The Circles - Book Eight - A Mordorian Bestiary
Chapter Thirty-five
Market Day
Written by Elfhild and Angmar

A series of trumpet blasts announced that the auction house was about to open for business that morning, and the guards drew open the great gates to allow the crowd to proceed into the main courtyard. From the holding chamber on the second floor, Elfhild and Elffled joined the other captives who gathered about the barred windows. In the courtyard below, Chief Auctioneer Tuzug ascended to the stage and announced that the first sale of the day was about to begin. Many of the slaves to be auctioned off came from a caravan newly arrived from the South, gifts to the Lord of Mordor from the tribal leaders of Northern Harad. Since ancient days, many of the people of the South had worshipped the Great One, and in return for their devotion He bestowed upon them His divine blessings. As a display of their adoration and everlasting gratitude to the Lord of Middle-earth, the tribes of Northern Harad offered up their own people as tribute. For those who had been driven into the low estate of slavery out of destitution, Mordor offered the hope of a better life, as there was always the possibility that one might be favored by fortune and rise to the upper echelons of the Tower. Most ended up as menial servants, however, spending the rest of their days toiling in the fields or in the households of the nobility.

It was the custom for slaves to be sold naked, so that prospective buyers could inspect the merchandise and determine if the slave was in good health. Many of the women looked away out of respect for the sad wretches who were paraded about on the stage, although as so often happens when one is exposed to an abhorrent sight, they felt their eyes drawn against their will back to the courtyard below. How degrading it was to stand there before the pitiless crowd, bereft of the garments which preserved one's dignity and conveyed to the world the temperament of the wearer. The Rohirric captives felt great sympathy for their fellow slaves, for soon it would be they who were forced to endure the scrutiny of the compassionless throng.

The first slaves to be sold were stout young men who would make good farm laborers, gardeners, field hands, herdsmen, and grooms. The great manorial farms which provided sustenance for the armies of Mordor demanded large numbers of laborers to toil in the fields, but Nurn's sea trade also needed galley slaves to row cargo ships from port to port across the Sea of Núrnen. After the sale of common laborers had concluded, the next slaves to be offered were skilled artisans, craftsmen, and scribes. While considered barbaric by those in the West, blood sports were popular in Nurn, and buyers for the fighting pits were always on the lookout for big, burly men who could be trained in weaponry and fighting. Stripped, the slaves were commanded to clench and unclench their biceps, flex their leg muscles, and lift up heavy weights provided by the auction house. The last to be sold was a massive giant of a man who thrilled the crowd by his exploits of strength. The astonished multitude had gasped in amazement when he had hoisted up a large timber with two men atop it, one sitting at either end. His price had been extremely high, and the bidding had been brisk.

The next to be sold were the women and children. The most valuable slaves were those who were literate and educated; those skilled in a trade or craft; and those who displayed natural talent and artistic ability. Those lacking in any formal training were often purchased to be farm laborers, scullery and serving maids, or brothel workers. Of course, the more beautiful a slave was, the greater her value. Wealthy households always needed a multitude of servants, and children were frequently assigned simple household and farm chores. Children were seen by some as an investment, for they could be purchased relatively cheaply and then trained in a skill as they grew into adults. Some wealthy lords and ladies bought child slaves to be companions and servants for their own children. The worst fate for any slave, whether adult or child, was to be sent to the mines. Some mine bosses would purchase children to work deep underground, for they could fit in narrow crevices too small for adults. Children were expendable and found in abundance; if one died, another could quickly be found as a replacement. Production and profit were the only things which mattered.

After the last of the slaves from Harad had been auctioned off, Chief Auctioneer Tuzug called for an intermission, for the noon hour had almost arrived. Time was needed to clean the courtyard of debris and prepare for the second auction of the day, the long-awaited sale of the Rohirric captives. This was the first time that slaves from Rohan had ever been sold in Turkûrzgoi, and the entire city was abuzz with excitement. The House of Huzziya had been promoting the event for weeks, posting signs in prominent places throughout the city and paying town criers to announce the sale at frequent intervals. While Nurn had slaves aplenty, the new arrivals from the North were spoils of war from an enemy land that had dared defy the might of the Lord of Mordor. While only the wealthy could afford such booty, it was a matter of great pride for the citizens of Nurn that their Lord had been triumphant over His enemies, and every man felt like a victor, even if he had never stepped foot upon a battlefield. After all, it was the grain and other crops grown in Nurn that helped the armies of Mordor triumph in the war, for every army, no matter how big or small, marches upon its stomach. Therefore, the folk of Nurn felt that they were just as important as the brave soldiers who fought against the enemies of the Lord of Middle-earth. Every man, woman and child all had a part to play in Mordor; every cog kept the great machine of war turning.

