The Circles - Book Eight - A Mordorian Bestiary
Chapter Twenty-six
The Land of Nurn
Written by Elfhild and Angmar

After departing from Lug Aanzaabr, the caravan of slaves bound for Nurn resumed its southward journey. Soon the Mountain of the Setting Sun was far behind the Rohirric captives, partially obscured by the dust churned up by hundreds of feet, hooves, and wagon wheels. At last the caravan had arrived in northern Nurn, and soon the journey would come to an end. When the captives had set off from Minas Tirith on the 16th day of June, they knew that the march to the land of their enemies would be long and miserable, but they did not know just how many dangers they would face as they passed through the dismal wastes of Gorgoroth. Now they were going into the first week of August, and their future was just as uncertain, if not more so, than it had been at the start of the journey.

As the miles passed, the land slowly began to change, the hills becoming lower the further south they traveled. Scattered forests of pine and cypress grew upon the slopes of the mountains and foothills, and groves of hardy trees and bushes flourished in the lower country. As the landscape became greener, it became more populated as well, with many hamlets and villages situated along the trade route. The Rohirric captives were amazed at their first sight of Núrniag settlements, which bore little resemblance to those found in their homeland. They were accustomed to wooden or wattle and daub houses, but these homes were constructed of bricks made of sun-dried mud. The squat, blocky buildings were tan or reddish in color, and had numerous small rectangular windows to let in light and fresh air. A good number of the larger houses were crowned by crenulated parapets for privacy and safety, for many Núrniags enjoyed sleeping on their roofs at night where it was cooler. Those of the wealthier class owned homes constructed of stones surrounded by high walls which enclosed small courtyards, many planted with olive or fruit trees.

Whenever the caravan would pass through one of these villages, people came out of their houses and lined the main thoroughfare, their barking and yapping curs adding to the pandemonium. The village men cast admiring gazes at the fine horses and beautiful slaves, while young maidens smiled and waved at the caravan laborers. Ignoring the pleas of their mothers, children sometimes ran alongside the caravan. Laughing and chattering, the youngsters would stay with the procession as it made its way through the town. Sometimes an impoverished family would approach Esarhaddon, offering to sell him a son or daughter. While many might be appalled by such solicitations, these desperate families were trying to keep their other children from starving, and there was always the possibility that the child they sold would one day rise in power in the Mordorian hierarchy. Though never generous in the amounts he paid, Esarhaddon was always glad to add to his inventory if the stock were of sufficient quality to make it worth his while. Some screaming for their mothers, some weeping softly, some with faces grim and resigned, the new purchases were escorted by the guards to the back of the line.

After passing through first the ashen wastes of Gorgoroth and then the rocky desert of Lithlad, Elfhild and Elffled were filled with wonder at the country that surrounded them. While quite different from the fair fields of Rohan, it was a far cry from the desolate wilds through which they had marched for so long. However, there was no forgetting that they were in Mordor. At regular intervals along the road were tall posts bearing both the standard of the Great Eye and the banner of Nurn. While the twins had seen the Great Eye many times, the banner of Nurn – an iron fist clasping a sheaf of wheat upon a field of green – was a new sight to them.

The people who dwelt in this region of Nurn looked much like the Dolrujâtar of Lithlad: they were for the most part tan to light brown in complexion, with a smaller minority being very fair or very dark. Brown or black hair and brown eyes were the most common, although there were always variations, as the population of Nurn was comprised of indigenous tribes who had dwelt in the land of Mordor since ancient days, as well as peoples who originally hailed from the distant reaches of Rhûn, Near and Far Harad, Umbar, and Khand. The return of Sauron to Mordor nearly seventy years before had caused the population of Nurn to increase dramatically, with an influx of enterprising merchants, mercenaries, adventurers, scholars, sorcerers, and various seekers of glory pursuing their fortunes in the realm of the Lord of Middle-earth; religious pilgrims who desired to dwell in the sacred land of their dark god; and slaves who were captured in war or offered up as tribute by nations and tribes who had allied themselves with Sauron.

