14. Rohirric Roses Among the Thorns
Chapter Written by Elfhild
With Assistance By Angmar
As soon as the women were certain that the guard was out of hearing range, many of them leapt to their feet and clustered about Waerburh, Aeffe and Frithuswith. Murmuring fretful reassurances, solicitous friends led them to a blanket spread before a cheerfully crackling fire. Both Aeffe and Frithuswith stumbled slightly as they walked, causing some to fear that they had been beaten.
"Will you tell us what happened... we can understand if you are unable to speak of the horrors..." Serious concern mingled with a perverse curiosity as the three women were bombarded with questions. Their eyes downcast, Waerburh and the two others were hesitant to begin speaking, for their minds were left bewildered by the barrage of desperate inquiries.
Her back towards the fire, Goldwyn stood and faced the women. "Tell us what these barbarian fiends did to you! We are your friends and can commiserate with you, for undeniably we will face the same as did you!" She looked to Aeffe and Frithuswith. "Why do you limp? Did they hurt you?"
"No," both women shook their heads.
"Did they--" Goldwyn began, but was interrupted.
"They did odious things!" Waerburh cried as she clenched her right fist into a ball.
"What! What!" the women urged, their voices sounding a little too shrill and eager to hear the dreadful news. Unwilling to miss anything, they pressed closer to the three lambs who had been returned to the fold.
True it was that the women were very concerned for those of their number, but they welcomed any little bit of gossip to help relieve the monotony of the journey. They prayed that the women had not been raped or injured horribly, but the report of a few inappropriate touches and improper words would satisfy their need for titillation. The Khandian cavalrymen were long gone, and with them went the harmless flirtations and the forbidden candied fruits which had caused so great a stir among the ranks of protective matrons. Now that was old news, quick to be forgotten, and the Southron slaver provided them with far juicer gossip than the cavalrymen ever had.
The women were also looking for more excuses to rebel against their captors, for they wished to bolster up their courage and alleviate any doubts concerning this foolhardy escape attempt. Many were hesitant and fearful of risking their lives in a mad flight and then embarking on a journey into a blighted wasteland. There was nothing like an outrage to inflame their passions and spur them on to action. It was the stiff drink of mead that a timid rider drank in the early morning hours ere charging off into battle.
"Did they touch you?" one of the listeners asked, both dreading to hear that that the men had handled them, and yet hoping to be told a torrid story that ended well.
"Of course they touched us! They are men!" Waerburh retorted, as though even the most simple-minded should know the answer to that before the question was asked.
A gasp resounded throughout the throng, and many hands flew up to gaping mouths or clasped pounding bosoms.
Her eyes blazing with anger, Waerburh lashed out in an angry tirade which surprised the other women, for she had always seemed a very calm, quiet sort of lady. "I feel close to swooning when I think of those horrible swarthy-skinned men with their lust-maddened, flashing eyes; their appalling noses, shaped like the beaks of eagles or bulbous, swollen knobs; their grease-covered beards; and their strange, colorful clothing, akin to the wear of jesters! Oh, they are terrible men!" Distraught with the memory of her experiences, Waerburh shook with horror, her fists clenching and unclenching.
"Let us be calm," Goldwyn advised, though she felt far from serene herself. Shaken by the vehemency in the other woman's voice, she forced herself to remain composed.
Aeffe, the youngest, spoke up excitedly. A bubbly girl of fifteen summers, she was eager to be the center of attention. "I can tell you what happened!" she exclaimed, her words running together. "As they dined, the slaver and six of his men lay about on the floor like dogs--"
The women looked at each other, incredulous at this revelation. "Dogs?" several asked in unison.
"Aye, dogs!" Aeffe exclaimed testily, feeling challenged. "These Southrons behave at times like most uncivilized people. When they eat and drink, they are too lazy to sit on benches or chairs, instead preferring to lounge about on the floor, as though the very effort of sitting up would slay them with exhaustion! The legs of their tables are made short so that they can dine in such a slovenly fashion. This makes their furniture resemble children's toys."
"Children's toys?" one woman repeated dubiously, never taking her eyes off Aeffe.
"Aye! That is what I said!" Aeffe replied churlishly. "Do you not believe me?"
"Aye," the other woman replied, not quite sure if she really did or not.
An offended expression upon her face, Aeffe folded her arms across her chest. "Well, if you do not believe me, I will speak no more of it!" She tossed her reddish blonde hair defiantly. There was nothing quite as irritating as trying to tell a story and constantly being interrupted by naysayers.
"No, no," a frustrated Goldwyn cajoled. "Please continue with your account!"