After the midday meal, guards came to fetch Elfhild, Elffled, and the other captives whom Esarhaddon had selected for training at his estate. As they were led away, the twins hastily exclaimed farewells to their friends. This action angered the guards, and the men shoved the girls back in line, lightly chastising them with stinging blows from their flails. Tears streaming down their faces, the twins wondered what would happen to their friends. Would they find contentment in their new lives, or misery and suffering? All Elfhild and Elffled could do was hope for the best.

They were escorted down a staircase and through a series of hallways to a large doorway situated at the rear of the auction house. The portal before them was open, revealing a paved yard where several supply wagons were stationed. The guards directed the girls to a large covered wain pulled by a team of fine-looking bay draft horses. Elfhild and Elffled soon found themselves seated upon cushioned benches which had been built upon either side of the conveyance. Three other Rohirric women were their traveling companions, as well as Goldwyn, who sat directly across from them on the opposite bench. Two latticed windows were on either side of the wain, with smaller windows set into the wall facing the drivers and the upper half of the rear door. After the guards had said a few words to the drivers, they locked the door to the wain and then returned to the auction house.

The drivers cracked the whip and the wain moved forward, the wheels bouncing over the rough cobblestone of the courtyard. They were soon traveling down Market Street, where they passed by the stalls and shops that were situated along the outer perimeter of the Great Bazaar of Turkûrzgoi. The passage down the busy thoroughfare was slow, for the drivers had to be cautious of the other wains, riders, and pedestrians that crowded the street. Overcome with wonder at the sights, sounds, and smells of the foreign city, Elfhild and Elffled turned around in their seats to gaze out the lattice screen that covered the window. While they had seen the same street the day before, it was a completely different experience to view their surroundings from the comfort of a wain.

Coming to the end of Market Street, the wain passed through Bûrzgûl Square, and once again the twins were enraptured by the park's beautiful gardens and fountains. The drivers continued westward, going down a street lined on either side with governmental buildings and wealthy homes. Before long, the west gate of the city loomed before them. The wain slowed and then halted as black and crimson clad guards strode forward to speak with the drivers and inspect their papers. The wait was not long, and before many minutes had passed, the wain departed from the city of Turkûrzgoi and ventured out into the open countryside.

The excitement of the city behind them now, Elfhild and Elffled turned back to the interior of the wain. With the exception of Goldwyn, the other passengers were young women around their own age. While the faces of the other girls looked familiar, the twins were not well acquainted with any of them. Elfhild wondered what traits these girls possessed that made Esarhaddon see potential in them and select them for training at his estate. For that matter, she wondered why Esarhaddon had chosen her and Elffled. They were lowly peasant girls with no education and few talents. Was it because they were twins? Ever since they were born, Elfhild and Elffled had endured the curiosity of those who were astounded by the existence of two girls so identical in appearance. The fascination could be annoying at times, but the twins always reacted with good humor.

Neither Elfhild nor Elffled had not been expecting that Goldwyn would be one of their traveling companions, but upon further reflection, they supposed that her presence in the wain was to be counted as little surprise. It was well known that Esarhaddon greatly desired the haughty beauty, and there had been rumors that he planned to take her as his concubine once the caravan arrived at its destination. During the journey, he had shown her preferential treatment, allowing her to ride in a wain while all the other captives walked. Evidence of this favored status showed in Goldwyn's appearance: her skin was a soft peach, instead of a weathered tan, and her body lacked the gauntness that came from marching for hours a day through the wastes of Middle-earth. The picture of health and beauty she seemed, although perhaps that had not always been so.

There were many rumors about Goldwyn, some of them quite dark.