While most of the people of Northern Nurn resembled the Dolrujâtar in physical form, their manner of dress was quite different, displaying far greater variety in hue and appearance. This was because even the drier regions of Nurn were much more fertile than the desert of Southern Gorgoroth, and the land could support a wide variety of plants and trees which could provide dyestuffs for fabrics. The poorer village men dressed much the same as the caravanners, with long tunics and loose-fitting trousers, and those who had been favored by fortune flaunted their wealth by wearing fine robes crafted from exquisite fabrics and adorning themselves with medallions and costly jewelry. The poorer women wore simple dresses with scarves or fabric belts tied about their waists, while those of means were bedecked in beautifully patterned gowns with mantles adorned with elaborate trim and colorful fringes. Bright colors were favored by all, with reds and oranges seen as auspicious due to their association with fire, and embroidery was used to embellish even the plainest garment.

As the caravan moved southward, travel was frequently delayed because of crowded roads. Heavily guarded supply trains, laden with the bounty of Nurn, would pass them on their way to Gorgoroth, forcing the caravan to move aside to avoid collision. Peasants drove noisy flocks and herds of sheep, goats, and cattle to nearby markets, or towards Turkûrzgoi, which housed the largest marketplace in that region of Nurn. Other times the caravan encountered small patrols of cavalry guarding the roads from marauding brigands or searching for runaway slaves. The commanders frequently stopped to have a word with Esarhaddon, exchanging greetings and news.

One morning the caravan chanced to meet a long line of prisoners being driven north. Clad in filthy, tattered tunics, the woe begotten men plodded along with heads bowed, the chains fastened to the shackles about their ankles clanging out a dolorous refrain. Snarling guards drove them ever onward, ready to lay the whip on any who stumbled or tarried. One of the men tripped over the chain and fell, and as he struggled to rise again, a grinning guard cursed him and brought his whip down harshly upon his back. Gasping in pain when the lash raked across his shoulders, the slave was driven forward by the impact, stumbling and almost falling again.

Over the course of their journey through the wastes of Gorgoroth, Elfhild and Elffled had seen numerous bands of doomed men forced to march at a merciless pace to what most likely would be their final destination. Some of the men were felons, while others were prisoners of war or political dissidents. These poor unfortunates had been condemned to work until they died, shedding their blood, sweat, and tears to appease the never-ending avarice of the Dark Lord. The mines of Mordor needed a constant supply of laborers to toil in dark tunnels beneath the earth, extracting coal to fuel the fires of industry and valuable ores to be forged into weapons and tools of oppression. Being sent to the mines was considered one of the worst fates that could befall a slave in Mordor. Of course, there were punishments far worse, the kinds of punishments which would cause the body to wither while preserving the spirit in unremitting torment. At least in the mines, death brought about the end of suffering, and one's spirit could fly far beyond the circles of this cruel and miserable world.

Elfhild and Elffled felt great pity for the prisoners, and their hearts broke to witness their affliction. Though the guards claimed that these men were all guilty of heinous crimes, the twins suspected that Mordor's definition of a heinous crime was quite different than that of Rohan. To the self-professed Lord of Middle-earth, any form of resistance was seen as a dire transgression, and woe be upon those who were the recipients of His ire! That was the reason why Sauron had declared war upon Rohan: because they had allied themselves with His enemies. If King Théoden had been willing to break the alliance with Gondor, then Rohan would have been spared much sorrow – or so the caravan guards claimed. Of course, the guards claimed many things which the captives found quite audacious. It was a great mercy, they declared, for the women and children of Rohan to be brought as slaves to Nurn. After all, they could have been slain by the uruk warriors who raided their villages, but instead they would live and have the privilege of serving the King of Men and Lord of Middle-earth. Such was the mercy of Mordor.

It was difficult to keep from becoming disheartened in this strange and often brutal land where cruelty was often far more common than kindness. However, the twins were not alone in their suffering, for all of the captives endured the same woes and uncertainties. Whenever they could, Elfhild and Elffled sought out the company of their friends from Grenefeld, but arranging such meetings could sometimes be difficult, for they all marched with different troops. Socialization among the captives was restricted to a brief time at breakfast and at the evening meal, and even those short visits were frowned upon by the overseers, who always suspected the captives were plotting another escape attempt. Out of fear of drawing the ire of the guards, the twins mostly stayed within their troop, unless the head slaver had called for a two-day halt. When the caravan camped for an extended period of time, the captives had more freedom to move about and speak with each other.