With a slight huff, Aeffe elaborated. "When the guards first took us to the pavilion, the slaver and his men were not there, and we were met by one of his servants. This was a young man who appeared to be about seventeen or eighteen years of age. He was one of those black men with skin as dark as the night. There was not a sign of a beard upon his face, and his skin looked to be as soft as that of a maiden's. He had a waist and hips like a woman, and his voice rose high."
"What did he do to you?" another woman demanded, her voice filled with suspicion.
"Yes, yes!" the women echoed. "What did he do?"
With another indignant toss of her head, Aeffe replied, "He did not touch me, if that is what you wish to know!" She wanted to scream, "Quit thinking such prurient thoughts, you dirty-minded old cows!" but she held her peace instead and went on with her story. "He instructed us to bow low to the ground when the slaver arrived - as we were told to do yesterday. Then he directed us to keep our eyes downcast when the slaver and his men were present; not to smile or laugh, for that would be considered forward; not to speak unless we were addressed, for that would be considered most discourteous; and how to serve the men their favored draughts."
"Is that all he did?" one woman asked, a note of disappointment in her voice.
"Yes, that is all he did!" Aeffe shot back. These awful women actually wished that something horrible had happened to her so that they could fill their meaningless hours with gossip! How their idle little minds loved indulging in perverse fantasies! How could her own countrywomen be so heartless and base?
"And then what happened?" Goldwyn encouraged her.
"I have talked long enough..." Aeffe muttered sullenly. "No one seems to believe me anyway, so I will keep silent now." Pouting, she folded her arms tighter across her chest. All they wanted to hear was a juicy tale.
"I am sorry you feel that way." Goldwyn's blue eyes held a hurt expression as she turned from Aeffe to Frithuswith.
"All that Aeffe has said is true," Frithuswith interceded, coming to the defense of the younger woman. "The half-man - for that is what he is, a gelding - was polite, almost formal with us, and kept his distance. I could tell you he was a monster - which might make my story more exciting - but would be untrue." The young, unmarried daughter of a nobleman, Frithuswith possessed a graceful, dignified manner, and prided herself on her honesty and objectivity.
Unlike many of the women, she had been educated by tutors and could read and write. She had always enjoyed reading histories which told of dealings with folk in faraway lands. Now here she was, telling about the unique customs of a strange and alien people. Aside from the alarming circumstances, she felt as though she were some great explorer who was regaling an eager crowd with fascinating tales of his journey.
"Then after the eunuch had told you these things, what happened?" a puzzled Goldwyn asked.
"The men were served their supper by their servants," Frithuswith explained. "They ate this meal upon the low table as they lazed about, leaning against cushions. Their table manners are impeccable, far more genteel than the habits of some buffoons I have seen in our own land. When they had finished their meal, the Southrons dipped their fingers in bowls of perfumed water held by the servants and waited as their fingers were dried. These Haradrim take great pride in their cleanliness." She paused, observing the small audience's reaction, and then continued when she deemed they were showing her the respect she deserved.
"After the meal, servants carried in large trays of desserts. There were confections of the lightest consistencies, as delicate as the down from a thistle; others, thin and crisp and covered with the seeds of poppies and other seeds with which I am unfamiliar; I believe they called them sesame. Some were covered in sticky icing and filled with the most delicious flavors of fruits. There were wafers that melted in the mouth, and some sort of cracker that when, first tasted, was overwhelmingly salty, but, after being swallowed, left a taste of honey in the mouth. When the men had eaten all they wanted, the master slaver bade us to take what we wished while they drank a strange black frothy liquid in tiny cups. The draught - which they said was called 'coffee' - was much too potent for any of us, so they allowed us to drink tea or water instead." Frithuswith surveyed the throng of women, her haughty eyes narrowed somewhat, challenging anyone to gainsay her.
"Were you not afraid of being poisoned?" a young maid, who was enraptured by her story, spoke up hesitantly.
An indignant snort from Waerburh drew all eyes to where she sat. "No, my dear child!" she interjected, her face twisted in a wry smile. "Why would they wish to do that? Our bodies are worth far more to them alive than they are dead." The woman looked towards the fire. "Go on, Frithuswith. I did not mean to interrupt."
A hush fell over the crowd as Frithuswith resumed her tale. "A strange thing happened after that. At the conclusion of the meal, the men rose to their feet, and the servants rearranged the cushions around a table at one side of the tent. The master slaver commanded all of us to take a seat on the pillows beside each one of the men. Then they brought in those... things." She wondered how she would ever explain this to these superstitious, ignorant peasant women. She did not even understand it herself.
"Things?" an incredulous cry rose up.
