The Circles - Book Eight - A Mordorian Bestiary
Chapter Thirty-one
Horse Mystics
Written by Elfhild and Angmar

Amid all the chaos caused by the twins' merry romp upon the back of the Witch-king's steed, messengers had been sent into the city of Rul to alert both Esarhaddon and Chieftain Dahâmab of the situation. The two men had listened in dismay to the frantic reports, which claimed that two of the Rohirric women had clambered on the back of the great Morûk stallion as though he were a gentle pony. Esarhaddon wondered which two captives were foolhardy enough to pull such a stunt, and then his mind went to the twins. It seemed trouble had a way of finding those girls, and if trouble could not find them, they would actively seek it out. Sighing heavily, Esarhaddon departed from the tea house to see what unpleasantness had occurred.

As the slave trader and the chieftain rode in haste back to the caravan camp, a great shadow passed over them, and for a moment the hot summer morning became as cold and dreary as a sunless day in the midst of winter. Esarhaddon felt his heart sink with dread as he watched the great fell beast fly towards the camp like an arrow shot from a bow. The fact that two of the slaves in his keeping had violated the laws of the Shatrogar was bad enough, but if the Nazgûl were to become involved… well, he did not like to think about that ghastly possibility.

Upon reaching the caravan camp, Esarhaddon and Chieftain Dahâmab were greeted by the sight of the small party of Shatrogar herdsmen running in the direction of the river. Completely bewildered, the two men followed the excited, shouting crowd through a small grove of trees. When they came to the thicket's edge, they brought their horses to a sudden halt and stared in slack-jawed astonishment at what they beheld. Elfhild and Elffled were timidly feeding treats to a fell beast while the creature's terrible master stood nearby, watching all the proceedings from eyes hidden deep within the shadows of his hood.

"Damn," Esarhaddon cursed to himself, reeling at the repugnant sight of the accursed twins fraternizing with the accursed Nazgûl. His dismay swiftly replaced by a profound sense of anger, the slaver urged his horse forward, but the mare halted in her tracks, bellowing out a series of frightened whinnies and shying away from the Nazgûl and his winged mount.

Giving his beast a silent command to wait at his bidding, Lord Skrishau strode forward to address the crowd. "Noble Shatrogar, I deem that these slaves have atoned for their crimes through their diligent labor in the service of Mordor," the Nazgûl pronounced, gesturing to Elfhild and Elffled as he addressed the stunned assembly. "With their debt paid in full, I release them back into your keeping. Give their master, the illustrious Shakh Esarhaddon, my regards. Be sure to tell him that I still desire to share a bottle of wine with him one day!"

Cursing furiously at this outrage, Esarhaddon attempted to command his skittish mare, but her fear of the Nazgûl was far greater than her loyalty to her master. With a wild, shrieking cackle, Lord Skrishau turned upon his heel, his tattered cloak flowing out behind him. All present clutched their ears in agony at the ghastly sound of the Nazgûl's laughter, which seemed to reverberate inside their brains. Mounting up his winged steed, Skrishau took to the heavens, streaking southwards in the direction of Turkûrzgoi.

Time had seemed to stand still in the terrible presence of the wraith, but the spell was broken by his sudden and noisy departure. The crowd surged forward, surrounding Elfhild and Elffled, who cringed against each other and looked around with wide, frightened eyes. Esarhaddon and Chieftain Dahâmab maneuvered their horses through the Shatrogar, dismounting when they came to the instigators of the commotion. The twins dropped to their knees, groveling before the two powerful men.

"What is the meaning of all this tumult?" Chieftain Dahâmab demanded, looking around at the tribesmen.

"These girls dared to ride the sacred steed, breaking the laws of our people," the shaman proclaimed, striding forward to address the chieftain. "I had given the order that they be consigned to the Void, but Lord Skrishau of the Nazgûl interceded in their behalf. He spared them from the fire so that they might complete a task for him."

"If Skrishau, Lord of the Undying Death, is willing to pardon these women, then, I, too, shall do the same. But I wish to know more about this incident that transpired in my absence." Chieftain Dahâmab walked over to the twins, who still cowered upon the ground. "What purpose did you have in riding this horse?"

