18. Sweet Temptations
Chapter Written by Elfhild
The morning after Sergeant Daungha's breach of the military Directives, a troop of Easterlings under the command of Sergeant Utana was dispatched to guard the prisoners. Yet though the men had been sent there to protect them, the women felt little comfort from their presence. What assurance did they have that the men would not prove as foul as the orcs, or even more so? After almost two weeks of marching, the captives knew full well that the only thing which saved them from the direst of misfortunes was the strict orders issued by the mysterious hierarchy within the army of Mordor. The orcish captains were not so faithful as the men in keeping the rules, for their kind was given to unruliness and savagery. The lads had come close to breaking the directives many a time with dagger sport, mean threats and cruel torment.
Now, with the close of the second day after the arrival of the Easterling troop, the women had even more to fret about than just orcs. It seemed that quite a few maids had taken an interest in the strange, tawny men, much to the dismay and consternation of their mothers. Many times during the march of the last two days a disapproving mother would catch her daughter casting furtive glances towards the Easterlings, appraising them with curiosity and the faintest stirrings of admiration. When the first day's march had at last come to an end, the men had invited the fair-haired captives to share their rations, to taste the wonders of spicy tea, jars of honey, and strange dried fruits called figs, apricots and dates. The women had been hesitant to allow their daughters to become friendly with the barbarous folk of the East, for they distrusted and despised any man of Mordor. Yet the temptations of food, drink and handsome warriors were hard to resist, and the women had watched helplessly as the Easterlings ensnared their daughters with sweet words and sweet food.
This evening was no different. As she ate her miserable little supper, Elfhild sat upon her travel-worn brown cloak and observed from afar the cavalrymen and their new admirers. A small following of maids from one of the other troops had gathered about them, just the way they had the evening before. Though each troop of ten was not allowed to mingle with the other troops of prisoners, the men did not resent such fair company, and the orcs dared not interfere with the wishes of the Easterlings.
Rising over the quiet hum of fretting captives were the sounds of giggles and titters mingled with those of deep, accented voices. Elfhild wondered what could be found to talk about with dark-skinned barbarians, but certainly anything was better than another night of listening to the endless woes of her fellow captives.
And if interesting conversation was not temptation enough, there was also music! Even now she could hear the tantalizing sound: strange, exotic melodies played upon curious instruments. The men were singing songs in a guttural yet intricate language; so different from the bawdy songs of orcs, the commanding calls of horns and the angry beating of war drums. Did their songs speak of love and passion, of battles and war, of great warriors and feats of daring, or were they merely nonsense songs meant to amuse? Perhaps the ways of the two peoples, the Rohirrim and the Easterlings, were not that much different after all, though one race was fair and the other was foul.
Elfhild sighed. She both envied the ones who had the courage to approach the cavalrymen and resented them for their audacity. But her thoughts were daring enough as it was, perhaps. For was it not traitorous to hold any feeling other than hatred in her heart for those who were enemies? Her thoughts had become divided. Still she was curious.
It was not that she was overly enamored of the handsome young men as other maidens were. After the three kisses which were forced upon her sister's unwilling lips, she was most wary of the Easterlings. Nay, she was sick of bread, meat and water and longed for a change. Her chewing became painful as she imagined eating delicious delicacies and delightful sweetmeats from the Far East. She could almost taste the sweet savor of figs and dates and nearly gagged on the dry clod of bread which slid down her throat.
Elffled sat beside her sister upon the brown cloak, eating the evening meal in silence. She gave little thought to the tasteless bread, for her mind was not upon the monotony of their rations. Nay, she walked once again beneath shady boughs beside her sister in the Eastfold of the Mark. They would bring with them a small meal wrapped up in a light blanket, and then they would quarrel over who would be the one who would carry the burden. At last, their journey would come to an end when they found a peaceful spot which was pleasing to their senses. Then they would spread the cloth out upon the ground and eat and talk until Eadfrid was sent out to find them. Her stomach rumbled at the fond memories but she tried to ignore it.
