The Circles - Book Eight - Chapter 3

The Circles - Book Eight - A Mordorian Bestiary
Chapter Three
Reckless Young Love
Written by Angmar and Elfhild

Tushratta had been long in writing his journal when at last he set down his pen and closed the book. The brazier in the corner of the tent provided a pleasant warmth against the coolness of the night, and he allowed himself to relax for the first time that day. Without Barsud's silly tittering and Aziru's constant chatter about cooking and the wonders of alchemy, the physician's quarters were far more quiet than they usually were. He only had two patients that evening, and they were both resting in the curtained off section behind him. His servant boy Hibiz was sleeping at the entrance of the tent; his other two servants, Aban and Naqi, had been assigned to tend to the horses and hospital wagon outside. Since the House of Huzziya now had the protection of the Dolrujâtar, marauding orcs posed little threat to the caravan. Aban and Naqi would be sound asleep under the wain by now, for there was no need for constant vigilance anymore.

A peace that was as gentle as the morning dawn settled over Tushratta. He had always enjoyed this time of night when the camp slumbered, and only a few sounds disturbed the silence. He thought of the golden-haired beauty, the Lady Goldwyn, who rested in the inner chamber. Since he had driven the foul spirit from her mind and body, she had been more at peace, although he wondered if she would truly ever be at peace. Over the course of the journey, the icy Northern lady had begun to warm up to him, slowly revealing more of her heart and mind. She still considered him an enemy, though, and maintained her walls of defense, but at least she was more willing to parley. The war had taken much from her – her family and her freedom – and she grieved for her husband, her sons, and her homeland. There was little he could do to ease her pain, but he did what he could to protect her from further harm.

Tushratta's other patient was Aeffe, one of the caravan's water bearers. She had succumbed to the desert heat that afternoon, causing quite the commotion and bringing the caravan to a grinding halt when she collapsed in a swoon upon the Nurn Road. He strongly suspected that she was malingering, but since she was a well-mannered slave who usually did her duties without complaint, he could afford to be lenient this one time.

After all, it would be most hypocritical of him to condemn Aeffe for feigning an illness, when he subtly encouraged Goldwyn to do the same.

Tushratta shook his head. When he had finished his training to become a physician, he had made vows to conduct himself honorably at all times, to be honest in all his dealings, and to treat his patients with compassion, neither showing preference nor disdain for any one specific patient in his care. Now he was making allowances he should not be making, and assisting one of his patients in avoiding the company of her master and would-be husband by exaggerating the severity of her illness. What was happening to him? Was the fondness he felt for Goldwyn causing him to grow soft and abandon his principles?


Aeffe lay upon her side, her eyes staring into the dim gloom which filled the tent's inner chamber. A small oil lamp rested upon a low table, the flame occasionally flickering when stirred by a draft. Across from her, Goldwyn rested peacefully. Aeffe wondered how the other woman would react when Inbir and Saqr barged into the tent, scimitars in hand, their eyes flashing with danger. Would she scream and cry out for help? The plan depended upon silence and secrecy, and any commotion would alert the guards that something was amiss. Aeffe did not feel that Inbir had adequately considered the matter of Goldwyn when devising his plan, and whether she would hinder or help their cause.

Aeffe studied Goldwyn's face, pondering these troublesome matters. Should she tell Goldwyn that she and Inbir were planning on escaping that night? Of all the Rohirric captives, surely Goldwyn would be the most sympathetic to their cause. After all, she had organized a mutiny against the slavers back in Osgiliath, a last desperate attempt for freedom before the captives crossed the River Anduin and passed beyond all hope of return. However, Goldwyn's scheme had ended in disaster, and all but a handful of the captives were swiftly returned to their chains. Perhaps over the long and arduous journey, she had lost hope and resigned herself to her fate. Word in the camp was that she had become ill after being exposed to the tainted air found in an old Gondorian tomb, although whispered rumors theorized that something far darker was the true cause of the lady's mysterious sickness. Aeffe put little stock in most of these tales, but she was concerned about the possibility that Goldwyn's mind might no longer be sound enough to keep a secret, or that she had given her allegiance to the slavers out of desperation and despair.

