The Circles: Book 3: To Escape a Dark Destiny: 10. How the Ignorant Grope

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10. How the Ignorant Grope

Chapter Written by Angmar and Elfhild

Never had the Southern slavers experienced a servile mutiny of such a magnitude as that of the rebellion of the Rohirric women. Although the slavers of the House of Huzziya were loath to admit it even to each other, they were shaken by its ramifications. Those Gondorian women and children who had been captured in the early days of the war had proved to be far more docile than the wild barbarian people of the North. The Rohirric men were fierce fighters, many preferring death to capture, and some of their women were no less savage than their men.

Accustomed to the passivity and subservience so prized in the women of their own land, the dignified Khandian doctors were ill fitted to deal with such raw passion. Since Tushratta and Aziru possessed little experience in dealing with so many patients who were both angry and injured, each man was uncertain as to the best way of handling the unique situation. Obviously, in addition to medical skills, both diplomacy and tact were needed.

Tushratta and Aziru surveyed the three dark-skinned slave boys who stood respectfully at attention, their heads bowed and their hands folded in front of them. "Boys, you must be cautious in dealing with these women, for a word taken wrong might turn them into lionesses. I had considered having the guards bind each woman hand and foot when she was brought into this tent, but I have decided that would only contribute to their state of agitation. We will use severe measures only if kindness fails." Tushratta waited for each boy to nod his acknowledgement before he went on with his instructions.

"You," he motioned to one of the boys, "will be responsible for filling the vessels with fresh water and bearing away the basins of impure water after surgery. And you," he turned to another, "will aid my assistant and take him the instruments and other things that we will need. And you, Hibiz," he looked to the third boy, "besides doing as we might direct you, you will keep a vigil upon the ailing woman in my chambers, visiting her twice every hour. If necessary, the whole group of you might be called upon to hold down a patient who struggles and refuses to drink the calming potions. Now prostrate yourselves in reverence as the Chief Assistant and I meditate and invoke the power and advice of the healing goddesses."

"Master Physician, to hear is to obey!" The three boys cheerfully echoed almost in unison as they bowed their way back to one of the tent walls and then sank prostrate upon the floor. Tushratta and Aziru sat cross-legged on the cushions which lay on the carpet. Bowing their heads, their lips moving silently, the physician and his assistant spent some minutes in contemplation before arising.

"Ho! Hibiz, fetch a bottle of wine and goblets for the worthy Chief Assistant Aziru and myself and place them on the small bench beside my examining table," Tushratta commanded the boy. "The wine always proves useful in steadying my hand... When all is in readiness, open the tent and allow the patients admittance. We will see what misfortune has brought to us today."

"Afflictions in abundance... such a great throng of the injured!" Aziru remarked sadly as he put an eye up to the crack between the tent flaps and peeked through the opening. "And some are quite angry!"

"Perhaps I should go out and try to calm them," Tushratta mused out loud as he thoughtfully stroked his dark, wiry beard.

"Master Physician, perhaps you should!" Aziru bobbed his head up and down in agreement, the light from the lamps gleaming off his oiled, balding pate. "The women's voices buzz as viciously as bees whose hive has been disrupted!"

Moving past Aziru, Tushratta drew back the tent flap. He found that while he had been examining Goldwyn, the guards had brought more patients. A quick assessment revealed that most of the women and children had suffered only minor injuries. Some of the prisoners eyed the physician through blackened eyes, their lips swollen and their faces cut and bruised. Although some favored their arms, holding them at unnatural angles, at least there seemed to be only one broken leg, that of a small boy who lay crying on the ground.

Smiling politely, Tushratta bowed before addressing the crowd in his heavily accented Common Speech. "In Khand, my own country, I am called Tushratta, and I am a physician. This man beside me is Aziru, the Chief Assistant, and he will aid me in treating you." The group looked at the two Khandians dubiously. Aziru placed one of the physician's supply chests on the ground in front of him, and at a nod from Tushratta, he opened the lid. "Here you will see jars and phials of salves, unguents, boluses, various potions used in healing, and rolls of cloth for bandages," the physician explained. "Do you wish to look inside to assure yourselves that all is as I have related?"

The captives murmured and shook their heads. Glaring at the two doctors, a sour-faced older woman spat out, "Keep that devil's box of evil away from me! It is cursed with the most malignant of hexes and charms!" Square-jawed, her nose straight and pinched, her lips thin and pale, the woman was narrow of shoulder and broad of beam. Nature had created her almost bereft of neck, and her head seemed to be sprouting from her shoulders. A black kerchief tied about her thin, graying hair did little to help her appearance, and the shabby brown grease-stained dress which she wore made her look all the more dowdy. A defiant look upon her wide, scowling face, she dared the two doctors to challenge her words, her defiant stance making her resemble a belligerent black and brown broody hen with her feathers puffed out to make herself appear larger.

