The Circles - Book Eight - Chapter 15

The Circles - Book Eight - A Mordorian Bestiary
Chapter Fifteen
The Fast of Sorrow
Written by Angmar

The door to the chamber swung open, and all eyes turned to look as General Favarti was admitted to the room. The General was followed by a bizarre cortege of trolls, orcs and goblins, each carrying a musical instrument. Several young pages, obviously intimidated by the non-human members of the General's procession, walked closely behind him, bearing trays of wine and sweetmeats. At a nod from the General, the motley crowd of musicians retired to the side of the dim chamber, where they struck up a spirited medley of discordant sounds which could loosely be called music. The pages, their eyes wide with fear, stared at the victim turning on the spit.

"General Favarti, we were not expecting you so early, but it is certainly an honor to have you here to observe our humble efforts!" Grat-Durgund exclaimed, bowing extravagantly. Noodle, too awed by the General's appearance, could only gape open mouthed. A sharp rap on the head from Willie's basting spoon brought him back to himself, and he bowed his head in obeisance.

"It is one of the joys of my life to see my lads working so industriously to prepare the grand feast," Favarti proclaimed.

"There's nothing like a roast boar to make a feast grand, but I fear that this boor may prove quite bland." Grat-Durgund looked disheartened. "Oh, how can we redeem this meat? With honey and spices, it will taste quite sweet!"

"Always the poet, my hearty lad," General Favarti laughed politely, but all of them could tell that his heart was not in it. The usual thin smile which he wore – as though it were part of his uniform – was sagging, and his expression was decidedly somber. Instantly alarmed at the forlorn mood of his master, Grat-Durgund solicitously asked, "My lord, are you ailing?"

"Oh, my old friend, I do not wish to speak of it, for it grieves me to my heart, and how can one bear to relate the things that so deeply effect the very core of his being?" General Favarti stared into space, his gaze haunted.

Willie stood, looking dumbfounded, idly clenching and unclenching his fist around his basting spoon. Noodle gaped and looked at Willie, but Willie shook his head. At a loss for what to say, Noodle still made an effort. "My lord General, is it something about our cooking that 'as you all in a bind?"

"Shut up, Noodle! You will only make it worse!" Willie hissed under his breath, but Noodle was not to be swayed.

"Maybe if we gut 'im and stuff 'im with bread crumbs, cloves and spices, 'e would be more to your liking. We could use 'is innards for sausage casings, or serve 'em up as tripe." Noodle looked hopefully to the General.

Grat-Durgund glared at his brother, his loud voice booming. "Silence, Noodle! Or I'll dice you and slice you and have you in a salad garnished with parsley and drizzled with olive oil!"

General Favarti sprang to his feet and rushed over to Grat-Durgund, who had raised a meat cleaver over his brother's head. The General grabbed the brute's massive arm just in time. "Do not be so harsh on your brother! In his delightfully unique way, he was only trying to be helpful."

"If you are sure, my lord." Grat-Durgund grudgingly lowered the cleaver.

"I am certain, my good fellow. Let no harm come to Noodle. The cause of my sorrow is nothing quite so simple as fare for the feast." Wringing his hands, he walked back to the cushions and sagged heavily upon them. The General shoved away one of his pages, who had tried to offer him a glass of cool peach sherbet. "It is a sickness of the heart," he sighed.

Esarhaddon could not help chortling to himself. After being tortured for what seemed like hours, it was wickedly pleasant to watch the General suffer. He was puzzled, though. As far as he knew, General Favarti had never been interested in women… or men, for that matter. What could be this "sickness of the heart?" What sort of fool was desperate enough to love the mad general?

"I am a sad man tonight, my lads. I feel my soul is being wrenched from my breast, ripped from my body by a cruel fate which has destined me to utter and abject sadness." With his eyes red with weeping, the General presented the picture of a man overcome by the vicissitudes of life. "A melancholy has gripped my soul, and threatens to destroy any joy in my life!"

"My lord, I can speak for all of us. We are grieved for you." Grat-Durgund screwed his face around into what he thought was a kindly look, but since the emotion was alien to him, the expression was more of a grimace. His brothers bobbed their heads up and down in slavish agreement.

Favarti shuddered as a thought too horrible to contemplate gripped his mind. Robed in ebony hues of night, a black cap perched atop his long, disheveled dark hair, Favarti himself resembled a spectre of death. "Oh, my soul has fallen so low! Drear are my days, and dark are my nights!" He turned to the musicians. "Play something sweet, something mournfully sweet, that touches the heart and soul! Play a memorial to love lost to death, anything that might soothe this terrible grief!" At his command, the disharmonious group of orcs, goblins and trolls softened the harsh temper of the music, but their melody sounded even worse if possible, though it was, by all accounts, somewhat muted.