In days of peace, Elfhild and Elffled had been acquainted with Goldwyn, although they had never been close with her. Goldwyn was quite a bit older than the twins and came from a more affluent family, so there was little commonality between them. Her husband had been a woodworker of considerable renown, and they lived in a large house to the north of Grenefeld on land which had been given to his family by a long deceased thane. While Goldwyn had always been outwardly friendly, at times she could come across as being somewhat pretentious, affecting the airs of one far above her actual station.

After the uruks of Mordor sacked Grenefeld and other villages in the Eastfold, they organized the captives they took into troops of ten. Forced into each other's company for long hours each day, the twins had learned more about Goldwyn and her temperament. She hated the destruction which had been wrought against the fair land of Rohan, and longed to return to the Eastfold so that she might join the desperate fight against the invaders. Since she could not fight the enemy upon the battlefield, Goldwyn resolved herself to defy her captors whenever she could. She despised every man who allied himself with the Great Enemy, and saw each Easterling and Southron as irredeemably evil. After all, what sort of man would willingly serve the Dark Lord?

So great was Goldwyn's hatred for the allies of Sauron that, when Esarhaddon expressed a romantic interest in her, she decided to rise up against her captors and organize a daring escape attempt. In a ruse to lead the guards away from her three sons, she had fled into the ruins of Osgiliath, where she took refuge in an old tomb. What happened next had been a source of much speculation in the caravan camp. According to the official account related by the camp healer, Goldwyn was stricken by a foul miasma which festered in the dank air of the crypt, and her recovery was a long and difficult one. However, the guards whispered that she had actually been possessed by an evil spirit which caused her to display increasingly bizarre and violent behavior. Since Goldwyn was hidden away in the healer's wain, no one was able to determine the truth of the matter, and so the rumors grew more numerous and more detailed.

Elfhild had ridden in the healer's wain on a few occasions, but she had not observed Goldwyn displaying any untoward behavior in her presence. She did seem more aloof than usual, however, but Elfhild assumed that the reason for this was because of Leofgifu's treachery. Even though neither Elfhild nor Elffled had betrayed the escape attempt, some of the captives still condemned them for their aunt's betrayal. Leofgifu had proved herself to be a traitor, and this obviously meant that her nieces were suspect as well.

As Elfhild and Elffled sat across from Goldwyn, they looked around nervously at their luxurious surroundings, both afraid to speak and uncertain of what to say. They wondered if the other women in the wagon shared their same anxieties. Of course, it was always awkward when one was forced into close quarters with strangers, but the twins suspected that the presence of Goldwyn added to the heavy sense of unease that hung over the wain. There were so many dark rumors about Goldwyn, so many ghastly tales. Had she indeed been possessed by an evil spirit? And had the evil spirit been vanquished, or was it still lurking about, seeking a new host?

"I see the lot of you are just as unfortunate as I am," Goldwyn stated at last, breaking the silence. "I wonder what misdeeds our ancestors committed that resulted in us all being condemned to servitude to Esarhaddon uHuzziya."

The other occupants of the wain glanced around at each other and laughed nervously, clearly discomfited by Goldwyn's bold statement. They, too, had heard the rumors about her, and felt varying degrees of anxiety from being in her presence.

"I suppose it matters little," Goldwyn sighed, forlornly staring out the window. "It seems that we are doomed to utter degradation, forced to serve the hated enemy. Oh, that we have to endure such woe!"

"We might not be able to change our circumstances, but I, for one, plan on making the most of them." Elffled found Goldwyn's attitude to be irritating. She had spent the entire journey riding in the healer's wagon while everyone else marched in chains under the sweltering sun, and she actually had the gall to complain that her life was unfair?

"That seems like a good way of looking at things," Elfhild remarked. She sensed an unspoken tension between her sister and Goldwyn, and that concerned her. She did not know how long this journey would take, and she did not wish to spend it quarrelling.

"My mother always said to try to make the most of a bad situation," spoke up one of the other girls, a tall maiden with ashy blonde hair. "While none of us ever wanted to be slaves, perhaps there might be some good yet that will come out of misfortune." With the exception of Goldwyn, the other passengers in the wagon nodded and murmured in agreement.

"I understand that we will be taught various skills while at the slave trader's estate." Elfhild looked around at her traveling companions, trying to determine how they felt about this new development. "I would dearly love to be able to read and write."

