The Circles - Book Eight - A Mordorian Bestiary
Chapter Thirty-three
The House of the Golden Chain
Written by Elfhild

After Chief Auctioneer Tuzug had brought his grandiose welcome speech to its conclusion, he informed his captive audience that part of their number would be sold on the morrow, while the rest would be sold in a series of auctions which would be held over the course of the following week. "Five troops have been chosen for this high honor," he explained, clasping his hands together. "The guards will take the chosen ones to the holding chamber to await tomorrow's sale, while the rest of you will remain here in the slave quarters. For those who must sojourn for a time at the House of the Golden Chain, I implore you not to feel envy for your fellow slaves, for soon, you, too, will have the privilege to serve the lords and ladies of this great land."

The captives did not consider themselves very fortunate or privileged, however. Not only were they forced to be the slaves of their enemies, but they were to be auctioned off like livestock! This was not new knowledge by any means, for long had the cruel guards taunted the captives with the ignoble fate which awaited them once they reached Nurn. However, the captives had assumed that they would be allowed to stay together until the day of the auction, and that one more night remained ere they were parted forever. The decree of the chief auctioneer had brought the stark tidings that they would not get even that, since they would be assigned separate quarters and sold in different sales.

As the guards advanced into the courtyard and barked orders for the chosen troops to follow, many of the women began to shout angrily at the injustice of it all, while others cried out to friends and family in other troops. Some broke ranks in attempt to embrace their loved ones one last time, but they were swiftly beaten back into formation by the stinging blows of the slavedrivers' flails.

"Please, just let me say farewell to my daughter!" one woman cried. "Have mercy!"

"Mercy?" the nearest guard sneered as he raised up his whip in a threatening gesture. "You fool! Mercy is earned by those who prove their usefulness. Why should you have any reward, when you have been naught but baggage to cart around from place to place? Now get back in line!"

The guards had soon turned chaos back into a semblance of order, and the protests of the captives died down to sullen muttering punctuated every now and then by a despondent wail of anguish. After months of being driven ever onward by the whip, few still possessed the spirit of defiance that they once had. Mordor had a way of changing those who ventured within its borders, of turning hope to despair, of supplanting light with darkness.

Brandishing whips and spears, the guards herded the defeated captives to their assigned quarters. Elfhild and Elffled discovered that their troop was one of the ones which had been chosen for tomorrow's sale. They tried to look back over their shoulders for one last glimpse of their fellow captives, but the crack of the whip over their heads drove them onward. They were pushed along with the unhappy throng up a staircase to the second floor of the auction house, where they soon found themselves directed into a large room with walls of white painted stone. The heavy wooden door closed behind them with an ominous thud, and their hearts sank even deeper into despair when they heard the metallic scraping of a key being turned in the heavy iron lock.

With the guards no longer keeping them in order with the threat of violence, the captives milled about the chamber, frantically trying to determine who had been taken and who remained. Many of the women and children were weeping loudly, the agony in their hearts streaming down their faces in floods of tears. Others were in too much shock to do much more than stare vacantly ahead, their eyes seeing little. The grieving attempted to comfort the grieving, although there was little solace to be found.

While it was simple and possessed few furnishings, the holding chamber was not unpleasant. The last light of evening filtered in through three large windows on one side of the room, and a large brass lantern hung from the ceiling, casting an amber glow upon the chamber. Curious about the place in which they found themselves, Elfhild and Elffled walked over to the center window, which, like the other two, was secured by ornately wrought iron bars. In the large courtyard below, a solitary laborer was sweeping the cobblestone pavement in front of a tall stage which had been built along the eastern wall. The twins felt the grip of despair clutching at the depths of their soul. Surely this was the auction block which would decide their fate! To the frightened girls, the innocuous looking structure seemed more like the gallows which awaits a condemned man.

The twins turned away from the window and looked around at their surroundings. A few well-made carpets adorned the wooden floor, and cushions and pillows had been spread around the room. Jugs of water and earthen cups had been placed on several tables along the walls, as well as bowls of fresh fruit. The refreshments would have looked appealing on any other occasion, but after the harrowing experience they had just endured, the girls were left with little appetite.

"You know, this will be the first time we will be sleeping in an actual building made of stone and timber since we were taken from our homes," Elfhild remarked as she concluded her survey of the room. "For a long time, I wished I had a roof over my head, but having spent so long sleeping in tents or beneath the stars, being inside feels like a prison."