Sighing, Tushratta enunciated slowly in his heavy accent, "Grandmother, with all courtesy accorded to you because of your age, if I really were a sorcerer, I certainly would consider turning that adder's tongue of yours into a stone so it would be silent!" He congratulated himself that he possessed the good sense not to display the case that contained his surgeon's tools - the sight of saws, knives, drills, tweezers, needles, clamps and various other instruments would only have worked these women up into a hysterical frenzy.

"Son of a dog!" the woman shrieked. "May Béma trample you under his horse's hooves on his midnight ride! You and your wicked assistant will pay for your crimes someday!" The drab matron shook her fist at him as several other women encouraged her by muttering similar curses under their breath and spitting to the side in contempt.

"Good ladies," Tushratta had quickly regained his usual calm demeanor after his temporary agitation, "though you see me as an enemy, you are mistaken. I mean you no harm - only good."

"Good?" the woman let out another string of invectives. "There was no good in your invasion of the Mark!"

"Lady, I am not - nor have I ever been in all my life - a soldier," Tushratta explained patiently. "The only reason that I own a sword is for my own protection, and never have I had cause to raise it. What has happened has happened, but I bear no blame for any of it. I am a doctor, and my life is dedicated to healing."

"Well, I do not know so much about that. You are one of the enemy's sorcerers, and you do as much evil as your land's accursed soldiers, maybe more with all your spells and enchantments!" the woman hissed.

"I have already related to you that I am a physician, not a sorcerer! This whole discussion is the height of absurdity, and now it is at an end! In spite of your age, Madame, if you continue with it, I will call the guards to restrain you!" Tushratta slammed the medical box shut, an uncommon display of temper for the usually dispassionate physician.

With a great "humph," the indignant woman concluded that perhaps it would be to her best advantage to be silent. A great murmuring went up among the crowd, but none of the women dared contend with the physician after that stern warning.

Touching an amulet that hung around his neck, Aziru whispered out of the side of his mouth, "Master, behold the gleaming fire of anger in the malevolent pale eyes of the women! The wise say that such eyes are full of wickedness! At least none of them have weapons! May the Gods of Bablon protect us if they were armed!" Once again, the surgeon's assistant made the sign against evil behind his back, as he had done several times whilst listening to the exchange between the master physician and the dour matron.

"Be still, Aziru," Tushratta whispered to the fretful man beside him. "You spout superstitious nonsense! They are only women, and they are frightened."

"Only women?" Aziru gasped in dismay as he secretly warded off evil with the apotropaic sign. "Some of them are veritable amazons, large, robust and endowed with great strength. I do not doubt that several of them could join together and flatten me! Some are taller than I! When you are as small as I am, you have to worry!"

Ignoring his assistant's remarks, Tushratta turned back to the women and after managing a benign, dignified expression once more, he resumed speaking to them in what he considered a calm, comforting manner. "I turn away none who come to me. Do not worry. All will be well." Gesturing to a nervous Aziru at his side, he continued, "You will be pleased to know that my assistant speaks far better Common than I. He can help with any problems of translation."

Hopeful that he had used the right words in the difficult Common, Tushratta gave the crowd another placid smile. "A physician in his own right, the Chief Assistant will first ascertain the extent of your injuries. Those who are hurt the least will form a line to the right. Those with more serious injuries will form to the left. If there is any confusion, the guards who have so kindly brought you here will settle the matter. Now, if you will excuse me, I go now to my tent to await the first patient."

Tushratta knew that none of what he had said to them made any difference; the women were as hostile and suspicious as ever. Disconcerted by the women's continuing animosity, the flustered physician fumbled in his choice of parting words. "And... It was very nice talking with you very lovely and pleasant ladies." A slight titter rippled over the crowd, and the doctor could not determine whether the women were genuinely amused or if they were simply mocking him. Flushing in embarrassment, the reserved physician bowed quickly and turned to leave.

"Tush-rat-ta," a tall young blonde woman, sweet-faced and gentle of manner, carefully pronounced his name, "my son's leg is injured... he cannot bear weight upon it! I ask you to treat him!"

Turning around to face the woman, Tushratta responded, "Probably only a sprain, good lady. He will be attended to as soon as we have found the cause of his pain." Unable to resist a bit of sarcasm, he added, "Are you, most earnest lady, sure that you trust this wretched heathen doctor enough to allow him to treat your son?"

"I do not care what you are, healer! Just help my little boy!" What did it matter that he was a man of the enemy! He at least seemed a kind man, and he had promised to help her son. All she had left in the world was her child, and the last of her reservations crumbled as the little boy whimpered and clung to her skirt.