"To accept the boons of the enemy is to do his bidding," Goldwyn proclaimed dourly. "I would much rather fight against my enemy than accept his rule over me."

"I would much rather have peace than misery," Elffled retorted, her eyes narrowing. "In lands under the Shadow, the nail that sticks up is swiftly hammered down."

"It is difficult to fight the enemy when one has already surrendered." Disdain dripped from Goldwyn's words as she glared at Elffled.

"Speak for yourself, but I would much rather keep my head down than have it cut from my shoulders." With a snort of contempt, Elffled twisted her body to the side and stared resolutely out the window.

An uncomfortable silence settled over the wain as the passengers politely tried to avoid looking at each other out of fear of initiating another confrontation. The wain continued traveling westward, following a smoothly paved road which closely followed the River Tornîn. Upon the northern side of the road, the landscape was a patchwork of various hues of green as fields, pastures, and woodlots met. Scattered farmsteads and settlements dotted the countryside, and it was a common sight to see laborers tending to vast garden plots. Kept away from cropland by hedgerows or stone fences, cattle and sheep grazed placidly in lush meadows. To the south of the road lay marshy lowlands, with the wide expanse of the river glittering silvery blue in the distance.

As she watched the scenery passing by, Elffled inwardly seethed. She suspected that all of Goldwyn's doom and gloom had been meant to stir up the discontent felt by her fellow captives, to remind them of the uncertainty and oppression that plagued their lives, and tempt them with the vain hope of freedom. Perhaps she was contemplating staging another escape attempt and wanted company to keep her from becoming lonely as she wandered aimlessly through the wastes of Middle-earth. Elffled wanted no part of Goldwyn's foolish schemes. The first escape attempt had been devastating enough, resulting in several unnecessary deaths. If Goldwyn tried again here in the heart of Mordor, Elffled feared that not even Esarhaddon's fondness for her would be enough to save her from the consequences of defying the might of the Dark Lord.

After listening to Goldwyn's impassioned speech, Elfhild felt troubled at heart. It seemed that Goldwyn was still fighting the war, even though the war had long been over for the women and children who had been taken as captives to Mordor. Elfhild was uncertain how she felt about this. Of course, she still harbored resentments towards the Haradrim and Easterlings who had allied themselves with Sauron, but since she would be living amongst these people, it seemed wise to make peace with them so that her life would not be spent in perpetual conflict. At one time, she would have echoed Goldwyn's words, but she realized now that the more one lashed out, the more the lash would fall, sometimes upon her own back and other times upon the backs of those whom she loved. Perhaps she should feel ashamed for harboring such thoughts. Perhaps it was better to die fighting, to fall upon the battlefield with one's sword in one's hands, but she was a humble peasant maid and not a warrior. No oaths had she sworn to defend king and country, and she was bound only by the dictates of her own conscience.

Goldwyn's sentiments brought other worries to Elfhild's mind. What if the people of Nurn harbored the same hatred towards the Rohirrim that Goldwyn harbored towards them? That would not bode well for a happy life at Esarhaddon's estate. The prospect of living amongst strangers was terrifying enough, but living amongst enemies would be far, far worse. That thought was enough to make Elfhild break down in tears right there in the wain, but she resolved to stay strong. Although she had witnessed great cruelty and prejudice on the journey, she had also been the recipient of great kindness and compassion. She prayed that Elffled and she would receive the latter, and not the former, during their stay at Esarhaddon's estate.

Hours passed as the cramped wagon rolled closer to its destination. The day had been a long one, and the twins were exhausted. Lulled into a state of somnolence by the hot, stuffy interior of the wain and the boredom of the long journey, Elffled leaned up against her sister and rested her head against her shoulder. In uncertain times like these, one took sleep when and where one could. Closing her eyes, she soon fell into a fitful slumber. Hazy dreams would start to form in her sleep-filled mind, but were quickly forgotten whenever the wagon hit a bump in the road, startling her back to wakefulness.

Finally the wain slowed down and then turned onto a paved drive. Shaken to wakefulness by the sudden change in direction, Elffled blearily looked around at her surroundings. Elfhild squeezed her hand comfortingly, and the thought flashed from one sister's mind to the other – "This is where all our tomorrows will begin, the place where our destinies will be forged."


Here ends the eighth book of THE CIRCLES.

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