11. A Cup of Kindness
Chapter Written by Angmar
The weather that afternoon had turned hot and muggy. Even though the tent flaps were tied back, the weak breeze which found its way inside could do little to drive away the overpowering odors of sweat, urine, vomit, excrement and blood. Combining with all these unpleasant smells were the pungent aromas of animal fat, dried flower petals, herbs, incense and strong antiseptics. There were few friendly faces amongst the patients, and the physicians had difficulty containing their tempers as they were met with muttered curses, glares, and signs to ward away evil.
"My Masters will be happy to learn that there is only one more patient who awaits their attention," announced Hibiz after returning from talking with a guard at the entryway of the tent.
"And what is the nature of the injury?" Tushratta inquired, not looking up from a scroll on the table before him. A reed pen poised in his right hand, the man looked down at the elegant, flowing script which he had just inscribed upon the parchment.
"Master, the boy's mother states that one of his fingers is broken," Hibiz replied as he kept his dark brown eyes respectfully averted.
An absentminded expression upon his face, the physician glanced at the boy. "Send in the lad and his mother."
"Master, a word brings instant obedience!" Hibiz bowed his way to the entry of the tent.
A tall, pinch-faced woman wearing a cream-colored kerchief about her dirty blonde hair, a drab green dress upon her thin body, and a tattered gray shawl clutched about her broad, bony shoulders walked into the chamber. At her side was a gangling boy of about eight summers, whom she held by the hand. He had outgrown his shabby brown tunic, and his stained breeches were too short by at least three inches. A sullen look on his face, he stared at his surroundings with tear-swollen eyes. "Mother, I am afraid," he mumbled over and over again in Rohirric as he fidgeted restlessly.
"Hush, son, do not let the heathens know of your fear! They will use it against you, mark my words!"
"What will they do, Mother?" the boy asked warily, his eyes wide, his mouth gaping.
"They will steal your soul and put it in the body of a dead person!" she whispered.
Terrified more by his mother's words than of the heathen doctor, the boy cried louder. He refused to budge, dug in his heels and howled like an abandoned puppy. Clenching his hand in a vise-like grip, the woman dragged him across the carpeted floor. "Mother, save me! The evil men are looking at me!"
"There, you have gone and done it, blubbering like that and making a scene! Now be quiet!" his mother angrily rebuked him.
Rising to their feet, Tushratta and Aziru nodded to the pair. When he spoke in his richly accented Khandian, the physician's voice was calm and cool. "Madame, if you will just bring your son over here and seat him on this stool, we should soon have his injury diagnosed and tended."
"Mother, what did he say?" the boy asked frantically, having difficulty understanding the Khandian's pronunciation of Common.
"He said that if you do not behave yourself, he will turn you into a drop of water, put you in a pot, and boil you until there is nothing left. And he means it!"
"I will behave! You can be sure of that!" the boy whimpered as he sat down on the stool.
"What is your name, boy, and where are you injured?" Tushratta asked as he looked into the boy's tear-swollen blue eyes.
"Gyrth." The boy rubbed the forefinger of his uninjured hand under his dripping nose, flipping the moisture to the side with a snap of his wrist "My finger, sir," he replied tearfully.
"Gyrth, let me see your finger."
"Mother, should I?" Gyrth whined as he looked up at his mother for direction. Her mouth set in a grim line, she nodded her approval. "Here, sir," he replied, extending his hand and turning his head away.
During the examination, the boy kicked the doctor in the shin, but was rewarded by a sound cuff from his mother. His dispassionate demeanor unruffled by the pain, Tushratta looked to his assistants and ordered, "Hibiz, make more tea. Aziru, prepare the splints and dressings." Turning back to the mother, he informed her, "Madame, your son's finger is broken. It must be set so that it will grow back sound and straight. My slave boy is preparing a draught that will take away the pain."
"You mean intensify it," the woman retorted suspiciously. "No potion made by any ally of the Dark Land could be of any good."
"Madame, how could you stand there and in all honesty say such a thing? Surely you have witnessed your own people who have received treatment in this tent! Truly you could not say that they were the worse for having been here!" After a day of hearing such accusations, Tushratta's patience was close to running its course.
"They were all enchanted," the woman rejoined, adamant in her illogic.