While Elfhild and Elffled missed the friends whom they had known since childhood, they took comfort in the companionship of the other girls in their troop, with whom they had become close friends in the brief time that they had known them. There was gentle, patient Mildthryth, the eldest member of the troop and its unofficial leader. She had been a seamstress back in Rohan, and would mend the clothing of her fellow captives whenever there was a rip or tear. She also attempted to mend the peace whenever the more temperamental members of the troop started quarrelling, as well as comfort the younger girls whenever they were frightened or sad. Hereswith, the second eldest in the group of ten, was Mildthryth's closest companion, for they both hailed from the same village and had been friends before the war. While Mildthryth tended to be very calm and circumspect, Hereswith possessed an effervescent spirit, an overwhelming sense of curiosity, and an immense love of gossip.

Then there were Sunngifu and Wulfwaru, two unlikely friends who hailed from opposite regions of Rohan but had been brought together by the strange tides of fate. Wulfwaru had celebrated her fourteenth birthday a few days prior, and the girls in the troop held a little party for her. They had no gifts to give their young friend, only their best wishes for an uncertain future. It was difficult to imagine happier days ahead when one had been ripped away from one's homeland and taken in chains to an enemy realm; if anything, the future might be even worse than the present. These gloomy thoughts had tormented the minds of the captives ever since the spring, but they were helpless to escape the dire plight which laid before them. Though no one said much – for what was the use? – the girls in the troop worried about what fate lay in store for Sunngifu and her unborn child. Sunngifu's belly seemed to grow bigger by the day, and the journey was becoming more and more difficult for her. At least she was allowed to ride in the healer's wain, coming back to the troop after the day's march was over. Sunngifu was tough as a thistle, however, and just as thorny. One had to have a hide as thick as armor to endure the scorn of being an unwed mother in a small village.

Out of all their troopmates, the twins felt a close bond with Beorhtwyn. While most of the young women and girls in the troop hailed from villages or small towns where their families had been tradesmen and artisans, she was descended from a long line of peasants whose livelihood had been herding pigs. Although the hardships of her life and the shadow of Mordor often weighed down her spirit, Beorhtwyn still tried to retain a cheerful disposition, if not for herself, then for her little sister. Burghilde had been having a rough time of it lately, for she had cut the underside of her arm when she tripped upon a loose cobble in the road, and the injury had necessitated stitches. That had been the first time that the little girl, who was only ten, had ever had a wound sewn up, and she had been very frightened by the whole procedure. Burghilde did not like being touched by strangers, and to have her flesh patched up like a quilt with needle and thread had been almost more than she could bear.

Neither Elfhild nor Elffled harbored much love for the two remaining members of the troop. Tove and Cyneburh were still as horrid as ever, lording over everyone their perceived superiority for having been born into the nobility instead of the peasantry. Tove never let anyone forget that she was the daughter of one of the lords of the Eastfold, Thane Redwald of Horscelde, and that her late mother had been a kinswoman of King Théoden. She constantly talked about how fabulously wealthy her family had been, discussing in great detail the impressive herd of horses which had been in her father's keeping, and the fine furnishings that had once bedecked her family's hall, before the uruks stole everything of value and set the hall afire. When Cyneburh was not simpering and fawning at Tove's every word, she would establish her own claim to fame by reminding anyone who might be listening that her own father had been Thane Redwald's steward.

While the twins continued to spar verbally with the insufferable pair, they dared not resort to fisticuffs and food fights as they had in the past, for the consequences that awaited such rash actions were dire indeed. If their unruly behavior caused a commotion in the camp, their aunt Leofgifu would be held responsible, for it was her responsibility as overseer to keep the captives in line. Esarhaddon had told Leofgifu that if she performed her duties well, that he would consider selling both her and Hunig as a single lot instead of separating them. Neither Elfhild nor Elffled wanted to do anything which would cause their aunt to lose possession of her daughter, so they tried to refrain from quarrelling with Tove and Cyneburh as much as possible.

When the twins were returned to the caravan after the escape attempt, relations with their aunt had been strained for a while. Leofgifu had never approved of Goldwyn's plan in the first place, for she felt that it was too dangerous for unarmed women and children to travel through enemy occupied territory to reach a homeland that had been devastated by war. She had witnessed how the newly planted crops had failed in the spring, deprived of the light of the sun by the evil clouds of Mordor. Although the darkness which spread over the sky was eventually driven away by the west wind, it would take time for the land to recover, and there were few to tend the fields. Leofgifu had tried to reason with the twins, emphasizing these dire truths and pleading with them not to heed Goldwyn's deluded speeches, but Elfhild had been adamant upon escaping. Desperate to keep calamity from befalling her nieces and the other captives, Leofgifu had gone to the guards, telling them that she had heard rumors that some of the women were planning an escape attempt. For reporting Goldwyn's mutiny, Leofgifu had been offered the position of overseer. While she had not betrayed her countrymen for gain and glory, she accepted the position when the head slaver had told her that, should she prove loyal and competent, he might allow her to keep her daughter.

