever the true story, all agreed that it was a marvel of unbridled, unsatiable gluttony.

"Ahhhhhh..." Grat-Durgund belched loudly. "That was a refreshing little snack. I believe I have strength now to continue this pleasant afternoon's work." The whole time that he was dining, the fortress guards kept the captives in motion, circling around their repulsive tormentor. He slapped his hands for his servant to remove the evidence of his feast, and then his brightly gleaming eyes fell upon another victim.

"Halt! Ah, there's a fat little chap, chubby legs and all, and look at his dimpled cheeks. A fair tidbit indeed, tempting, appealing, a totally altogether delightful morsel of flesh, blood and fat. And bone and gristle and marrow to suck out. Ah, a fine little fellow. Oh, I say," he slowly stroked his stomach, his hand going up and down the ponderous expanse, "what a fine little chap he is. Come here, lad, and let me see you better." His eyes gleaming, his fingers curling, gesturing, Grat-Durgund motioned for the child to come towards him.

"No!" the child screamed, and clutched his mother's skirt, looking pleadingly up into her eyes. "No, mother! Do I have to go to the nasty old troll?"

"Ah, now, my fine young sir, you don't want to see Grat-Durgund?" The trollish orc - or perhaps the orcish troll - shook his head sadly. "You don't want him to pinch your flesh, to see if you are yet ready to eat?"

"No!" the boy screamed and held his mother's legs tightly as she knelt down and encircled his small frame with her arms.

"Please, sir," she begged, "please not that!"

"Oh, my fair matron, don't you trust Grat-Durgund?" the inspector asked, his voice sounding hurt. "Everyone must trust him, for he is a fine jolly sort who enjoys his laughter, his drink and his good food, a bit of sport, a game now and then, and his pipe. Come, my fine little fellow. I want to see if you are ready for the pot." He stroked his stomach lovingly again. "Ah, I am getting lean in the shank. There is scarcely enough left of me now to fill out my robes. A little chubby confection like you is just what I need to put some flesh upon my bones again."

The child screamed louder and almost tore his mother's skirts in his desperation. The mother trembled as she looked down at her son and then at the huge orc-troll before them.

Grat-Durgund lowered his massive frame and rested on his heels. "Come, lad, I have something here for you." He reached inside his robe and pulled out a piece of candy, holding it out to the boy. "You'll come for this, won't you, lad? A fine bit of candy?" Showing that the candy was not poisoned, the inspector touched it to his lips and licked it. "So good, so sweet. When did you last have candy, my charming boy? Come and sit on my lap, and I will give you the whole piece of candy and more besides." He reached into his robe and drew out another stick of some golden confection covered with sugar, which looked delightful to the boy, who had eaten nothing sweet in so many weeks. "Come, my fat little chap, my beauty, my darling."

Grat-Durgund moved the piece of candy slowly back and forth before the boy's face, the child's eyes following his every move. As though bewitched, the boy released his hold upon his mother's skirts, and looking up at her, he moved away and walked over to the huge monster who sat hunkering on his heels. "On my knee, lad," he purred as the boy approached him. The boy looked back at his mother and then crawled on the huge, muscular leg of the inspector.

Grat-Durgund handed him the two pieces of candy and observed the boy as he slowly licked the sweets. "Eat up, boy, eat up, my hearty! Enjoy all you want!" Then he grabbed the chubby youngster's arm, pinching it, twisting the flesh through the material. "Not quite ready yet, are you?" he laughed as the boy howled in pain. "A few days, though, and maybe you'll be fat enough for the spit. You would be so good, so tasty, roasting there over the fire, the fat boiling out and sizzling down and hissing as it meets the flames."

The boy was off the inspector's lap in a second, dropping the candy in the dirt. Screaming all the way, he ran back to his mother and hid behind her.

"Now march around one more time," Grat-Durgund ordered as the guards got the women moving again. "Halt now, fair folk," he exclaimed as his men snickered. "Stand in a circle all about me with your sucklings in your arms and your squalling brats at your sides."