"That is because this is a prison, dear sister," Elffled retorted, her gaze going towards the barred windows.

"I do not like this place one bit," muttered Beorhtwyn, who was standing near the twins with her younger half-sister Burghilde. Frightened by all that had transpired that evening, the two girls sought out the comfort of their friends.

Burghilde crossed her arms over her chest and shivered a little. "This room feels sad, as though the ghosts of all those who suffered here still dwell within the walls."

"Of all the places for a restless spirit to become trapped, I think the auction house where one was sold as a slave would be one of the worst." Elfhild shook her head sadly, not wanting to dwell upon such a grim possibility.


"Well, Lord Faikal, were you pleased with the sight that you beheld earlier this evening?" Esarhaddon looked across the table at the Mordorian officer. After the display in the courtyard, Esarhaddon, his brother Erkanan, and Lord Faikal had retired to the auction house's small meeting chamber to discuss important business between the House of Huzziya and Mordor. "These slaves are the first Rohirrim to come to the land of Nurn, but they will certainly not be the last."

"Lord Faikal, never have I seen so many golden-haired beauties in one place," interjected Erkanan, Esarhaddon's older brother and business partner, who wanted to impress upon the Mordorian officer the immense value of the Rohirric captives. "I foresee the bidding being swift and competitive, with each slave going for more than his or her weight in gold."

"Indeed, you have quite an impressive assortment." His expression inscrutable, Lord Faikal gazed at the three men sitting around the table. "Some will make worthy companions and servants for the elite, while others are more suited for toiling in the fields or tending to the livestock. In Mordor, every thrall has a use."

The two slave traders hung on Faikal's every word, for he was the agent of Sauron who had been authorized to deliver payment to the House of Huzziya for the establishment's service to Mordor. A tall man of undeterminable age, Faikal was fair of skin, with long black hair and steely gray eyes that glinted with a cruel light. He looked quite formidable in his Mordorian livery, which was composed of tunic and trousers of unadorned black, and a sable tabard with the insignia of the Great Eye embroidered upon the chest in gleaming crimson, orange, and gold. Here was a high-ranking officer in the hierarchy of Mordor, a man to be respected and feared. The happiness of Esarhaddon and Erkanan depended upon his happiness, and the brothers were pleased at Faikal's reaction to the new consignment of slaves.

The two merchants were not so pleased with Faikal's next words, however.

"Unfortunately, the number of slaves who perished or were lost during the journey to Mordor is quite concerning." The officer's eyebrows furrowed in a disapproving scowl. "Mordor has a need for every thrall, and whenever one escapes the net, whether by cunning scheme or by heeding the call of death, the Great Eye is very disappointed."

Esarhaddon felt his throat constrict, and he swallowed, fighting the sensation. "My lord, the entire journey was plagued by misfortune, and there is little that could have been done to prevent these losses from occurring."

"In the future, I trust that there shall be no more losses of such magnitude." There was a grim finality to Faikal's voice, and both Esarhaddon and Erkanan felt a shiver of dread go down their spines. "The Giver of Gifts has greatly blessed the House of Huzziya, but remember that He can always take those gifts away should the recipient prove unworthy."

"The Lord of Mordor has been most generous to the House of Huzziya, and our establishment has greatly benefited from its partnership with the Tower," Erkanan simpered, trying to keep the fear out of his voice. "My brother and I will take every precaution necessary to ensure that the next caravan arrives at its destination with fewer casualties."

"It would be better if there were no casualties at all," Faikal remarked dourly. "While it is true that some deaths are inevitable, such in the case of illness or infirmity, none should come as the result of slaves foolishly trying to escape, or their guards rebelling against orders. These sorts of incidents are indicative of a lack of discipline, something which the Great Eye abhors."

"My lord, I assure you that there will be no more mutinies or escaped slaves, for I intend to hire a better quality of guards for future ventures. The House of Huzziya has entered into an alliance with the Dagrî Clan of the Dolrujâtar, and their warriors will also be providing additional security as the caravan passes through Gorgoroth." Esarhaddon fumed inwardly. How dare this pompous fool imply that he was somehow responsible for all the calamities that had befallen the caravan, several of which had almost cost him his life!