Elffled looked to her older sister, studying her features in the subdued light. It had been quite some time since she had said anything; her mood seemed thoughtful and reflective. Maybe her thoughts were upon the past as well.
"Are you thinking about home?" Elffled asked softly.
Elfhild was slightly surprised by her sister's sudden intrusion into her wretched thoughts of hunger. "No," she replied, looking to her sister, "I was really thinking about how delightful the food of the Easterlings must be, compared to this miserable bread."
"Oh." Elffled looked down. Somehow she felt disappointed.
"I am sick of it," Elfhild continued. "I do not know if I shall ever eat bread again, if by some lucky chance we are given something else. We might as well be eating dirt! That is what this stuff tastes like to me now." She paused, thinking up a witty insult. "Nay, I speak ill of the dirt; I daresay it would be a delicacy compared to our rations."
"Well, if you are so weary of bread and dried meat, then go over and beg the Easterlings for their crumbs like a dog," Elffled spoke disdainfully, tossing her head in their direction. "But as for me, I would rather eat dry, tasteless bread than subject myself to the foul lusts of those vile men."
Elfhild felt herself involuntarily tense for battle. They had quarreled about this same thing the evening before. Elffled had adamantly refused to have anything to do with the Easterlings. Elfhild thought it a bit silly. After all, the cavalryman who had kissed her seemed to be a brash young man, and had been disciplined by his commander for being out of line. Why should they both both suffer when there was an opportunity for some slight solace? Had they not suffered enough already as it was?
"I do not beg for food from anyone," Elfhild replied stiffly, her voice filled with offended pride. "But can you tell me honestly that you are not sick of the food the orcs give us?"
"I would rather eat it than be polite to an Easterling," Elffled spat, still fuming about Sergeant Daungha. "The taste of dry bread is far more palatable than the lips of a strange man."
"Oh, she can be stubborn!" Elfhild thought resentfully. But where force failed, mayhap sweetly-spoken appeals would prevail... Scheming, she considered other ways to pursuade her sister into going with her. "Certainly they are not all foul," she cajoled softly, gesturing to the cavalrymen. "See? No ill has befallen those maids." She nodded her head in the direction of the other girls.
"Yet," Elffled muttered sullenly. She thought the girls were either of little virtue or perilously innocent.
"They eat sweet food and drink spicy tea and listen to beautiful melodies, while we sit here, eat dry bread and think gloomy thoughts." Elfhild dangled a most attractive lure before her sister. "What would eating a little of their food harm anything?" she asked innocently. "The other girls talk of the wonders of dried ap-ri-cots, figs and dates; delightful tastes that none of us have ever known before."
"I have become rather accustomed to despair, but I resent strange men pawing all over me," Elffled replied darkly. "No piece of candy or sweetmeat, no matter how delicious, is worth that. These cavalrymen are probably just as crude and boorish as that loathsome Daungha!"
"Not every man desires your lips, Elffled," Elfhild stated, surprised at the blatant hostility in her honeyed voice.
Elffled gaped at her sister for a moment before she realized the magnitude of her hateful words. Then her eyes narrowed and she glared daggers at the other girl. "Do you think I actually wanted some random stranger to grab me and slobber all over my face? Why do you not go over there yourself and leave me alone? I hope the Easterlings give you so many kisses that you choke and drown in their fetid spittle!"
Elfhild recoiled in dismay, her cheeks blushing with embarassment. "Listen, 'Fled, I am sorry," she appologied, feeling guilty for what she had said earlier. "But we are marching to where we know not. Can we not have a moment of happiness ere we resign ourselves completely to the evil doom which has been laid upon us? We can politely thank the Easterlings for the food and then leave if they say or try anything improper," she pled, her voice now sounding almost pathetic.
The subject distressed Elffled and she did not wish to speak of it anymore. Her sister did not understand how frightened she had been, the horrible thoughts which had raced through her mind as the sergeant's wandering hands had roamed her body, fondling her breasts and groping between her legs. Her flesh felt sullied where he had touched her and she longed to cleanse herself. No, her sister would never understand. Though it was a spiteful thing to think, Elffled wondered if perhaps her sister would have enjoyed the three disgusting kisses. She certainly delighted in being the center of attention all of the time.