"Aye, things," Aeffe interrupted, her youthful impetuosity overruling her manners. Earlier she had been angry and disgusted at these women who seemed unwilling to believe her, but her temper had cooled off. She never stayed irate at anyone for long, and besides, many of these women were old enough to be her mother. She was sure they were so ancient that they had forgotten what it was like to be young.
Flipping her hair back, Aeffe looked around, and when no one said anything, she cleared her throat and continued the story. "These things were dragons - most unusual dragons, not those you hear about in stories. You could see right through them to their bowels, and there was nothing there, save for churning liquid that bubbled and hissed like the brew in a cauldron. The beasts were long and thin and smoke puffed out through their nostrils, which were located on top of their heads. Each one had a long, twisting tail, like a serpent." She stretched her hands wide, illustrating the length of the strange appendages. "The men grasped the beasts by the tails as the monsters twisted and writhed and spat smoke into the men's mouths." Aeffe looked away into the crackling fire, a dreamy expression upon her face. She heard several of the women's low mutters, but she ignored the old busybodies.
"Aeffe, dear, is that all?" Goldwyn encouraged her.
"No, certainly not," the girl replied, shooting Goldwyn an irritated glance. "I was frightened of the little yet ferocious looking wyrm, for its breath combined with the smell of the braziers and choked me. The man beside me, who is named Inbir, took a goblet of wine from the table and brought it to my lips, reassuring me that this draught would bring solace to my inflamed throat. When he encouraged me, telling me that the serpent would bring me no harm, I gathered my courage and held the creature by his tail and drew in his heady smoke. I held it in for a few moments, as Inbir had instructed, and then exhaled, releasing the smoke in a great cloud."
The women looked to each other in amazement, unable to comprehend anything of what Aeffe had spoken. "Is the girl drunk?" a formidable buxom matron whispered to the woman beside her, who shook her head and whispered back, "That I do not know, but something has certainly affected her reason!"
If Aeffe heard them, she gave no indication, for she was reliving the evening in the slaver's tent as though it were happening at that moment. Shaking her head to clear it, her sweet, young voice continued. "Gradually I was overcome by the most blissful of languor." Closing her eyes, she sighed at the memory. "All fear of the dragon and the slavers left me, and to me they began to look pleasant, especially Inbir, who is the most remarkably kind fellow. As I looked into his handsome face, my lips were drawn to his, and I felt consumed with the most felicitous of feelings. He has the most gentle touch, and his voice is deep and soothing..." She smiled in the darkness, dreaming of the young Southron who was in Esarhaddon's employ.
"Scandalous, brazen hussy!" many of the women condemned her in their minds, but not to her face. "The little wanton, she has become a common whore, allowing them to corrupt her virtue! What would her kin think of their pampered darling now?" The captives could scarcely account that they had heard her words correctly, and all began wondering whether Aeffe had fallen under the influence and control of a great sorcerer who had charmed her out of her wits, or if she had merely been seduced.
"Aeffe!" Goldwyn exclaimed as she bent down and took the girl's hands in her own. "Please, dear, I think you should rest now! You are quite distraught!"
"Yes, perhaps that would be best." Aeffe looked up into the face of Goldwyn and giggled softly. "I would like to think more about the dragon... and Inbir."
"Here, child, let me help you," Leofgifu volunteered, her heart aching with sympathy for the poor deluded girl. She knew that many of the women would think ill of Aeffe's infatuation with a man of Harad. How could the girl have been so foolish as to admit such a thing before all the other women?
"Poor, poor Aeffe!" Goldwyn lamented as she watched the motherly Leofgifu lead the girl away.
Frithuswith huffed, "I scarcely see why all of you are so bewildered, for Aeffe spoke truly. At first I thought she had been besotted upon the wine which she had drunk, but I was wrong. My mind was greatly relieved when Ubri - the man who was sitting beside me - assured me that the dragon had bestowed upon Aeffe a vision. His head wreathed in the sweet-smelling smoke, Ubri then lifted up the drake's tail to my lips. I felt no fear of it, for no harm had come to Aeffe by handling the creature. I had the most wondrous sensations of peace after that." Her voice trailed off as she stared wistfully into space. She remembered the sensual feelings which had rippled through her body when Ubri cupped her breasts in his strong hands and covered her lips with his.
Goldwyn was both furious and disgusted. "Frithuswith, there was no dragon! Can you not see what these men have done to you?" she exclaimed angrily. "The two of you were bewitched by spells and potions! They are all sorcerers and skilled in administering the most baleful poisons! Please, Frithuswith, you must rest, for you are surely babbling nonsense!"
"Back in the Mark, none of you would have dared talk to me like this, for I am the daughter of a lord!" With a disdainful "hmph," Frithuswith reproachfully looked down her long, slender nose at the other woman. "I am not babbling nonsense, but I will take my leave of you now and catch such sleep as I can before dawn. Good night to you all." Rising to her feet, she stalked away.