"The House of Huzziya will do all in its power to ensure the safety of future caravans, my lord," Erkanan added, mopping the sweat from his brow with a handkerchief. "The protection of the precious cargo in our keeping is of the utmost importance."

"I will inform the Lord of Mordor of these promises, and He shall weigh your words against your deeds as they come to pass," Faikal declared, pronouncing his judgment. Then he added, as though it were an afterthought: "In the future, I trust that all House of Huzziya caravans will make better time upon the trail. I expected your arrival in Turkûrzgoi a month ago."

"We shall strive to improve, my lord," Erkanan assured him, veritably fawning.

"Now that we have come to an understanding, it is time to discuss payment for the services that the House of Huzziya has rendered to the Tower." Faikal clapped his hands twice, and a second man clad in the livery of Mordor emerged from the shadows. The man silently approached, holding a goodly sized coffer by the iron handles upon either side. The sides of the heavy wooden box were reinforced by metal strips, and the image of the Great Eye had been burnt into the front. The clasp was unlocked, and Faikal drew back the domed lid, revealing the glitter of many golden coins.

"Here is the reward for transporting the Rohirric slaves to Nurn. As per the contract between the House of Huzziya and the Tower, your establishment will also receive a commission for each slave sold upon the block. You will also be allowed to keep ten slaves of your choosing. The percentage would have been higher, had there been fewer losses."

"The House of Huzziya is immensely grateful for the beneficence of the Lord of Mordor," Erkanan exclaimed, his gaze riveted upon the great wealth before him.

Esarhaddon bowed his head in affected humility. "Indeed, the Giver of Gifts is most generous."

His grievances momentarily forgotten, Esarhaddon stared at the sparkling contents of the chest, eyes gleaming with avarice. The sight of so many beautiful coins, each one glittering like the stars in the heavens, made all of the suffering and hardships he had endured over the course of the journey seem almost worth it. He already knew which slaves he would claim for himself: Goldwyn, of course, for he greatly desired the fair Northern woman and wished to make her his concubine; and several of the loveliest Rohirric maidens, whom he would have educated in the school he operated under the auspices of the Tower.


The tall, thin woman stood before the two slave traders, her body held rigidly at attention, her hands clasped against her waist in a posture of meek subservience. Her heart beat dully within her chest as she waited to hear the declaration which would determine her fate and seal her doom.

"Leofgifu, I have summoned you here so that you might give an account of your deeds upon the journey," Esarhaddon proclaimed. "This is my brother and business partner, Erkanan." He gestured towards the richly dressed man who sat beside him. The similarities between the two brothers were striking, but Erkanan appeared to be ten or so years older than Esarhaddon, and his dark brown, almost black hair and coarse, wiry beard were heavily peppered with gray. Erkanan nodded an acknowledgement of Leogifu's presence, but said nothing.

"Two months ago, you sought an audience with me, claiming that you had information about an escape attempt that some of the Rohirric slaves were planning." Esarhaddon's dark eyes studied her, an inscrutable expression upon his face. "You claimed that the motivation for this deed was concern for your fellow captives, for you feared that few would survive the journey back to Rohan."

"Yes, my lord," Leofgifu affirmed. "Our planting season was disrupted by the war, and the black clouds which blotted out the sun caused the crops to languish and wither away. Even if my people were able to pass unmolested through the occupied wasteland of Anórien, there would be little food left for them in the Mark."

"A wise woman," Esarhaddon nodded approvingly. "For your service to the House of Huzziya, I appointed you to the position of overseer and assigned you to keep order both along the trail and in the camp. Out of all the Rohirric women in my keeping, you alone were chosen to receive this high honor, for you were the only one who saw the folly of your fellow captives and sought to avoid it. If it were not for the intelligence that you provided, it is possible that more slaves would have escaped than the five who managed to elude their pursuers."

"Many consider my deed to be a great evil, but far more evil would it have been had I allowed kinswomen and neighbors to suffer any more than they had already." Leofgifu spoke with bitter solemnity, her regret for her deeds and her disdain for herself creeping unbidden into her voice. "When faced with a hopeless situation, it is far better to surrender with dignity than to fight an unnecessary battle to the death."

The corners of Esarhaddon's lips turned up slightly. "Your wisdom and intelligence far surpass that of most of the people of your land. When you came to me that fateful evening in June, I asked what reward you desired for acting as an informant: power, riches, renown. You wanted none of these things, however; only the assurance that you would not be parted from your daughter upon the day that you were destined to stand upon the auction block. I told you that I would consider the matter, but first you would have to prove both your loyalty and worth to the House of Huzziya. In the two months that you have served as overseer, you have surpassed my expectations, and I see fit to reward you with your heart's desire."