The parasol-bearer dutifully accompanying him, Grat-Durgund went around to each matron and maiden, looking each one up and down, pinching a chubby arm here, encircling another's wrist with his great hand there. "Not fat enough, too lean," he pronounced as he inspected each one in detail. "It'll take more to get your whelps to the right fatness. We like them fat, and then they are yummy, their juices tasting good in the tummy. You can slice them, dice them, rice them, and when they are all nice and ready to go, you spice them!" The children cringed in terror at the words from this hulking monster that laughed and talked so merrily.

Grat-Durgund lumbered towards the twins' troop. The ten girls froze; Burghilde and Wulfwaru, who were younger and more naïve than the others, were convinced that this hideous abomination would surely eat them. Though they were just as frightened, the older, wiser girls tried to alleviate their fears with the knowledge that they were far more valuable as living slaves than cooked ones. Unless something very horrible were to happen at Lug Aanzaabr, they were still in the care of Esarhaddon uHuzziya, and he would never allow them to end up in the stew pot of this loathsome ogre.

"Now let us see, let us see..." Grat-Durgund walked up to Tove, who quailed in his enormous presence. "Free your braids. I wish to see your hair, and fine hair it appears to be." Her hands shaking, the ashen-faced girl clumsily unbraided her tresses. "What can Grat-Durgund do with such hair? Fine hair, red hair, russet and auburn, so lovely, so soft, so fine between the fingers." He stood back from her, appraising her. "Pull your hair about yourself and let it trail over your breasts, your firm breasts, your fine breasts, so full and so tender. Ah!" he exclaimed, clapping his hands together. "You are most delightful."

He put his hand under her chin, raising her jaw until her head fell back at an uncomfortable angle. "Your head would look most fair as an adornment for the pole at the front of my quarters. And then in the morning, when I come out and go about my duties, I will look up at your skull upon the pole, your long, red hair hanging about your bodiless head, and think, 'Indeed, she was a fair maiden, but fairer still is she, grinning down at me, and welcoming my guests.'" His words left the proud Tove in terrified hysterics, and, wailing and sobbing, she clung to her friend Cyneburh for dear life.

With a gleeful little giggle, Grat-Durgund spun away from the frightened girls, his scarlet robes fluttering like pennants about his thick ankles, and turned to address the rest of the captives. "Now, my yummies, all of you maids and mothers with your fat, firm breasts and large bottoms, you are so luscious, so juicy, that I am apt to faint with the thoughts of you." Never had any of the slaves seen anything so repulsive, so strange and so bizarre as this creature. The smell about him was worse than most orcs, the soured stench of a predatory beast who lived upon raw flesh. His very skin was a putrid shade of greenish gray, and they wondered if the reason for his oily features was from eating the fat of slaves.

"Nay, my loves, lest you think that I'm a dirty lecher, get such a vile thought out of your pretty heads! I want none of you in my bed, but I want all of you in my cooking pot!" Grat-Durgund roared with laughter and slapped his beefy thighs. "My cook will flavor you with spices and herbs, with scallions and onions, until you all taste superb. If I had known that such a scrumptious mass of flesh were to be brought before me, so ripe and full," he licked his lips, a little drool trickling down the corner of his mouth, "I would have invited my brothers, Willie and Noodle! And I, being the host, would give them first grab! Only the best for my brothers, you see. Today there must be at least five milk-fed babes ready for the oven! They would be so pleased!" Grat-Durgund's voice trembled with joy. "Oh, the flesh of those tender little morsels, those bits of juicy goodness in my mouth! Ay'," he licked his fat lips again, "I shall grow weak at the thought of it!

"Now I release you back to your keepers, and I have enjoyed meeting you all. It has been a pleasure, I assure you, and I'm not being generous in compliments, for truly, I have found that the skin that is so white and so fair always covers the best meat. Mmm," he rubbed his stomach, closing his eyes, "I must bid you good-day, my juicies." With that, he bowed from the waist and put his hand upon his heart, bringing it forward in a broad, sweeping gesture.

The enigmatic Grat-Durgund stepped inside the litter and peeked out of both doors of the conveyance, waving and smiling to the captives, and showing his fangs and red, lolling tongue. Then the litter was raised by the slaves, and he was borne away at a jaunty clip as the fortress guards cleared a passage through the circle of captives.

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