Confused and uncertain, Noodle had stopped turning the spit. Watching the whole proceedings with awed stupidity, he looked from the General to Grat-Durgund, the musicians and back again. He still wanted to say something that might comfort the General, and so he gave it another effort. "M'lord General, when the carcass of this fat pig Esarhaddon has finished cooking, it will surely cheer your languishing spirits."

"Noodle, you fool! That was not the best thing to say!" Willie prodded him with a skewer. "Get back to turning that spit!"

"No, it matters not," Favarti sighed, wringing his hands, a half-hearted smile brushing across his thin face. "I had wanted this to be a night of merrymaking, feasting and dancing, telling of tales, and asking of riddles. I had planned to have a great banquet and then present my epic play, 'The Lonely Shepherdess.' Alas, this is to be one of the darkest nights of my unhappy life!" Sighing heavily, he flung his arm across his face.

"Do you want us to continue cooking the main course, my lord?" asked Grat-Durgund, his face a parody of concern.

"Unless something cheers me up, I am considering calling off the feast and the performance." Favarti's eyes went to Esarhaddon, and his expression brightened. "Move the spit away from the fire, lads, and take the lemon from the boor's mouth. Perhaps listening to his last words will bolster my grieving spirits." After the three loathsome brothers had carried out the General's commands, Favarti turned his attention to the slaver, who was spitting out the sour lemon juice. "Esarhaddon uHuzziya, well met, my old friend." The General gave him a curt bow. "How surprised you must have been to arrive expecting to be feasted, only to find out that you are the feast!" Favarti's laughter was wild and abandoned, as he threw back his head and bared his yellow teeth.

"I admit it is a novel way to spend the evening, General." Esarhaddon stared coldly at Favarti. "What is it I have done to incur such wrath? I thought our last parting was fairly amiable." Although he had no idea how long his reprieve would last, he was glad for it. He still had no idea why the General had decided to torture him, other than the fact that the man was totally and hopelessly insane.

"How could you be so insensitive, Shakh, so callous to another's pain? As you know, I was hurt beyond words when last you attended one of my plays. You tossed aside the genius of my work as though it were chafe! Oh, yes, I was hurt, bitterly hurt." Favarti shook his head. "For this insult, I decided that you deserved punishment. Seeing you suffer as I had suffered was the only thing that could assuage my mind and spirit of the anguish which you inflicted upon me, but that was before... before...." The General rose to his feet and began pacing, sighing as though one on his deathbed. "Now all is shallow! Nothing matters anymore. My vengeance is but small recompense, for sorrow has encompassed me, and all is now black! Alas, alas! All is black!"

The trolls, orcs, goblins, and servants murmured sympathetically and shook their heads, mourning the General's sadness. Many had forced themselves to weep, and now tears ran over greenish cheeks and splashed down overshot jaws. A few, who obviously wished to impress the General, howled and keened with contrived anguish, tearing out their hair and gnashing their fangs together. The scene would have been almost comical to the slaver, had he not been naked, covered in honey, and slowly rotating over a charcoal brazier.

"What is troubling you, General Favarti?" asked Esarhaddon, now genuinely curious.

"Oh, what can I say? What can I do? The Lord of Arda has deserted me!" Favarti sobbed as he buried his face in his hands. All fell silent as they waited for him to reply. "If you want to know – and I doubt that any of you have the slightest concern for my grief – my beloved little darling is dying, and there is no way to cure him!"

"Can your physician do nothing for him?" Esarhaddon asked, sure now that Favarti had taken a lover.

"I had the idiot executed yesterday when his worthless nostrums failed to help the desire of my heart!" Favarti wailed. "Oh, woe is me! Woe is me!"

"Perhaps you should have kept him around," Esarhaddon remarked dryly, but his words were buried beneath the General's loud weeping.

"Oh, by precious Melkor in the heavens!" blurted out the irrepressible Noodle. "'Ave you 'ad 'im bled? I 'ear that works, and anyone can do it!"

"No, he is too small and too weak! He could never survive being bled!" A keening moan rocked Favarti's body, sending his spine into trembling paroxysms. He stumbled to the cushions and collapsed upon them. The General sat there in silence for some moments until he gathered up enough strength to raise his head. His vacant stare passed over the room until it came to rest on Noodle, whose shoulders had sagged in crestfallen dejection. Suddenly a smile came to Favarti's lips as though he had been struck with a revelation from the Gods, or perhaps from some inner wellspring of inspiration.