Perhaps she had done her job a little too well. In an attempt to prove herself, Leofgifu had been very strict, using the lash on her countrywomen as mercilessly as any she-orc. Not even her own nieces had been spared the whip when they had caused a disturbance in the camp by quarrelling with Tove and Cyneburh. She had also demanded that they refrain from calling her "aunt" in public, using the honorific "mistress" instead. These actions had greatly hurt Elfhild and Elffled, for they felt betrayed by one of their dearest loved ones. Although Leofgifu's explanation for her behavior softened the blow somewhat, still it was quite some time ere the twins felt comfortable again in their aunt's presence. This made for some very awkward visits when she invited them to take the evening meal with her in her tent. Fortunately, they were all getting along much better these days, even if Leofgifu's obsession with maintaining the rules and order of the camp could be trying at times.

On the fourth day of the journey from Lug Aanzaabr, the caravan descended through the last of the cascading hills which led to the interior of Nurn. By early afternoon, the Rohirric captives saw in the distance below them the domes and spires of the city of Rul. The River Mormilom, so named for the black swans which often were seen about its shores, cut its course along the feet of the lowest ridges and passed by the city on its way to the Sea of Núrnen. The sight of the glistening waters was a welcome one to those who had been traveling so long through the desert. Groves of citrus, figs and olive trees had been planted near the city, part of the Dark Lord's vast network of farms.

The sun had long passed her zenith and was a blazing ball of fury in the western sky as the weary travelers approached the outskirts of the city of Rul. They had gazed for hours at the city through the shimmering heat, and as they made their way down the foothills, the city seemed almost a mirage, a figment of a thirst-crazed traveler's imagination. To eyes weary from weeks of muted, drab browns and grays, the alabaster walls and golden domes rose like a jewel above a field of emerald. Irrigation ditches spread out from the Mormilom like life-giving veins, wresting the land from the desert and turning it green. Cultivated fields and pastures surrounded the walled city, and in the distance, they could see herds and flocks grazing on the grasslands.

The caravan pulled off the road and drew to a halt in a dusty field near the city's western gate. Since they would be camping there for two days, the laborers hastily began hoisting up tents and pavilions. The men looked forward to visiting the taverns of Rul that evening and enjoying a night of wenching in the brothels. While the camp was being set up, the captives were taken to the river so they could clean themselves. Many long days had passed since any of the women and children had bathed, and their hair and bodies were filthy. At least the problem of lice had been controlled by frequent applications of olive oil throughout the course of the journey. Though they were carefully watched and guarded, the captives were free of the hated ropes and chains that bound them as they marched, and the children splashed and played with abandon in the cool water as their mothers looked on.

As Elfhild and Elffled climbed down the bank and waded out into chest-deep water, they were joined by three friends from their troop: Beorthwyn and her younger sister Burghilde, and Wulfwaru. The sights of the day's march had filled the girls with excitement and curiosity, and they were eager to discuss everything which their eyes had beheld.

"Oh, I wish that we were going into the city," Beorthwyn sighed, casting a wistful gaze towards the walls of Rul. "I would dearly love to see what wonders lie within. I am sure there would be markets filled with curiosities and things of great beauty, and plenty of delicious food to eat!"

Elfhild pushed against the current, the soft, thick silt at the river bottom squishing between her toes. "This is the first city in Nurn that we have seen on our journey," she reflected, pondering for a moment upon the many sights that she had witnessed in her travels. "While Rul certainly is not as majestic and awe-inspiring as Mundburg of the Stoneland, I, too, would like to venture inside its walls."

"At least it is nothing like that city in the Mountains of Shadow, the one that is said to be filled with ghosts." Wulfwaru shivered, her light brown skin prickling with goosebumps despite the heat of the day. "Any city that glows of its own accord is one to be avoided at all costs!"