"Surely, Madame, you must give us credit for possessing some degree of intelligence and ability. After all, the ancestors of the people of Khand invented the wheel; the calendar; developed the principles of irrigation; arithmetic and geometry; and bitumen waterproofing... even beer. " The physician tapped his fingers together. "Their advancements are endless, and the only reason why you do not know about these accomplishments is because your ancestors left the East before civilization really began. The only reason that the men of the West are not complete savages, running through the forests like wild beasts, is because the elves taught them what they never learned in the East." Tushratta folded his arms across his chest and stared calmly into the woman's eyes. Speechless, she could no longer meet his gaze and dropped her eyes towards the floor.
"Master Physician, the tea." Hibiz presented the doctor with a tray holding a glass of hot tea.
"Thank you, Hibiz." Looking into Gyrth's face, the physician cautioned him to be careful when lifting the glass of tea, for the liquid was very hot. Suspicious when he first tasted the tea, the boy soon discovered that the liquid was very sweet, and he drank it all and then asked for more. As the doctors waited for the potion to take effect, Aziru entertained the boy with a set of small camel-hide puppets and told the story of two inmates in an insane asylum who persuaded the doctor that he was the one who was really mad.
Although he fought sleep, Gyrth began to doze off, for the drug used in the tea was a potent one. When the boy was sound asleep, Aziru and Hibiz held and steadied him as the physician set, splinted and bandaged his finger. Turning to the woman, Tushratta began, "Madame, I will tell you this now. While your son is still in a lethargic state, I intend to lance the reeking carbuncle upon his neck. It covers an area as big as my thumb and is as red as the stone which shares its name! You should have told me this before and not attempted to conceal it from me."
Horrified, the woman stared at him. "I will not allow you to use a knife on my son!"
Signing to the two guards at the entryway, Tushratta summoned them inside. Soon two burly green-clad guardsmen stood before him and saluted. "Bring a stool, Hibiz," the physician ordered. "The lady needs to sit down for a while."
"What are you going to do!" The woman was wild-eyed as the guards approached her.
"Give you something to make you see the most fantastic visions that you have ever experienced in your life. You will think you are in paradise." Tushratta smiled.
"Keep your hands off me!" The outraged woman looked from one guard to the other as they gripped her by the arms and half dragged, half carried her to the stool. Shoving her down upon it, they pulled her arms behind her back and held them securely. Aziru brought a glass of cool tea up to her lips. "No!" she shrieked. "I will not drink your foul devil's brew! You are trying to poison me!"
"I think you will, Madame," Aziru chuckled as he forced the rim of the glass against her lips. Holding her jaw in a firm grip, he applied pressure to the joints to force her teeth apart. Quickly, his hand clamped her mouth shut. As she began to choke on the liquid, Hibiz pinched her nostrils closed, forcing her to drink or strangle. "You will feel better soon," Aziru smiled smugly.
The men waited until the poppy tea had woven its peaceful spell over the quarrelsome woman. "Now at last she is quiet! Carry her to one of the reed sleeping mats," Tushratta directed as he took the small sharp fire-cleansed knife from Hibiz' hand. As Aziru and Hibiz steadied the boy in the chair, Tushratta sliced deftly across the putrid swelling. Holding his breath, he opened the twin foul-smelling, pus-laden sores.
"Oh, Master!" an ashen faced Hibiz moaned as he clenched his stomach. "I must go outside, for I am ill!"
Tushratta nodded to the groaning boy, who quickly dashed from the tent, holding his stomach. "He will get accustomed to it," the physician assured his chief assistant.
A determined expression on his face, Aziru bore down with his thumbs around the base of the sore, squeezing out the corruption into a basin. "Aye," he agreed as he cleaned the last of the infection from the wound and dropped the bloody rag into the bowl. "The ghastly stench once bothered me, but it has been many years since I lost a meal over it."
"After all the bloody work today, I could use a bath as quickly as possible," Tushratta told them as he lathered his hands in the basin of water held by one of the slave boys. "The patient and his mother will not be awake for some time."
Tushratta's clothing was saturated with bloodstains and corruption from his patients' wounds and the grime accumulated over the night spent on the hunt. His body felt as sweaty and filthy as that of a slave who had labored from dawn to dusk clearing the silt from one of the irrigation ditches which spread out from the Great River of Khand. Later, he would have the slave boys bring a tub and fill it with hot rosewater. A happy smile came over his face as he thought of soaking in a deliciously long and luxuriant bath, but for the time he would be content to refresh himself with pouring a jug of water over his head and body.
After slipping out of his soft leather slippers, he undid his corded belt, pulled his tunic and shirt over his head and stepped out of his pantaloons. Tossing his soiled garments to a basket of dirty laundry in the corner of the tent, he turned to a brightly painted pottery container of water on a small table. Lifting the vessel up, he let the cooling water stream over his head, neck, back and shoulders and run down his lean, muscular body in torrents.