"I know you are staring at me." Goldwyn's words broke the silence like a thunderclap. "There is no need for such caution, I assure you. I am not some wild animal waiting to spring."

Aeffe felt her cheeks blaze with heat; she had not realized that Goldwyn had stirred from her repose. "I – I did not mean to be rude," she stammered out in embarrassment.

"I am not deaf, nor am I blind," Goldwyn spoke frankly. "I know everyone in this camp talks about me. Some of the rumors are true, and some are not." She shrugged her shoulders with a humorless chuckle. "Tell me, what is it you wish to know?"

Aeffe hesitated to reply. She still did not know enough to determine how Goldwyn might react to the tidings she wished to impart. There was no way of getting out of this predicament, however, so she might as well be honest.

Inching closer to Goldwyn's sleeping mat, Aeffe lowered her voice to a whisper. "I wanted to warn you that there will be a disturbance later tonight."

Alarmed, Goldwyn sat up in bed and faced Aeffe. "What sort of disturbance?"

Aeffe felt it was rude to converse whilst reclining, so she sat up as well. "Inbir is coming to rescue me," she confided, smoothing the coverlet down over her lap. "His servant, Saqr, will be accompanying us."

"Inbir?" Goldwyn asked disbelievingly. "The slaver's bodyguard?"

Aeffe nodded. "He and I love each other, and we are running away so we can be together."

"But he is a Southron," Goldwyn exclaimed, a little too loudly for Aeffe's liking. "His people are at war with our people. How could you ever love such a man?"

Aeffe cringed at the accusation in Goldwyn's words. "I am not sure we get a choice in whom we fall in love," she replied stiffly.

"That is why it is wise to guard one's heart, lest one succumb to folly." There was a bitter edge to Goldwyn's voice, sharp as a knife and brittle as ice. "The men of the South and East are barbarians, a strange people with strange ways."

"I did not seek your council upon this matter," Aeffe spoke up hotly. "The only reason I said what I did was so that you would not become alarmed when Inbir and Saqr come for me. The success of our plan relies upon secrecy, and I implore you not to cry out or do anything that would alert the guards. Do I have your word that you will not betray us?"

Goldwyn sighed heavily. "I will not betray you, but I believe you are making a grave mistake by plighting your troth with a man of the enemy." She paused for a moment, and then asked, "Where do you and Inbir plan to go?

"Over the mountains to Gondor, and then down south into Harad," Aeffe confided. She resented Goldwyn's judgmental attitude concerning her romance with Inbir, and it was all she could do to keep from lashing out in anger and hurt. Still, it seemed that Goldwyn would aid them, so she tried to remain civil.

"Harad?" Goldwyn raised an eyebrow. "Why do you not seek out the Mark?"

"That road is far too dangerous, for it would take us into the very heart of the fighting," Aeffe replied, not liking the suspicious look that the other woman was giving her.

"So you wish to flee from the war that ravishes your own country." Goldwyn's statement was a proclamation of guilt as final and solemn as any sentence given by a judge. "Perhaps that is best, for you might be mistaken for one of the enemy, traveling in the company of a Southron."

Anger welled up inside Aeffe, and she balled up the material of the coverlet in her fists. With great effort she managed to rein in her temper. It would be most unfortunate indeed if she were to get into a screaming row with Goldwyn!

"We will be considered as enemies and traitors no matter where we go," Aeffe replied between clenched teeth. "Inbir has forfeited his life to be with me, for it is a crime punishable by death to steal a slave. Our only hope is to flee far beyond the gaze of the Eye, to find some remote corner of the world where we may be free to live, and to love."

"So this Southron is willing to sacrifice all in the name of love, and incur the wrath of the Dark Lord Himself just to be with his beloved?" A pensive expression was upon Goldwyn's face, as though she were pondering some deep and possibly paradoxical matter. "Perhaps he has some merit after all."