"Waerburh!" Goldwyn clenched her hands in anger and frustration. "What madness is this? What has befallen them? Have these despicable Southrons bemused them with spells or potions? Everyone knows that they all are sorcerers, evil men of the cruelest and basest of intents!"
"Goldwyn, take no thought that this thing Aeffe and Frithuswith have described is a dragon; it is some device of the cruelest and most devilish of cunning," Waerburh announced gravely as she looked around at the circle of women. "The chamber - which the Southrons call its 'bowels' - must dispense some rank poison that makes the mind murky and lays a cloud of darkness over the powers of reasoning. That is my only explanation for the power of this fiendish apparatus."
Looking at one another, the women slowly nodded their heads up and down, murmuring their agreement. More than one of them concluded, "Poor Aeffe and Frithuswith! They have allowed themselves to be deceived!"
"I almost wish now that I had been intoxicated by the vapors, for perhaps this would have blunted the pain," Waerburh stated quietly. "I can claim neither bewitchment nor drunkenness as my excuse, but rather fear." Her bluish gray eyes clouded over with shame and anger.
The other women murmured in sympathy, for they knew that the moment that they had dreaded - and longed for - had come.
Her eyes glittering with suppressed fury, Waerburh spoke in a cold monotone. "The master slaver commanded me to sit by his side, and as soon as I had sat down, he began to take liberties with my body. The accursed smoke billowed all around us, perfumed with the scent of flowers. His men took no heed of us; they were too involved in their own pleasures." A flush colored her face and neck, and she let out a long, jagged sigh. "At first he was gentle with his kisses, but then his brawny paws groped my breasts and touched me in places - oh! - he knows all the places that can drive a woman mad! A rogue's look of lust upon his face, he pulled me into his bed-chamber and pushed me down on the couch." Tears sprang to her eyes, and she tried to push them aside with her knuckles. Looking away briefly, she was silent, trying to find the strength to continue.
"I pled with him to spare me this humiliation, but he only laughed and told me that if I did not obey him, that he would beat me. Soon he had me stripped, and I lay there on my stomach, naked and ashamed, almost senseless with fear. He called for those devils, his eunuchs, to bring him heated oil. While two of them held me down, the slaver applied this warm unguent to the lowliest place of my most intimate of regions, using his finger to massage the oil deeply within me. I fought, I swear I fought! But what could I do at the mercy of men so strong?" Wild-eyed, she looked around at the group, hoping they would show understanding.
A low rumbling of voices rose up among the crowd as the women expressed their horror and anger at what had befallen Waerburh. Praising the Gods, each one was thankful that it had not been her upon the slaver's couch.
After wiping her eyes on her sleeve, the distraught woman continued. "The slaver used me in debauched ways which are quite opposite to the natural way between a man and a woman! Perhaps he felt guilty at what he was doing, for he attempted to calm me by soothing words. He promised that if only I would submit to him, he would lead me into a new realm of pleasure that would bring delight to us both. Oh, he is a devil, and told me that I could derive great bliss from this new experience; that the oil would be a balm to my unused path; and if I would only calm myself, that I would know little distress. But I could not bring myself to yield to this outrage, and I struggled against him for as long as I could. My whole body recoiled at this disgrace, and I screamed in agony as his forceful invasion threatened to tear me asunder!"
"By Béma!" one woman moaned. "The man is a depraved fiend!"
"In all my years," exclaimed one shocked older lady, "I have never heard of such an abhorrent practice!"
"These Southrons are truly wicked, their perversions without end!" cried another.
Throwing her hands over her face, Waerburh sobbed mightily, her shoulders shaking. "He called this manner of fornication the 'Merchant's Way,' for a man could work his will with a woman with little likelihood that his seed would be planted within her belly. He explained to me, though, that virgins are most usually the victims of such loathsome debasement, for if a young maiden's flower of chastity is defiled, she will not be worth as much at the slave market." Choking on her tears, Waerburh coughed and sputtered out, "The slaver told me that sometimes a man will take a woman in that vile way even if she is not a virgin, for the more humble of the two passages is the one which is tighter." An anguished wail tore from her lips. "Never have I hated anyone so much as I hate this man! Oh, I am so ashamed!"
Shaken, Goldwyn pressed a hand to her pounding heart. "None are safe from his mad fancies!" she spat out the words through clenched teeth. "We must escape these barbarians!"
"Aye, and quickly!" Waerburh nodded tearfully. "For if we do not, all of us will be forced to suffer this humiliation over and over!"
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.