Refreshed after ridding his clean-shaven body of most of the sweat, grime and unpleasant odor, he smiled as he dried himself. Slipping on a light tan caftan, he placed his slippers back upon his feet. The time had come to see to the mysterious sleeping lady. Perhaps she would be awake at last and he could talk with her. Placing a goblet, wine bottle, half a loaf of flat bread, cheese, and dried figs upon a platter, he stepped through the curtain that divided the tent and placed the tray on the low table in front of his couch.
He found that the woman still slumbered on his bed, the coverlet draped over her undisturbed. Frowning, he walked to one of his chests and searched until he came upon a thick, worn leather bound volume. He thumbed through the tome until he found a chapter entitled "On the Nature of Those Who Are Afflicted With Evil Spirits." Returning, he sat down cross-legged in front of the low table and positioned a pillow behind his back. Sipping from his goblet of wine, he moved his finger down the page until he came to a paragraph of interest and read avidly.
"Divers and many are these spirits which may torment the living. Those who wish to free the victims of these unclean beings must first make themselves ready by cleansing their bodies with water that has been blessed by the high priest. Submitting himself to the scrutiny of the gods, the ashipu must stand naked and humble in the closed chamber of purification. Then as the vapors of incenses devoted to the great Mardu and all the holy divinities of Bablon waft around him, he will chant the special prayers and invocations to the Gods and Goddesses. Thus purified and prepared for the ordeal he will face, he will then drink the draught of sauma, thus opening his soul and senses to the direct influence of the gods. Be cautioned... Only after these rituals have been performed is the ashipu prepared to offer himself up to meditation and supplication so that he may..."
His reading was interrupted by Aziru, who had slid quietly into the chamber. "Master Physician, I did not mean to disturb your reading, but the Shakh has just returned. He is in a very great haste to see the woman. He awaits now in the outer chamber."
"Then show him in, Aziru." Muttering to himself, Tushratta put the book and goblet down upon the table and rose to his feet. For some reason which he could not quite explain, the physician felt irritated at the slaver's unexpected arrival.
"It is not necessary to show me in," the slaver announced as he pushed his way through the curtains. Striding past Aziru, who was attempting to bow, the slaver walked over to the couch and looked down at Goldwyn.
"The woman is still sleeping, I see." An accusatory expression upon his face, the slaver looked angry enough to strike Tushratta. "What have you done to her? Filled her full of hashish and poppies? That is all you ever do, is it not, Physician?"
Aziru glanced anxiously at the physician, whose tawny skin was flushed ruddy with anger. A mild mannered man by nature, Tushratta's temper had been rankled by the slavers assertions, but he determined not to allow his agitation to show through his calm, professional exterior.
"Shakh Esarhaddon," the physician spoke with quiet dignity, "though her sleep is unnatural, it was not induced by any narcotics. You offend my integrity by making a hasty judgment before even asking me what treatment I have prescribed."
The slaver's stormy brown eyes probed those of the physician, but then his hard gaze softened and his body relaxed. "Forgive me, Tushratta. I spoke out of turn. The night and day have been long ones, and I am damn tired."
"No umbrage is taken, Shakh," Tushratta assured him, his voice calm. "The woman has been as you see her now since she was first found in the tomb. My suggestion is that we allow her to sleep. If we attempt to awaken her from such an unnatural slumber, we could possibly inflict further harm upon her. Let us leave her for a while and go to the outer chamber where we can discuss this matter over wine. The boy Hibiz will be attending to her, and should she awaken, he will quickly report."
Nodding his reluctant ascent, the slaver followed his physician to the outer chamber. The two slave boys soon had spread platters of flat bread, hard cheeses, dried meats, olives and pickles in brine, and goblets of heady Khandian wine before them. His face sullen, the shakh began eating his food silently.
"Shakh, what is the news of the escaped slaves?"
"Not good," Esarhaddon replied dourly as he broke a piece of the thin, yellow flatbread in two. "We have lost at least a day's time because of this damned business. Time lost is money lost." He chewed the bread vengefully, as though he had a grudge against the wheat which went in it. "And, yes, I have been informed already of the injuries incurred in last night's misadventure."
"Since arriving back at the camp, I have heard nothing except rumors about the women who are reputed to have leapt into the Anduin; it is thought they drowned. What is the truth of it?" Tushratta inquired.