"Please, Elfhild, I am not going over there," Elffled stated with cold finality and fear veiled beneath a tone of warning. "You can go, but not me."
Elffled held her sister's gaze for a moment, and even in the dim light, Elfhild could see the stern determination written there. Nothing more would be said of this, at least not this evening. Soon they would be ordered to sleep for the night and could only speak in whispers lest they provoke the ire of their guards. Usually the captives were obedient, for the day's march had rendered them too weary to do aught else but rest.
Defeated for the moment, Elfhild fell silent, sulking. She looked down at her half-eaten bread, which seemed to her more like a piece of granite than it did edible food. She pecked at it with her fingers, moving the unappetizing clod slightly, and then, resigning herself, she tore off a small chunk, sending a spray of crumbs tumbling upon her skirt. With great reluctance, she brought the bread to her lips and began to chew. She could be tasting of the fruits of the East right now, feasting upon figs and dates, and all manner of foods of which she could only imagine.
"My sister is a fool," she mused bitterly, raising her head to shoot her a contemptuous glare. Elffled did not see her fiery gaze, however, for her attentions were turned towards the earth. Her mind lost to dour ponderings, her fingers absently carved tiny trenches into the dry, velvety ground. It crumbled like little pats of flour beneath her firm touch, and she wove patterns between spindly blades of grass, creating roads and causeways for tiny imaginary passengers.
"Making little pictures in the dirt again, I suppose," Elfhild thought with disgust, "like a chicken scratching for worms."
If only her sister were not such a frightened little coward! If only there were girls of her own age in her troop, not wise older women and young children. If her old friends from the village were with her, they would have been more than willing to eat of the Easterlings' food, drink of their tea, listen to their songs and gaze with curiosity and forbidden interest upon the warriors of the East.
But all of her friends were in other troops and she seldom got the chance to speak much with them, though the captives always camped in the same area. Swithwyn had escaped the clutches of the raiders, for she was fleet of foot, and her mother had begged her to forsake her and flee, or so the rumors said. The parting was bitter and she would have fain stayed with her mother to the death, but the woman commanded her daughter to take flight and she could not be dissuaded. Such are the sorrows of war.
Elfhild could eat no more of the bread. Moving to the side, she drew the cloak up and tucked the crusty remnant into a little pocket. Smoothing the dun-colored wool back down, she resumed her seat, casting a hostile glance at her sister, whom she considered quite simple. Sighing, Elfhild looked down at her lap and her worn and wrinkled skirt. She ran her finger along a series of small, puckered ridges upon the fabric. The threads were drawn tight, pulled and marred by the grabbing hooks of brambles along the trail.
"Elfhild, you must understand. These men are not like those of the Mark," Elffled said at last. Elfhild looked up and over to her. "Our men are honorable and kind, unlike these foul Easterlings," she pled, wondering if her sister would understand. "Only a rogue and a scoundrel, an unsavory character given to mischief, would force his kisses upon an unwilling maid. And, Elfhild, he kissed me most intimately, if you understand, and his hands were all over my body."
Elfhild's nose wrinkled up in disgust. "Our men would never do anything like that to a woman, be she peasant or lady, or baseborn wench," she proclaimed adamantly.
"But we are all less than the lowest of women to these Easterlings, who take what they want and despoil what they will. So you see, Hild," she explained softly, "why I do not want to speak to those men. I do not want them to notice me. If I could make myself unseen to their eyes, I would."
"If we could veil ourselves in invisibility, then we would sneak away and complain never again of bread or of captivity," Elfhild retorted, trying to bring her sister some well-needed cheer. Her irritation had subsided and was now replaced with pity. Indeed, she had been selfish before, thinking only of her own belly, but it was a sore trial for her hungry stomach to be denied such sweet temptations.
Elffled smiled against her will. Then, giving into her amusement, she broke out into laughter, feeling her tensions ease somewhat.