"Minas Morgul… a strange place, indeed," Elfhild nodded in agreement. She remembered the ethereally beautiful city and its perilously lovely meads of white flowers, and felt an inexplicable sense of longing. What was it about the Morgul Vale which had captivated her so? Sometimes she had dreams about the mysterious valley, hazy visions which she only half remembered when she awoke. Whenever she had these dreams, she always felt more tired than she had the night before, and she plodded along on the day's march with bowed head and shambling feet.

"I am glad that we have passed far beyond that dread realm." Wulfwaru sighed with relief and shook her head in an attempt to drive away unpleasant memories. "Growing up in the White Mountains, I heard tale enough about haunted cities and evil spirits."

"I think that Rul seems more like Mundburg than Minas Morgul." The light reflecting off the river's surface made it difficult to see, and Beorhtwyn raised a hand to shade her eyes as she squinted into the distance. "While I am sure that there are places that are haunted – for every city and town has its ghosts – it does not seem an evil place, at least from the outside."

"The Dolrujâtar come here sometimes to sell their wool," Elfhild remarked, remembering tales she had heard from Lady Shabimi and her handmaidens. "I understand that the city is quite grand, with many fountains and pools."

"If only we were permitted to venture inside!" With a groan of frustration and disappointment, Elffled slapped the surface of the river, sending a spray of water flying up into the air.

"Mayhap we could sneak away and no one would notice?" Burghilde suggested with a giggle and a mischievous gleam in her hazel-green eyes.

Elffled smiled as the little girl submerged beneath the water and resurfaced again after doing a flip. "I doubt that the guards would like that much."

"It is not fair," Beorhtwyn grumbled. "I saw the head slaver and his men ride off towards the city shortly after the caravan halted. I would wager that this eve they will be staying in the best inn the city has to offer, living like kings whilst we sleep in the fields like livestock."

"Such is the life of a slave." A wry smile twisted up the corner of Elffled's mouth, and she snorted softly. "Now if we were on the other end of the whip, things would certainly be different, and we would be the ones enjoying all that the city offers."

"I certainly do not wish to whip anyone!" Elfhild exclaimed, looking utterly appalled.

"This is Mordor, dear sister," Elffled stated grimly. "I fear that one must either hold the whip, or be the one who is whipped."


The twins took supper that evening in their aunt's tent. Because of her position, Leofgifu had been given her own small dwelling in the section of the camp reserved for the caravan laborers. The twins always felt rather important whenever they were invited to visit, as their aunt was the only one among the Rohirric captives who had been chosen to be one of the overseers. Then they remembered that this privilege had come as a reward for reporting the escape attempt to the guards, and they felt as though they were betraying their fellow captives who had risked their lives in the quest for freedom. Having a loved one in league with the oppressors brought about quite the conundrum of complicated emotions.

As they walked through the camp, Hunig ran alongside her older cousins, chattering excitedly about her day. Leofgifu seemed more tense than usual, however, as though something of great importance were weighing upon her mind. After exchanging the usual pleasantries and discussing the events of the day, Leofgifu settled down to eat the evening meal with her daughter and nieces. An uncomfortable silence settled over the tent, which Elfhild attempted to break with speculations about the appearance of the interior of the city of Rul. Unlike the girls in the troop, Leofgifu did not seem overly interested about the mysteries which lay beyond the city gates, and the conversation fizzled out like a dying flame.

After everyone was finished eating, Leofgifu dismissed Hunig to play. After hugging her mother and cousins, the little girl bounded out of the tent to play with the children of the other caravan laborers. It was then that Leofgifu turned to the twins and at last broached the subject which was causing her so much concern.

"After the caravan breaks camp the day after tomorrow, it will be a six-day march ere we reach our destination – a city called Turkûrzgoi," Leofgifu began, her voice somber. "For better or for worse, this journey will be coming at last to its end. For worse, I fear, for the day that we have been dreading will be upon us at last."

Elfhild felt her heart beat heavy within her chest. "What do you mean, Aunt?"

Leofgifu's solemn blue eyes looked from one sister to the other. "When we reach Turkûrzgoi, all of us will be sold like cattle on the auction block, and we will never see each other again."

Tears welled up in Elffled's eyes. "I do not want to think about that day!"

"But we must, for it will soon be here." Leofgifu reached out and took Elffled's hand in her right hand and Elfhild's in her left. "Let us try to make the most of the time that yet remains unto us."