"Wait in line then, gracious lady. When I can, I will see to your son." A slight smile of satisfaction flickered over Tushratta's face as he walked away and entered his tent.

***

Tushratta's first patient was a small, frightened girl who held her mother's hand tightly. The woman looked uncertainly about the tent as though she expected to see a circle of wizards cackling around a sacrificial victim.

"Madame, good day," Tushratta encouraged jovially. "Bring the child over here and help her upon the table."

"Yes, healer," she replied hesitantly as she lifted the girl onto the table.

"What is your name, little girl?" the physician asked as he removed the blood-drenched makeshift bandage that her mother had tied about the wound. When he saw the nasty rent in the child's right forearm, Tushratta wondered how such a ghastly injury could have been inflicted, unless it were the product of orc-work. He would not put anything past those brutes who took fiendish glee in torturing other living beings, even their own kind. "Savages," he thought with disgust. Quietly, one of the servant boys brought a basin of water and cloths.

"You are hurting me," the girl reproached Tushratta angrily as he cleaned the wound.

"Forgive me." His voice was apologetic, his expressive brown eyes tender. "I am trying not to hurt you any more than is necessary, but I must remove the dirt from your arm."

"Tell him your name, child," her mother urged her gently.

"Mother, I am afraid of the bad man!" Hunig twisted her head around to look at her mother. "He will put a curse upon my arm and cause it to fall off!" She spoke in Rohirric as she related her fears to her mother.

"No, Hunig," Leofgifu gave her a gentle, reassuring smile, "he will do no such thing! Now be a sensible girl and let the doctor treat you!" Moving back slightly to give them room, Leofgifu still kept a watchful eye upon the doctor and his assistant.

The child looked skeptically to Tushratta. "My name is Athelwyn, but I am called Hunig," the little girl pronounced solemnly in broken Common Speech.

The injury was a deep one, and even though it must have bled profusely, still some dirt had managed to contaminate the gash. Tushratta's full attention was required to remove all of the particles so that mortification would not set in. Placing the bloodied cloth in the bowl held by a servant, the physician turned to Leofgifu. "This wound is deep and must be stitched. How did your daughter receive it?"

"Last night, during all the tumult and confusion when-- when--" How could she tell him that her nieces had been among those who had escaped the night before? If this Eastern doctor knew about Elfhild and Elffled, would he become angry and refuse to treat Hunig? Or even worse - would he hurt the child out of a perverse desire for retribution?

Seeing the woman's discomfort, the physician spoke the words she would not say. "--When some of your people tried to escape. And you and your daughter, of course, made the attempt to regain your freedom. I understand, Madame. You do not need to apologize. It is not uncommon for slaves to attempt to escape."

"No," Leofgifu replied, embarrassed. Taking a deep breath, she continued, "Though I would give anything to be back in my own land, I knew that we would only borrow grief to attempt such an ill-conceived plan. However, Hunig lost her head and panicked when the others started running. She tripped and fell over her own feet and landed upon a sharp stone."

"Then it was not the orcs who hurt your little child?" Aziru asked in mild surprise.

"No, not this time," Leofgifu replied warily.

"However she received it," the physician replied sympathetically, "the wound must be sutured. Madame, will you please tell your child that I do not wish to hurt her, but only to aid her healing?"

"Mother, what does he want to do to me?" Hunig asked desperately. She knew the meanings of some of the words which were exchanged between the physician and her mother, but she was uncertain if she understood all of them correctly.

Leofgifu looked into her daughter's blue eyes and stroked her uninjured hand. "Your arm needs to be stitched, Hunig. This will hurt but it is the only way to help your arm to heal properly."

"No!" Hunig cried and began to weep. Murmuring soft words of comfort, Leofgifu drew the sobbing child to her bosom.

"Madame, I want your daughter to drink a glass of hot, soothing tea. The flavor will be unfamiliar to her, but it should not be unpleasant. She will soon fall into a relaxed state and feel little of the sting when the wound is repaired. Will you explain this to her?"

Leofgifu turned to the physician, her eyes probing his for reassurance, wanting to trust him. These people seemed so different from the Rohirrim, so alien, dark and suspicious looking. He came from a far away land, and she did not even know where it was. She could read nothing in his expression, save for  what she took as compassion. She would accept that. There was no other choice. She would trust this mild-mannered man of the East.

"Healer, do what you must do to save my daughter's arm!"

Busying himself, the physician's assistant soon had a pan of water roiling upon the brass brazier in the center of the tent. Green tea, dried orange peal, sugar and paste of poppies were steeped in a pot of boiling water. Smiling, Aziru poured the contents into a small glass and stirred the liquid around with a spoon.

"If you drink this, little Northern princess whose face rivals the glow of the full moon, I shall dance for you and make you laugh. Please, for me." Aziru went down upon one knee, contorted his face into a comical expression, and offered the glass to Hunig. A small, shy smile appeared at the corners of the girl's mouth.