"He has great merit." Tears had come unbidden to Aeffe's eyes, and, sniffing, she wiped them away with the back of her hand. "I would follow him anywhere."

"Then I will do all in my power to ensure the success of your venture," Goldwyn promised in a soft but resolute voice. "Whatever you wish, name it, and I shall attempt it."

Aeffe smiled. "You do not have to do anything but remain silent and hidden away until the hour grows late and the night is all but gone. By that time, we will be far from the caravan."

"What of Tushratta?" Goldwyn inquired, a slight change to the inflection in her voice. "I highly doubt that he will allow you and Inbir to ride off into the desert without protest."

"That is why I warned you that there may be a disturbance." Tucking a strand of her coppery blonde hair behind her ear, Aeffe looked down sheepishly. "Most likely Tushratta and his servant will have to be subdued so that they cannot interfere with the escape attempt. Inbir and Saqr have brought several lengths of strong rope for this purpose."

"You – you do not intend to harm the master healer, do you?" Goldwyn was very obviously trying not to appear as though she cared.

"Inbir hopes to use stealth and surprise to resolve the situation in a tactful manner, but if Tushratta and Hibiz are determined to put up a fight, then both he and Saqr will try to overcome them with as little injury as possible." Aeffe studied the other woman's face, wondering if she secretly harbored some affection towards the physician.

"Since Tushratta is the caravan's primary healer, it would be a terrible blow to everyone if he were to be grievously hurt," Goldwyn replied, a certain caginess to her words. "I pray that Inbir and Saqr treat him as gently as they can."

"Oh no!" Aeffe suddenly exclaimed, pressing her hand to her mouth. "I just had a horrible thought! What if Tushratta punishes you for not coming to his aid after Inbir and I have taken our leave?"

Her brow furrowed, Goldwyn considered Aeffe's words for a moment, her mind swiftly formulating a plan. "Fear not, for just as soon as this conversation comes to an end, I will tell Tushratta that I have had a terrible nightmare, and request from him a sleeping draught. That way, he will assume that I slept through the entire incident, and put no blame upon me."

"Oh, that is a wonderful idea!" Aeffe exclaimed, much relieved. "Tushratta will never suspect that you played a part in the escape attempt, and you can release him from his bonds when morning comes."

A small but mischievous grin temporarily replaced Goldwyn's usual serious expression. "We must be clever if we are to outwit our oppressors." She reached over and squeezed Aeffe's hand. "May you and Inbir find freedom and happiness in the lands beyond this one."

"Thank you for your kindness," Aeffe replied, her voice filled with gratitude. "I hope that you, too, find happiness one day."


Tushratta had just drifted off to sleep when he heard a noise at the entrance of the tent. Hibiz heard the sound, too, and was quickly on his feet, drawing his dagger as he stood. Tushratta rose and signed to the boy to sheath his knife, but to stay on the alert.

"Who is there?" Tushratta demanded. "Who disturbs my sleep at this time of the night?"

"A man who has partaken of too much wine, and who requests some potion to restore the sense to his brains."

"You are welcome here, Shakh Inbir, Second in Command of my Lord Esarhaddon's guards." Recognizing the Captain's voice, Tushratta signaled to Hibiz to open the tent flap, and Inbir, reeking of wine, stumbled into the center of the chamber. "Please sit down." The physician motioned to the cushions around the table, hiding his irritation at being disturbed at such a late hour.

"No, good doctor. I prefer to stand, for when I sit down, my head feels as though it might spin off my shoulders and shoot into the heavens." Inbir clutched his temples and groaned.

"Captain, you might feel more steady if you sat down." Tushratta's eyebrows furrowed as he looked dubiously at Inbir. It was unlike the young man to drink to excess, and he never came to the physician's tent unless he had a severe injury. "Strange," Tushratta thought to himself.