"Oh, thank you, my lord," Leofgifu sighed with relief. Ever since she had been named overseer, she had lived in a state of constant dread, fearing that she might commit some grave error which would cause her to lose her daughter. At last this horrible ordeal was over, and she could face the uncertain future with the certainty that Hunig would be with her.

"Mordor rewards those who show loyalty and trustworthiness, as well as competency and efficiency in their duties," Esarhaddon continued, lacing his fingers together as he studied her intently. "Because of your performance on the journey, I am considering giving you a permanent position at the House of Huzziya, perhaps as a guard or overseer. You are an unlettered farmer's wife, though, with little understanding beyond the management of your own household, so you would need extensive instruction. While both Erkanan and I operate training academies to prepare slaves for service in Mordor, I feel it would be best for you to receive your education here at the auction house."

Leofgifu felt her heart sink. She had hoped that she would be rid of these slave traders forever once the caravan reached its destination and she and Hunig were sold along with the other captives. She had imagined a future as a maid, not as one of the jailers of Mordor. However, if she refused Esarhaddon's proposal, he might change his mind about keeping her and her daughter together. Even though every part of her being chafed against it, Leofgifu felt that she had no other choice but to accept the slaver's offer.

"My lord, I am grateful that you have chosen to reward me with such a high honor."

"Indeed, it is a great privilege to serve the House of Huzziya," Erkanan magnanimously proclaimed, giving Leofgifu the indulgent smile that one in power gives to an inferior. "This establishment is well respected by the Tower, and held in high esteem throughout all of Nurn. Serve us well, and you shall reap abundant rewards. There is always opportunity for advancement for those who find favor in the sight of the Great Eye."

"Your first assignment shall be to bear messages to your former countrywomen," Esarhaddon announced, studying her with a scrutinizing gaze as though he were seeking to determine if she appeared appropriately grateful. "As reward for faithful service to Mordor, the House of Huzziya is allowed to claim a small number of slaves from each consignment that is brought to the auction house. You are to inform the chosen ones of their fate."

"It will be as you command, my lord."

Leofgifu bowed her head in subservience, the gesture hiding the tears which threatened to spill from her eyes. How she had longed to put her past far from her, to throw herself into her duties to her new master or mistress in an attempt to distract herself from the guilt she felt for having betrayed her fellow captives. But it seemed that it would be impossible now to find any escape from her shame. How strange and incongruous it seemed to be rewarded for treachery, to profit from betrayal! But such was the way of Mordor.

At least she would have Hunig, the one solace to be found in her misery.


"There were times, gentlemen, when I had my doubts that we would ever live to see the sight of the city once again. Ah," Esarhaddon inhaled deeply, "how I have longed to see Turkûrzgoi!" Smiling, he turned to look at the men assembled in the auction house's small council room. His brother, Erkanan, was present, as well as Ganbar, Khaldun, and Tushratta.

Though he was still simmering with anger over the earlier encounter with Lord Faikal, Esarhaddon was determined to enjoy his first night back in the city. His brother had organized an informal supper to welcome him and his men back to Turkûrzgoi, and he would not allow Faikal's insolence to ruin the evening. It had been months since Esarhaddon had seen Erkanan, and he was eager to find out how his brother fared. He was pleased to note that Erkanan had changed little during his absence, and that all was well with the auction house.

"It is good to have you back, brother," Erkanan exclaimed jovially after greetings had been exchanged and numerous toasts had been lifted. "Long has been your journey, and through many perils. I must confess that I had begun to dread the arrival of every messenger from the north, for it seemed that they always bore news of some calamity."