Suddenly Elfhild was reminded of a very similar conversation that she had once had with her aunt. It was the night of the escape attempt, and she had been pleading with Leofgifu to run away with her and Elffled. Even though Leofgifu had refused to go and begged the twins to stay, Elfhild had been adamant upon pursuing Goldwyn into the unknown in search of freedom. How strange it was that she had been so willing to forsake her aunt and cousin then, to abandon them to the mercy of the slave traders instead of sharing their fate for as long as she could. It seemed, though, that no matter what course she had chosen to take, she and Elffled were doomed to part ways with Leofgifu and Hunig.

A desperate idea came to Elfhild. "Y – you are one of the overseers; surely you have some influence with the slaver. Maybe you could convince him to sell the four of us as a single lot, so that what is left of our family can stay together."

Leofgifu gave her a pitying look. "You would ask much of a man who gives little. When Esarhaddon uHuzziya looks at us, he does not see a family; he sees goods that he can sell. The two of you are the most valuable to him, for you are young and beautiful, and identical in appearance: a rarity in all lands. I am neither young nor beautiful, and were I to be sold alongside you, I would be regarded as an unwanted burden." She shook her head sadly. "No, the slaver would never sell us all together. I will be lucky if I am permitted to keep Hunig."

"You speak of our value in the manner that the men of this land see my sister and me," Elffled began slowly, uncertain of how her aunt would respond to the proposal she was about to make. "Considering our worth in their eyes, it only stands to reason that a man of great wealth and power will buy us. Perhaps he shall become so smitten by us that he will do anything to make us happy, and we can buy both you and Hunig as servants for our household."

Leofgifu looked at her niece for a long moment and then chuckled. "It takes time to win hearts, my dear, and who can say what will happen in that time? Hunig and I might be living in a distant land by then, and the two of you might have children of your own. No, I fear that we must accept our fates, whatever they may be."

"You may have accepted whatever dreadful doom lies in store for you, but to ask us to do the same is a sore trial indeed." Elfhild's eyes glistened with tears, but her face shone with grim resolve. "Who knows what the future holds? Perhaps it will be as Elffled has said, and one day we will be in a position in which we can find you and Hunig and ensure that you live comfortably for the rest of your days."

"While I do hope that fortune will look kindly upon you in your new lives, I would advise you to be careful when asking for boons from powerful men, for not all gifts are given freely, and the debt that you would be forced to repay might be greater than the favor which was given. Not everyone shows kindness out of the goodness of their hearts, and from what I have seen of the men in this caravan, kindness is a rare virtue in this part of Middle-earth." A pained, haunted expression came over Leofgifu's face, and the twins wondered how much abuse she had endured over the course of the journey. She seldom discussed her own sufferings and sorrows.

"I would do anything to save my loved ones from a life of toil and misery, pay any price if it meant we could stay together." Elfhild wiped her tears with a napkin that Leofgifu handed to her and then gave her aunt a tremulous smile.

Elffled nodded, sniffling. "There is no sacrifice that I would not make for my family."

"While I would do the same for the two of you, I fear that the opportunity may never come to pass." Leofgifu gave a sorrowful shake of her head. "Once we are sold on the auction block, our dooms are sealed."

Fresh tears welled up in Elfhild's eyes. "Though it is but a fool's hope, I pray that someday we will meet again."

A wry smile twisted up one corner of Leofgifu's mouth. "Sometimes hope is the only thing that fools have."


As Leofgifu escorted the twins back to the slave camp, Elfhild gazed off into the distance towards Rul. In the dim twilight, she could descry the crenellated wall which surrounded the city, and once again she felt a deep sense of curiosity as she pondered what wonders were contained within those high walls. She imagined herself as the wife of a nobleman or wealthy merchant, living in a beautifully furnished home with her sister, aunt, and cousin. Her husband would be a kind and handsome man, and everyone would be well provided for, and even though they dwelt in the heart of Mordor, they would be happy and content.

But that was just an idle fantasy that her mind created to distract herself from the terror of her reality. She did not even know if it were possible for a slave to find happiness in the Land of Shadows. Perhaps the most that one could hope for was apathy, the grim fatalism that settles over the heart when one is helpless to change one's circumstances.

Elfhild glanced over at Elffled and saw that she, too, was gazing at the city of Rul, most likely harboring similar fantasies of finding hearth, home and happiness in a foreign land.

Perhaps they were fools for dreaming and hoping, but hopes and dreams were the only things left to them.

They both feared that it would be only a matter of time ere they lost even that.

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