"The orcs reported seeing three of the fools leaping into the river and disappearing under the current. Either they have evaded capture and escaped or they have drowned. My brother and I are in this business to make money, but when we lose slaves to happenstance or disease, the possibilities of showing a profit are greatly lessened." Esarhaddon set his goblet on the table. "More wine, boy! My throat is parched from the long trip!"
His heavy brows scowling, the slaver continued, "The time to be gentle with them is past! I have ordered that henceforth the women are to be kept chained in their coffles at night. If there is any hint of mutiny, the guilty ones will feel the switches laid smartly upon their white-skinned backs and buttocks." He could sense Tushratta's silent disapproval of such measures, and turned his anger against him. "Damn it, Tushratta, you know I am not a harsh man, but my reputation - and possibly even the future of our business establishment - is in peril if we allow slave rebellions to go unpunished!"
Tushratta studied a dry date before placing it into his mouth and made no comment as he chewed reflectively. He cleared his throat uncomfortably. "It is unfortunate that sometimes strict measures must be brought into play." Changing the subject, he asked, "Besides the three who are feared drowned, how many of the slaves remain uncaptured?" He brushed a linen napkin over the few crumbs that clung to his mustache and beard and turned to his wine.
"Besides the three, there are seven others who disappeared, but we will find them if they still live. My best trackers are out searching for the runaways. Though orcs are nothing but animals, the brutes have good noses on them!" The slaver looked down into his goblet and then took a stout drink of wine.
"Their abilities are deservedly renowned," Tushratta added disinterestedly, brushing a fly off the sleeve of his caftan.
"By the sweating, reeking, hairy groin of the Dark Wizard!" Esarhaddon swore, shaking his head. "You know that I detest employing such monsters! Dogs are just as effective and their bodies do not have the reek of orcs! Hounds are certainly less trouble!"
"One of the shortcomings of the system, but one under which we must labor," the physician pointed out dryly.
"A system that helps my brother and me become richer," the slaver replied as he cleansed his hands in a bowl of water brought to him by the ever smiling Hibiz.
"What are your plans now, Esarhaddon?" Tushratta asked. "Will you be going back to the hunt tonight?"
"I might get roaring drunk and forget my sorrows for a while," the slaver chuckled as he held his fingers out for the servant to dry. "My plans call for relaxing in a hot bath and then spending the remainder of the night engaged in love-sport between the soft, warm thighs of a lustful wench. If my men have not yet recaptured the runaways by morning, I will be joining my three lieutenants in the chase. The orcs will serve as our hounds." He laughed at his own sarcastic jab at the orcs, eliciting a polite nod from Tushratta and a sardonic grin from Aziru.
Esarhaddon mused over his wine goblet before announcing, "If it is necessary that I should be gone, I am placing you in charge during my absence. Remain here today and tomorrow and break camp at dawn upon the 20th. In the morning, you will follow through with the planned arrangements for the slave women and their offspring to be treated with olive oil to rid them of their teaming crops of vermin." The slaver scowled. "After the trouble they have put me through, I should forbid them to bathe and wash their garments in the river, but I have decided to be generous."
"Esarhaddon, that is a judicious course. The only thing that would be accomplished by taking away the privilege of bathing would be to force us all to endure the fetid stench of their bodies and the possibility of becoming contaminated with their lice. However, I do not think I am the best for the task of leadership. I have many other responsibilities, and there are the patients to whom I must attend..." Tushratta started to protest.
"Nonsense..." Esarhaddon leaned across the table and clasped the doctor's shoulder in a gesture of encouragement. "You are a good man and trustworthy. Besides, the added responsibility will be good for you."
"As you wish, Esarhaddon," the physician bowed his head in acquiescence.
"I have made arrangements for the care of Lady Goldwyn. I am sending over one of the camp prostitutes to help you tend to her." Observing Tushratta's arched eyebrow, the slaver quickly added, "You know all of them are clean and free of the pox that sets the organs of generation on fire. You should know," he laughed. "You examine them periodically."
Tushratta cleared his throat, preparing to make a protest. Aziru looked down, a sly smile upon his face.
"Now that bath awaits me." Esarhaddon rose to his feet and waited for the other man to stand and face him across the table. "My friend, the time comes for me to leave. If the woman awakens during the night - whatever the time - you are to send word to me immediately."
"Certainly, Esarhaddon." Tushratta nodded his head in affirmation. "May the blessings of your gods be upon you, may there always be salt and bread upon your table, water in your wells, shoes upon your horses' hooves, and may your seed find root and flourish in your women's bellies." Leaning forward, he inclined his head and brought his fingers to his heart, his lips and his forehead, bidding the slaver farewell.