"Please have mercy upon us, Master!" Elfhild's voice shook as she spoke. "The moment we saw the majestic stallion, we were filled with awe and admiration for his beauty and strength. We did not know that riding him was forbidden. We are deeply sorry for the trouble we caused." She cringed at her words; one simply did not mount a stranger's horse and take a ride without permission, especially not in a land such as Mordor. Anyone knew that, and only a simpleminded fool would commit such an effrontery. There was no way she could explain their behavior; it was as though an enchantment had been laid over them, and they had been caught up in the moment. She prayed that the mercy that the Nazgûl had extended towards her and her sister would also be extended towards them by the Shatrogar chieftain and his people.

"Oh, Master, please forgive us!" Elffled wailed, pressing her forehead to the ground in supplication. "Tinnuroch bade us ride atop his back! He even deigned to kneel before us so that we could mount him! If he had not extended this courteous invitation, we would never have done such an audacious thing! Please believe me, Master! I am telling the truth!"

At her words, a great murmuring rose up amongst the tribesmen, who had gathered around their chieftain. Dahâmab held his hand up for silence. "How do you know the name of the King's Steed?"

"He – he told us, Master," Elffled whimpered. "I – I cannot explain it, but the great stallion spoke to us!"

The crowd began to murmur even louder, and the chieftain held up his hand once again. "I deem that these women speak the truth." His voice was calm and steady. "It is known that, by virtue of their holy blood, the sacred horses can understand the tongues of Men, and can hold converse if they so wish it. The bond they have with their Masters is so great that Rider and horse become as one entity, the Rider seeing through the eyes of his steed and the beast divining his Master's thought and doing his bidding."

Esarhaddon approached the Shatrogar chieftain and bowed his head in apology. "My friend Dahâmab, if my slaves caused some hurt or injury to that fine black stallion, I am prepared to pay you double the cost. If you wish punishment for these slaves, you have only to say the word!"

"No, no, my friend Esarhaddon," Chieftain Dahâmab exclaimed magnanimously. "Punishment will not be necessary, for these girls have already been pardoned by a much higher authority. To challenge the ruling of a Nazgûl would be a crime far greater than the mischief caused by these two foolish women."

"Few there are that Tinnuroch of the Morûk permits to ride upon his back," the shaman proclaimed in an authoritative voice that caused all to look in his direction. "No higher honor could be paid to these women, for the King's Steed allows only those whom he chooses to mount him. He can discern the minds of men, and if any fool even neared him with such a thought in his addled brain, the holy stallion would destroy him instantly! We were so concerned with the keeping of our ancient laws that we did not consider the desires of the hallowed beast in our care. It was Lord Skrishau who showed us the error of our ways." He bowed his head in humility and shame.

"Perhaps these women are rûkdushatâr, or horse mystics," Chieftain Dahâmab suggested, looking towards the shaman for approval. "There are those who are born with a natural affinity towards animals and use sympathy and understanding to gain their trust. Some can even learn the tongues of the beasts whom they befriend, or sense their thoughts through divination."

"Only those with a special gift for animals could be able to do what these women did," the shaman concurred, nodding solemnly. "They were even able to charm one of the great winged beasts of the Nazgûl!"

Esarhaddon stroked his beard thoughtfully as he pondered the words of the chieftain and the shaman. "These slaves do come from a culture that revers horses, but I did not realize they had any skill with the beasts. It is good to know these things, for any skill they might have will cause their value to increase."

"You have a valuable pair of slaves in your keeping, my friend." Dahâmab reached out and laid a hand upon Esarhaddon's shoulder. "I believe that in time this pair could become skilled rûkdushatâr, with the ability to transform the most headstrong of wild horses into a calm and placid beast whom little children could ride. If they belonged to you, I would offer to buy them, but I know of the arrangement you have with the Tower about the selling of slaves from conquered lands."

"You have discerned well my situation, Lord Dahâmab," Esarhaddon replied, narrowing his eyes speculatively as he looked at the twins. They had recovered from most of their fright, and were now looking sheepish and embarrassed. "Perhaps these girls do possess some natural understanding of animals which might, with enough practice and experience, enable them to become skilled horse trainers. I have much to consider, and many questions to ask."


"What were you thinking by taking one of the most fearsome horses in all of Mordor on a merry jaunt around the countryside?" Esarhaddon demanded furiously as Elfhild and Elffled cowered before him in his tent. "I am surprised that you did not braid ribbons and flowers into his mane and tail!"

The slaver had spent the greater part of the afternoon questioning the twins about all that had happened with the King's Steed, the Shatrogar herdsmen, and the Nazgûl. Apparently, the girls had been so enchanted by the prized stallion that they decided to take him for a ride. Such behavior was uncharacteristic for them, but then again, they did have a penchant for mischief. It had been a while since either sister had gotten into trouble, and perhaps they were making up for lost time. A good beating would surely drive the foolishness out of them, Esarhaddon considered, or at least keep it at bay.