"Noodle, what a fine, quick-witted fellow you are!" General Favarti exclaimed, his words coming as a shock to everyone present, for it seemed unbelievable that the words "quick-witted" and "Noodle" would be used in conjunction with each other. "You have given me hope!"

"I 'ave, me lord?" Blushing profusely, Noodle stared at the floor and shuffled his enormous feet.

"Yes, Noodle, my lad, you have," Favarti proclaimed enthusiastically. "While nothing will bring cheer to my heart - not dancing, not feasting, not singing, not storytelling, not riddling, or anything else – I cannot give up hope, for hope is all we have on this sad and forlorn place we call Middle-earth. Where else can we go for hope, except to Lord Melkor the Great, for He is the Lord of All and Master of the Fates of Arda! I will change the purpose of the feast and dedicate it to the Mighty One, who looks down upon us from the lofty reaches of the heavens." His eyes wild and fell, General Favarti raised his hands high in the air, as though summoning Morgoth Himself from the Void. "Yes! A feast in His honor! And to do Him homage, I will sacrifice five of my most handsome slave men and five of my most comely slave maidens, and perhaps then He will take mercy and spare my little ferret friend General Snuggles!" Favarti beamed as the orcs, goblins and trolls loudly cheered his suggestion.

"By everything that is sensible in this world," Esarhaddon exclaimed to himself, "Favarti is truly as mad as the God he serves! He would go on a rampage of destruction and invoke the Dark One because his pet is dying! What a foul, loathsome fool he is!" But reviling the General would accomplish nothing. Esarhaddon had to think quickly. Perhaps his own physician, Tushratta, might know some cure, since he and Aziru were learned men, always delving in medical treatises. At least they could tell his men about his plight, and organize a party of warriors to rescue him. If he did not do something, not only he would be cannibalized after being roasted on a spit, but ten innocent slaves would perish on the altar to Morgoth.

"General Favarti," Esarhaddon spoke up, "maybe my physician Tushratta could do something for... General Snuggles." He almost laughed out loud at the poor beast's name, but the danger he was in leant sobriety to his voice.

"Tushratta?" Favarti snorted. "He is a healer of Men! What does he know of ferrets?"

"The physician's skills are considerable, with experience in many areas of medicine. While he is not a healer of animals, perhaps he and his assistant Aziru could find a cure for your beloved pet." Esarhaddon was heartened to see that Favarti appeared interested. "Once I had a fine stallion that had grown deathly ill from an infected wound. The animal had already gone down, and we did not expect him to live until dawn. The good physician treated him, and in a few days, the animal had completely recovered." There was an annoying itch on his buttocks, and Esarhaddon could do naught about it. Damn this sticky mess of honey which was smeared all over his body! If he ever lived to see the morrow, he wondered how many baths he would have to take to rid himself of the horrid concoction.

"And I suppose that should he be successful, the price you would demand for your assistance would be your wretched life." Favarti's chest collapsed in a massive sigh.

"I think that would be only fair, General. A life for a life," Esarhaddon replied, hiding his growing hope. "And if Tushratta manages to cure your esteemed pet, there will be no need for sacrificing the slaves. I am sure under the circumstances Master Melkor will understand."

"But, Shakh," Favarti spoke up, his voice wheedling, "perhaps I should sacrifice them anyway in gratitude to the Giver of Freedom."

"General, Tushratta would never agree to that. He has taken an oath to the Healing Goddesses of his land to preserve life, not take it," the slaver replied, wishing that Favarti would command his trolls to release him from the spit. "He can never break that oath, or his soul will be damned." Esarhaddon was not quite sure if that was true or not, but it sounded convincing.

"If you are sure..." Favarti sounded disappointed.

"I am sure, General, very sure." Esarhaddon's face was the epitome of honesty, his deep brown eyes sincere and earnest.

"Have it your way then, slaver! Send for your precious physician!" the General snarled. "But if my little darling dies, I will kill ten slaves to serve him in the afterlife, and give you and your physician to my favorite trolls to tear limb from limb!"

At these words, Noodle squealed and clapped his huge hairy hands, only to have Willie slam his fist down on his head. Grat-Durgund rubbed his ponderous belly and leered hungrily at the slaver.

Esarhaddon cleared his throat. "General, there is a small matter still to be decided. Since there is no rush to cook me for the feast, I ask a boon – that I be unchained from the spit, given a bath, and fresh clothes. I have a letter to compose to my physician."

"You ask much, slaver!" Favarti's eyes burned with a savage fire. "But I will do anything to save General Snuggles. If you fail, you know the consequences!"

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