"There were certainly many of those upon this misfortune-plagued journey," Esarhaddon concurred, his voice holding a bitter edge. "First there was the slave mutiny at Osgiliath, which tied my men up for several days while we tried to recover the escapees. Then there was the incident at Cirith Ungol, in which my men and I were unwittingly caught up in some conflict between Minas Morgul and Cirith Ungol and found ourselves guests in the dungeons. When at last we reached Gorgoroth, I had hoped that my troubles were over, but, alas, that was not to be. The Mountain erupted with a terrible fury, and many of the caravan's uruk guards, whipped up into a religious madness, began seizing captives to sacrifice. I led an attack upon the rebels, and ordered all those who had participated in the unauthorized ritual be executed. I thought that was the last of that unpleasant affair, but then a band of uruks, seeking revenge for their executed comrades, raided the camp and attacked me in my tent. Not only did this assassination attempt nearly cost me my life, but it also cost the caravan valuable time. After enduring all that, I thought that surely fate was through with tormenting me, but then I was imprisoned in Lug Aanzaabr by Favarti the fool, who had me trussed up like a hog and roasted over a spit!"

"Many misfortunes befell you upon your journey, brother," Erkanan remarked sympathetically. "But you have returned. And some good did come out of all this misery! We now have an alliance with the Dolrujâtar which will profit our establishment for many years to come."

"At least there is that." Esarhaddon stroked his beard, a reflective expression upon his face. "After so much ill luck, I think I shall stay in Nurn for a while and avoid the trail. One of our agents can lead the next caravan."

Esarhaddon looked forward to some much-needed rest at the picturesque villa which he had been given for his loyal service to the Tower. Oft during the journey, he had wondered how his two sons were doing, how they were faring in their studies, and if they had grown while he was in the North. He also longed to embrace his two wives and enjoy the sweet pleasures of their company. When he had left in the spring, his second wife's stomach had begun to grow with his child, and the babe was due to arrive in another month. He was curious to learn all that had happened at his villa during the months that he had been away. Correspondence was difficult to maintain upon the trail, but he had received a few scattered reports. The last he had heard, all was well at home. His chamberlain was a eunuch who had been trained in all the complexities involved in the management of a household, and he trusted in his abilities to keep the estate running smoothly. The school that Esarhaddon operated to train female servants was managed by a highly competent headmistress, and Esarhaddon had no doubt that she had swiftly resolved any problems that might have arisen during his absence. Still, every castle needed its king, and he would be glad to return to the villa.

After a brief pause while the men partook of the meal, Erkanan looked to Esarhaddon's two bodyguards. "Ganbar and Khaldun, you have served the House of Huzziya faithfully, showing great courage in the face of numerous and terrible dangers. What are your plans now that you have fulfilled your duties?"

"My lord, I desire to journey to Harad and see my wives once again," Ganbar answered, a look of longing upon his face. "I will be bringing them with me when I return to Nurn."

"And you, Khaldun?"

"I have given the matter quite a bit of thought," Khaldun replied. "While the trail still calls to me, I would prefer to linger in Turkûrzgoi for a while longer. I understand that there is a guard position open here at the auction house. I would be honored if you would consider me for the duty."

"The position is yours, Captain." Esarhaddon clapped Khaldun upon the shoulder. "Your assistance to the caravan has been invaluable, and I know you will succeed in whatever you choose to do."

"As for you, Tushratta," Erkanan smiled at the physician, "I know you will be returning to the hospital here in the city."

Tushratta nodded. "I have been away for far too long and have neglected my duties."

A wry smile came over Esarhaddon's face. "It was indeed fortunate that you came along on the journey. You patched me up more often than a tailor repairs a worn garment."

"I am surprised you are in one piece," came the physician's droll remark. "It is a good thing that my stitches are so strong."

"The price an adventurer must pay," Esarhaddon laughed. He was glad Tushratta would remain in Turkûrzgoi, so that he could continue caring for Goldwyn. Given the lady's suspicious tendencies, she might not take kindly to a new healer, and her health would suffer.

As the men returned to their feasting, Esarhaddon thought about his original three bodyguards, of whom Ganbar only remained. The Morgul Vale had proved too much for his chief lieutenant Ubri, and he began to act in an increasingly irrational manner, necessitating that he be removed and Ganbar put in his place. After being rewarded for his service, Ubri had departed from the caravan, making his own way southward to Nurn. Inbir had turned traitor, betraying the House of Huzziya by stealing a slave girl and escaping with her over the Mountains of Shadow. Now that Ganbar would be leaving for Harad and Khaldun would be staying in Turkûrzgoi, new bodyguards would have to be found to protect the next caravan of slaves from the North.

Now was not the time to contemplate such matters, though, for the auction was in the morrow, and there was much for Esarhaddon and Erkanan to plan and discuss. This night would be long, and the next day even longer.

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