The Shatrogar shaman claimed that the King's Steed had taken a liking to the two young women, and it had been the animal's whim to let them ride atop his back. That may very well be true, as the stallion belonged to the Lord of the Nazgûl, and the beast had been bred for battle and trained as a weapon of war. If the horse had felt threatened by the twins, he would have tried to kill them – and probably succeeded. Perhaps the twins truly were rûkdushatâr, as Chieftain Dahâmab had suggested.

"We were bewitched, Master," Elffled wailed.

"The great black stallion is the steed of a powerful sorcerer," Elfhild spoke up timidly in a humble voice. "Perhaps the beast did indeed cast a spell upon us, and that is the reason for our shameful behavior today."

"Nonsense," Esarhaddon growled, his face dark with anger. "Do not try to abscond yourself of responsibility by claiming that magic was involved. There is no more sorcery in that stallion than there is in any other horse!"

"As you say, Master." Elfhild bowed her head in submission.

"You are fortunate indeed that Lord Skri came along when he did, or you would have been sacrificed to the Dark One in the Void," Esarhaddon continued his angry rant. "I find it appalling that you had any dealings whatsoever with that insufferable man. He is an utter rapscallion, and mad to boot!"

Suddenly curious, Elfhild lifted her head. "Do… do you know Lord Skrishau, Master?"

"I have had the misfortune to make his acquaintance." Esarhaddon remembered his recent journey through the Morgul Vale, and how the wraith had taunted him with his morbid wit. To add insult to injury, Skri later rescued the slave trader from the clutches of the treacherous river maidens of the Morgulduin, and so he was in the wraith's debt. Now he was even more obligated to the Eighth Nazgûl, for he had convinced the Shatrogar not to execute his wayward slaves.

"We are very grateful to Lord Skrishau, for his mercy is the reason why we yet live," Elffled spoke up shyly. "He even rewarded us for our labor by taking us on a ride on his winged beast."

"I should whip the flesh off your backs for ever agreeing to do such a foolish thing," Esarhaddon growled.

"It was her idea," Elfhild exclaimed defensively, pointing at her sister.

"Usually it is you, Elfhild, who is the maker of ill-conceived decisions, although I suppose everyone gets the chance to play the fool." Esarhaddon looked upon the twins with disdain. "The two of you must learn that you are in Mordor now, not the lawless land of Rohan! The only reason I do not give you the whipping you deserve is because your stripes might not be healed by the day of the auction!"

"Please forgive us, Master!" Elffled sobbed, throwing herself at his feet. "Never again will we do something so reckless!" While her gesture of apology was quite dramatic, she had learned over time that such exaggerated displays of contrition seemed to appease her captors, resulting in them treating her more mercifully. Or maybe they were simply annoyed with her tearful pleas for forgiveness and would deal with her more kindly, if only to stop her from groveling. Whichever the case, it usually seemed to work.

Rolling her eyes at her sister's theatrics, Elfhild gracefully knelt before the slaver. "We will try to do better in the future, Master."

Esarhaddon glowered down at the sisters. "Chieftain Dahâmab believes that you both possess the ability to charm horses. I wish to see if his assumptions are accurate. Therefore, I am assigning the pair of you to the overseer of the caravan's pack animals, in whose service you will labor until the caravan arrives in Turkûrzgoi. To discourage the pair of you from galivanting across northern Nurn on the back of a wagon mule, you will attend to your duties while wearing leg irons."

"Thank you, Master," Elfhild murmured glumly.

"Great is your mercy, Master," Elffled simpered, kissing his slipper.


The twins found that their escapades that afternoon had made them objects of curiosity and even fear. Though the other captives had watched the incident from afar and were not entirely certain what had happened, they did have a basic understanding of the situation – two youthful troublemakers had managed to ride a wild stallion, and the Shatrogar herdsmen, who were part of an extreme horse-worshiping cult, had almost slain them for this grievous crime. The execution was halted by one of the Nazgûl, whom the captives understood to be members of a dark and mysterious order of sorcerers who were among the highest ranking men in Mordor. Perhaps as part of some dreadful punishment, the Nazgûl had then forced the condemned girls onto the back of his unholy winged beast and took to the sky. A wave of unremitting terror swept over the captives as the black shadow streaked through the heavens, darkening the light of the sun. While a few brave ones dared to look up at the Nazgûl, most surrendered to their first impulse, which was to cower and cringe upon the ground with their quivering fingers clutching their heads as they prayed to the Gods for mercy in this godless land of horrors.