"Hunig, please drink it," her mother encouraged her. "He says it will keep the pain away."

"All right, Mother. I will drink it because he says such amusing things, and I would like to see him dance." As Hunig brought the glass to her lips and tasted the liquid, a quizzical expression appeared upon her face, and then she smiled in approval. "It tastes good, like nothing I have ever had before!"

From his robe, Aziru drew a small reed pipe, and, smiling, he put the instrument up to his mouth and cajoled it into a melody strange to Hunig's ears. Slowly at first, he spun around the room in circles, a swirling, turning dance. Taking his lips from his flute, faster and faster he gyrated until Hunig begin to feel dizzy. As he twirled, he began to chant in his own language, a strangely soothing sound, punctuated occasionally by a loud exhalation of breath. A euphoric expression came over his face as he began to rotate in tighter and tighter circles, his hands held straight out at his sides, his grunts coming in unison. As the opium filled tea began to have its effect upon Hunig, she found herself floating across the carpeted floor of the tent and dancing alongside the dark little man.

"Mother, I am dancing among the clouds," Hunig sighed as her eyes began to roll back in her head. The physician caught her as her body sagged backwards upon the table.

"Dance," she sighed languorously, speaking half in Rohirric, half in Common Speech, "dance... O strange man of the East, hold me between the heaven and the earth, and, forgetting all sorrows, we will dance together."

Smiling slightly, Tushratta turned to Leofgifu. "Lady, your daughter sleeps peacefully now, and so I will begin my work."

Accepting a needle from the tray held by one of the slave boys, Aziru used wooden handled tweezers to grasp it as he purified the metal in the flame. After threading the needle with catgut, he handed it to the physician. Tushratta bent over his work, repairing the deeper internal breach with the catgut. Next, taking a needle threaded with the silk, he joined the two severed sections of flesh together with small, tidy stitches and tied them off.

Opening a small jar on the tray, the physician dipped his fingers into a creamy substance and spread it over the wound. After winding a strip of linen around Hunig's arm, Tushratta tore the end of the strip, wrapping it back over the bandage and then tying the ends in a knot. Bending down, the physician waited while Hibiz wiped his forehead with a soothing cloth dipped in rosewater and then washed his hands in the bowl. After the slave boy had dried the doctor's hands on a towel, Tushratta commanded, "Boys, dump out the evil water and fetch some fresh. We will need much water and cloths before the day is over."

Tushratta turned back to Leofgifu. "Now, Madame, I suggest you have a draught of wine to steady your nerves. My assistant will carry your daughter to one of the sleeping mats at the side of the tent. She will slumber for quite some time yet, perhaps for a few hours. You can wait here with her until she awakens, or if you wish, I will have her carried back to the camp. Before you leave, you will be given more salve and bandaging material. You are to remove the bandages when they are soiled, clean the wound carefully, apply salve and bind up the wound with fresh dressing. If, when you change her dressing later, the wound has grown angry and inflamed, bring her back to me."

"Thank you, sir." First looking into his eyes for permission, she took his hand and kissed it in gratitude, stricken with awe that one of the enemy could be so kind. "I will accept your offer of wine if you would be so gracious. I will wait here with my daughter until she awakes."

"As you wish, Madame," Tushratta replied pleasantly as the servant boy poured goblets of wine.

As he drank, the physician pondered these perplexing fair-skinned, blonde barbarians. "This poor ignorant woman does not quite know what to think of us. Probably few of her people have ever beheld a doctor before, and they perceive my medical chest as a repository of dark and evil potions! These primitive people must think that all of the people of my land are workers of dark sorcery, who are eager to afflict them all with the evil eye! These poor, unfortunate wretches are birthed with only the aid of ignorant midwives and would think that calling a physician was some strange new fancy. No doubt they die with nothing more than a draught of ale to ease their death struggles. How ignorant and backward they are, and they think that I am a barbarian!"

How insulting it was to be reviled by these backward people! Were the two years that he had spent studying under the village doctor for naught! And then when he had learned all that he could from that physician, Tushratta had gone to Bablon and spent several years studying medicine under the most famous physician in the land. Truly, he was affronted at the treatment that he had received from the Rohirric women! All learned and intelligent people surely knew that the most advanced medicine in all of Middle-earth was developed in the East!

"Barbarians," he muttered under his breath as he took another drink of wine to soothe the pain of rejection. Then he chuckled at the absurdity of it all.


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.

Story Information

Author: Angmar and Elfhild

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Post-Ring War

Genre: Drama

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 02/05/11

Original Post: 07/25/09

Go to The Circles: Book 3: To Escape a Dark Destiny overview

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