"Ah, but I daresay that only sorcerers and magicians could do such a trick, and we are neither skilled in dwimmer-craft nor do we wish to be any part of such things. So why speak of that which shall never happen?" Elffled shrugged, slightly out of breath from laughing. "If an Easterling proves himself as being anything other than a lout and a boor, then mayhap I shall speak with him, but I do not know."
Elfhild sighed. "How I wish the Riders would come and save us and slay all these evil orcs and men!"
"Then we would surely die, for we would be slain if they thought we had any hope of being rescued," Elffled commented quite matter-of-factly.
"Ah, you are most cheerful this eve," Elfhild laughed sarcastically, teasing her sister. Despair was a part of life now, just as commonplace as eyes red and irritating from weeping; a truth which could be neither hidden nor denied.
"I wonder what happened in the South," Elfhild sighed. "Naught have we heard for almost four months."
Once Elfhild had imagined brave battles, but now all she saw in her mind were horrible scenes of slaughter. Months of cloudy, sunless skies and the ancient fear of the Dark had driven all hope from her heart. But though hopeless and despairing, still she was innocent, for she had tasted only a tiny drop of the poison of sorrow and death. She had never drunk the full measure, draining the dreadful cup to its dregs, and so she still had dreams and illusions that war could be a glorious thing.
A thoughtful look crossed Elffled's face. "Things went evil; that much is certain," she murmured, "or else ere long we would be seeing a great host of men thundering towards us to deliver Sunland and the Mark."
"Now that would be a most welcome sight, though perhaps not for us captives!" remarked Elfhild. "I remember when the Riders of Rohan went by Grenefeld on their way to Gondor. How magnificent they looked upon their fine chargers; how our hearts soared with pride to see the warriors of our land all gathered together in a host most glorious and gallant! We dared the darkness to see their passing, watching with tearful eyes as they sped towards the East."
"Aye," nodded Elffled. "And we were so frightened when we heard that the King had been presented with the Red Arrow, for that meant war was of a surety."
Elfhild sighed. "I suppose that all were worsted in the South, utterly crushed by the might of the Enemy. Even if some managed to escape and cheat the black hand of death, we shall never see them again. Where we are going, there is only despair and the yoke of slavery, I suppose."
Her mind seemed to take fiendish delight in recalling the faces of her kinsmen and friends, and they flashed before her, as fleeting ghosts haunting the realm of the living. She saw her father and her brother; her uncle's mirthful face as he laughed at some jest. There was the dark-headed Cuthwine, whose appearance was so different from that of his fellows; Swithulf the Miller's son, the brother of Swithwyn, the maid who had escaped the dire fate of thralldom; and many other familiar faces, some more dear than others, but all sadly lamented.
And then there was Osric the Isensmith's son with his merry temperament and knightly manner. He had asked her for a favor which he could take with him to the fields of Gondor far away to bring him good fortune and fond memories. Even now, after so many months of fear, she could remember that day as if it had been told for many years in one of the beloved songs of the Eorlingas. She had pulled the blue woven ribbon from her braid and given it to him, and he had bent down and kissed her hand in gratitude and farewell. Then he had mounted his horse, a fine steed of dappled gray, and he had gone as quickly as he had come.
Her heart ached. Her father would never clasp his strong, warm arms about her, his loving embrace filling her with peace and security. She would never look upon the tall and lanky form of her brother nor walk beside him as they did their chores or roamed about the countryside. Now she felt guilty about all the many times she had argued with Eadfrid about silly little things. If only he stood before her! Then she would rush into his arms, shower him with affection and apologies and swear never to quarrel with him again.
But she would never have that opportunity. Again she wondered if she had wasted her life in childish squabbles over petty trifles when she could have been kinder and more understanding of her kin. Her heart shattering, Elfhild began to weep.
Then to her mind, which was still reeling from the sudden resurgence of grief, came the seductive thoughts of figs, apricots, dates and sweet tea. O, a curse be upon her disloyal stomach which was making her a traitor against her will!
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.