When Elfhild and Elffled were returned to the camp, their fellow captives surrounded them like a swarm of agitated bees, demanding to know all that had befallen them. What torments had they endured at the hands of the barbaric Shatrogar tribesmen? And what of their harrowing ordeal with the Nazgûl? The very thought of being thrown onto the back of a fell beast and spirited away by an evil sorcerer was enough to cause the blood to run cold. Those poor girls! How they must have suffered! But why had the Nazgûl brought them back, instead of carrying them off to their doom? For that matter, what had possessed the girls to ride a horse that did not belong to them in the first place?

So many questions, and it seemed like all of the captives were demanding answers at once. Some thought that the twins were very brave, while others were of the opinion that they had brought all their woes upon themselves with their foolish antics. There were even rumors going around that the twins could understand the speech of animals, and had used this mystical gift to befriend the majestic black stallion. Some said that their powers were so great that they were able to charm one of the fearsome flying beasts of Mordor, thus preventing the dreadful creature from devouring them. Were these two seemingly innocuous young women really witches of some sort? If so, why had they not used their powers sooner? Were they secretly in league with Mordor?

The crowd around Elfhild and Elffled grew so large that the guards had to drive back the curiosity seekers with whips and spears. As the guards attempted to intimidate the captives back into order, Leofgifu emerged from the host of guards and whisked the twins away from the clamoring mob, taking them to the sanctuary of her tent.

"I cannot believe that the two of you rode that stallion." Leofgifu shook her head in mingled disbelief and disgust after listening to her nieces' tear-filled account of all that had transpired that afternoon.

"We cannot believe we rode him either," Elfhild remarked sheepishly.

"We were bewitched!" Elffled moaned, clasping her head in her hands.

"Of course, you were bewitched." Leofgifu stared at Elffled as though she were an utter simpleton. "That is what happens when you stray too close to the dark creatures of this land. Did you not sense the fell aura which surrounded those beasts, and see the fire which blazed in their eyes? Those were no ordinary horses!"

Elfhild hung her head in shame. "I fear we fell under their spell."

"If purloining an accursed stallion was not bad enough, you then entered into some sort of ill-conceived arrangement with the Dark Lord's messenger and then agreed to take a ride through the sky upon one of those dreadful dragon creatures!" Leofgifu sighed heavily and threw her hands up in the air in frustration. "You were fortunate that the hooded one took mercy upon you, and did not strike you dead on sight. The things I have heard about the Nazgûl… terrible, awful things!" She closed her eyes as a violent shudder racked her body.

"How do you know so much about this land?" Elfhild looked at her aunt with new curiosity. When she had traveled through the Morgul Vale with Esarhaddon and his men, the slaver refused to say much about the Nazgûl, other than they were men to be feared, and that the tolls they demanded of travelers were outrageous beyond belief.

"While most of the time the guards talk to each other in their own tongues, they sometimes speak in Westron, and I always pay heed to what they say," Leofgifu explained. "And when I can, I ask questions of them about the regions that the caravan passes through."

"At least they are willing to speak with you," Elffled muttered. "Many times when we ask questions, we get the whip shook in our faces."

"That is one of the benefits of being an overseer." Leofgifu gave them a wry smile. "You know," she remarked, a pensive expression coming over her face, "this is the second time that the two of you have had dealings with the fearsome lords of the Dark Land."

Elfhild felt her heart thud dully in her chest. "I do not understand."

"Do you remember the warlord who led the host of the Enemy into the Mark, the man whom you called the Kingly Rider?" When Elfhild nodded, Leofgifu continued speaking. "Whether out of curiosity or some misplaced sense of defiance, you dared to look up at him when all were ordered to bow before his passing. Your audacity caught his attention, and he asked you your name and told you that he would remember you. That, Elfhild, was the Lord of the Nazgûl."

"When a war is going on, it only stands to reason that one might cross paths with the commanders at some point," Elfhild stated defensively, for she felt as though her aunt was accusing her of some misdeed.

"Perhaps," Leofgifu conceded. "But it does seem odd that you would have dealings with not only one, but two, of an elite order comprised of a mere nine men."

Elfhild crossed her arms over her chest. "It is not unheard of for lightning to strike twice."

"True. But 'twould be strange indeed if it struck a third time."