"No, this is better," he slurred, clutching one of the tent poles in the center as though he were about to fall.

"As you will, Captain, but I really think that you should sit down." Tushratta looked to Hibiz, who still stood at the tent opening. "Hibiz, prepare some green tea for Captain Inbir and add an infusion of milk thistle. That should help." He smiled politely at Inbir. Something about the man's presence made him feel uncomfortable, although he was not sure what it was.

"Yes, Master," Hibiz bowed and went to fetch a ewer of water to brew the tea. The boy did not like the way the Captain's eyes followed him as he filled the brass teapot with water. Suddenly Inbir was behind him, clamping his hand over the boy's mouth. Hibiz froze, paralyzed with fear, as he felt the tip of a dagger pressed against his throat.

"Make no move, physician, or I will kill the boy!" Inbir's eyes were wild as he grabbed Hibiz' hair, pulling his head back sharply.

"What do you want, Inbir?" Tushratta demanded. He was shocked by Inbir's bizarre behavior. Insightful and quiet, the young musician was usually soft-spoken, polite and respectful. To those he knew him, Inbir was considered to be calm, steady, and more given to discussions of philosophical abstractions and aesthetics than he was to riotous living. Something must be troubling his mind deeply, and his erratic behavior could only be explained by his having drunk too much and mixing the draught with drugs.

"I want the girl." Inbir's voice was cold and hard.

"Master Physician, he has come for me at last." Aeffe pushed aside the curtain to the inner chamber and paused at the opening.

"Inbir, you know this is madness!" Tushratta exclaimed, staring at the young Southron in disbelief. He wished that he were armed, but the only sword he possessed was wrapped and stored in one of his trunks.

"Master, please!" Hibiz' eyes were wild and terrified as he tried to look down at the knife at his throat. "Do what he says!"

"If you want this boy to live to be any older, you will cooperate with my plans," Inbir growled ominously as he lightly drew the blade over the boy's throat, leaving behind a faint line of blood.

"He is mad! He will kill us all!" Tushratta felt his gut knotting up as he stared at Inbir and Hibiz. From the corner of his eye, he saw Aeffe moving towards him, wincing when she laid a gentle hand upon his arm. His legs felt suddenly weak.

"Physician, I think he means what he says," Aeffe whispered softly.

"Inbir, I cannot believe that you would slay an innocent boy without mercy. You are not that kind of man!" The physician struggled for composure. He knew he was not a coward, but Inbir's sudden transformation had unnerved him. He had dealt with madmen many times before in the hospital in Turkûrzgoi, and this one was no different. He forced himself to keep his voice calm. "Now hand over the knife to me, and we will sit down and discuss this matter like civilized people. Perhaps we can come to some resolution." Humor him, promise him anything, try to talk him out of this mad scheme, but do not antagonize him!

"Desperate men do desperate things," Inbir growled, his eyes feral as a raging lion. "Now listen to me before I do something I might regret. You are going to go over and open the tent flap. I want you to walk very slowly, and do not do anything that would call attention to us. My servant boy Saqr awaits outside, and you are to let him into the tent. Do nothing foolish. I will be watching."

"Whatever you want Inbir," the physician returned in his usual calm, deliberate voice. He walked to the entryway, and pulling back the tent flap, he admitted Saqr, who carried a bundle tied with cord. He took note that the boy was dressed all in black, from his cloth headdress to his boots.

"Tie and gag Hibiz here and make sure the knots are tight, for he is a clever lad and might slip his fetters." As Inbir stepped back, Saqr handed the sack to him, and taking a coil of rope and a wad of cloth from his sash, he quickly and quietly set about binding and gagging Hibiz. When he was finished, he shoved the boy face down on the floor.

"Good lad," Inbir smiled at Saqr. "Now tie the physician's wrists, but do not gag him for the moment. I know how he enjoys talking." Keeping his eye on Tushratta, he stepped over beside Aeffe and handed her the bundle. "Here, Aeffe, my beloved. See if you find these to your liking."