"Or nine times," Elffled quipped, her wide blue eyes appearing quite innocent when her aunt and sister turned to glare at her.


Though they knew that the morrow would bring another long, hard day of marching, Elfhild and Elffled had difficulty falling asleep that night, for their minds were still reeling from all that had happened that day. Did they really have a conversation with a talking horse who invited them to take a ride upon his back? Were they really saved from the wrath of angry herdsmen by a formidable Nazgûl lord? And did they really soar through the heavens on the back of one of the winged beasts of Mordor? All of these events seemed too outrageous to have really transpired, but yet somehow they had.

"Elffled, we never should have ridden that stallion," Elfhild whispered, hoping the guards would not hear her. After months of living in captivity, she and the other girls had perfected their whispering skills to an art form, lest they be punished for talking when they should be silent.

Elffled gazed into her sister's face, which was illuminated by the dim glow of the braziers which provided light in the tent. "We took a great chance when we got on his back, but what can you do when a horse bids you to ride him?"

"We probably should have run away," Elfhild mused with a soft snort.

"Oh, Hild, that would have been rude." Elffled's voice was gently scolding. "Tinnuroch is the steed of a King, after all, a noble beast from an ancient linage who possesses the ability to converse with men." She paused for a moment, her eyes growing large with sudden revelation. "Perhaps Tinnuroch is descended from Felarof, the steed of Eorl and most majestic and powerful of all the mearas! The herdsmen said that many of the black horses of Mordor are descended from horses stolen from the Mark."

"Perhaps," Elfhild reflected. "We will never learn the truth, though, for we will be leaving this place in the morrow."

A spark of mischief twinkled in Elffled's eyes. "I reckon that Lord Skrishau would know."

Elfhild shuddered. "Oh, Elffled, I do not want to think about that horrible man!" Just being around him made her feel as though she were drowning in a sea of dark, murky water and could not rise to the surface because something down below was dragging her ever deeper beneath the waves.

"While he did have an imposing presence, he was far more pleasant than some," Elffled mused. "He saved our lives, after all."

"Then he forced us to swim across a rain-swollen river!" Elfhild whimpered. "What if we had not known how to swim?"

Elffled pointedly ignored the dire truths offered by her sister. "He rewarded us for a job well done by taking us for a ride on his flying beast."

"A ride that will haunt my nightmares for years to come!" Trembling, Elfhild pulled her blanket closer around herself, as though it was a shield that could protect her from an enemy blow.

"I rather enjoyed it myself." Elffled sighed dreamily and suppressed a little giggle. "I felt like a bird, leaving the sorrows of the miserable earth behind to fly among the clouds!"

"I would much rather keep my feet upon the miserable earth!" Elfhild shot her sister an angry glare. "I think that fiend enchanted you and caused you to lose your senses!"

Elffled turned over on her back and looked up at the ceiling of the tent, a dim, hazy canopy in the shadowy gloom. "I suppose that could be a possibility." She reflected upon her encounter with the Nazgûl, wondering at how impulsive it had been of her to accept the offer of a ride upon the fell beast. Perhaps she had been under the spell of the wraith's magic, and not acting of her own free will? The thought of being controlled like a puppet by a dark sorcerer should have terrified her, but strangely enough it did not. For a brief moment, she had experienced wonders beyond her wildest imaginings, and that was all that mattered.

"If we had never ridden the stallion in the first place, we would never have met the Nazgûl and been forced to do his bidding," Elfhild griped sullenly. "He said that we helped the Dark Lord when we retrieved that bag from the river. What if our deed brings harm to the people of the Mark?"

"He was probably lying," Elffled mused. "The men of the enemy spout endless falsehoods to make us lose hope. When you have no hope, though, their words hold little bite."

"You never should have dared me to pet the stallion in the first place!" Elfhild muttered, continuing her angry tirade. "Everything that happened today was all your fault!"

A surge of anger rose up inside Elffled, and she rolled back onto her side to face her sister. "You could have chosen not to pet the stallion or ride the fell beast, but yet you did both. So do not think to hold yourself blameless in these matters!"

"Be quiet over there!" a guard barked, turning in the direction of Elfhild and Elffled. "If you keep talking, I will give you something to talk about!" Too frightened to continue their quarrel, the twins instantly fell silent, burying their heads under their blankets. Perhaps it would be better to let this matter settle until the morning. Tomorrow they would be marching once again, and it would be best to try to get some much-needed rest. Unfortunately, sleep would not come easily.

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