"I am sure I will, my lord." Smiling at him, she slipped off into the inner chamber.

"I regret that I will not be able to enjoy that cup of tea with you, Tushratta. I am sure it would have been excellent." His eyes followed Aeffe until she had disappeared behind the arras. He turned back to the physician. "The hour grows late, and we have a long journey ahead."

"Captain, I have never known you to be brash and foolhardy before this." Tushratta's eyes never left Inbir's as he clasped his hands together behind his back, ready for the grinning Saqr to bind them. "Not so tight, boy! You will cut off the circulation!"

"Sorry, Master," Saqr replied, "I would not want to think that you might lose your hands." The boy tugged the ropes tighter and Tushratta cursed under his breath.

"Inbir, you surely know that the Shakh will be enraged when he hears of this. You are of his own tribe and blood, and you will bring nothing but dishonor to your kinsmen if you run away with this girl! Esarhaddon will kill you when he catches you, both for stealing his property and disgracing your tribe!" Tushratta kept his voice calm and measured as he tried his best to convince the impetuous young man to turn back from his course of certain disaster.

"I will not be the only man from our tribe who has stolen a woman of another," Inbir chuckled. "It saves us from having to pay the brideprice."

"But here, Inbir, you are stealing your own lord's woman!" He must persuade him to turn back before it was too late!

"Physician, you must understand." Inbir's eyes darted to the curtain of the next room, where he hoped that Aeffe would appear at any moment. "I do not possess enough gold to purchase the woman that I love, the woman I want to make my wife. I have bargained with Shakh Esarhaddon, offering myself as slave to him for seven years if he would release her to me, but still he refuses. I have no other choice."

"You say that you love her, Inbir, but what kind of life will she have with you? The wife of an outlaw, chased and harried from place to place, always with the threat of death hanging over the two of you?" The physician was heartened when he caught a look of indecision in the young man's eyes. Was he wavering? Was he considering how slim were the chances of escape? Had he at last come to his senses? "You know if Esarhaddon catches up with you, he will kill you on the spot and take back the girl," Tushratta warned gravely.

"That is just a risk we will have to take," Inbir stated flatly.

"Inbir, I plead with you! I do not want to see the lives of two such fine young people thrown away for nothing, destroyed in a moment of passion!"

"I love Aeffe more than life itself, and if I should die in this undertaking, I will consider that I was blessed by the Gods to have met her." Inbir smiled as he saw the arras parting and Aeffe slipping into the chamber to stand beside him. She was clad as one of the caravan laborers, her blue eyes dancing above the dust veil which was pulled over her mouth to conceal her feminine features.

"Inbir, please, I entreat you to reconsider this rash scheme! There is no place you can run, no place you can hide, no tribe to offer you protection. Your plan is sheer madness!" Tushratta had to give one last effort to convince the reckless young man to turn back from his folly. "If you will stay your rash course and let the girl remain here, I swear I will tell no one about what happened tonight. Everything will be as it was before. Please, let us sit down and discuss this calmly."

"Save your words, Tushratta. It is time for us to leave you." Inbir gave him an apologetic look. "I truly regret what I must do now, but there is no other way. I hope you will forgive me someday, but if you do not..." He shrugged and turned to Saqr. "Gag the physician and tie his ankles securely."

As Saqr readied the gag, Tushratta tried again. "You will never be successful in escaping. You will die in the desert, or at the hands of the Sand Orcs!" Then as Saqr forced the gag in his mouth, the physician's words dwindled away to mumbled silence.

"Farewell, Tushratta," Inbir told him, bowing and touching his forehead. "You have always been a good man." Waiting with Saqr at the opening to the tent, Inbir looked longingly at Aeffe.

"Do not worry about us," Aeffe told Tushratta gently. "The Gods will keep us safe." Smiling, she touched his shoulder and then, as graceful as a gazelle, scampered off behind Inbir.

Next Chapter

Previous Chapter
Main Index