28. The Sad Story of Sang-mí
Chapter Written by Angmar and Elfhild
"Sang-mí, what did the patient say when she awoke?" The physician turned from studying the sleeping woman and looked questioningly at the slave girl. While supervising the mass bathing at the river that afternoon, Tushratta had received an urgent message from Sang-mí, imploring him to return as quickly as possible. When he came back to the tent, he found that the guards and Sang-mí had lifted the unconscious woman to the couch, propping pillows under her head and shoulders.
"Master, her first words?" Sang-mí asked, her eyes fixed demurely upon the floor. "I do not know if I am able to answer that. At the time, I was certain that she was dying, and I was so distressed that I cannot remember exactly what she said. There was something..." The slave girl pursed her lips as she tried to recall the words. "'Faahhst-helm...' Yes, I think she said something that sounded like 'Faahhst-helm.'"
The physician pulled his stool closer to the woman's bed. As he gazed upon Goldwyn's pallid face, he wished that he had the power to read her thoughts. "Faahhst-helm... that might be a name... probably someone close to her... Possibly she will enlighten us later. Do you remember anything else she might have said?"
"Master, no. I am sorry." Sang-mí shook her head. "The lady seems so ill! What is ailing her?" the girl inquired softly as she walked closer to the physician. "Has she come under the influence of the Evil Eye?"
"Sang-mí, you have posed an interesting question." Tushratta rubbed a finger over his bearded chin. "But it is one which is impossible to answer. As a physician, I must deal with the known and not spend time conjecturing about the world of the unknown."
At that moment, a servant boy bearing a tray of medical supplies entered the chamber. Bowing, he set the tray down on the table beside Tushratta and stepped back.
"Watch closely, Aban, and you might learn something," the physician told the servant. He soaked a cloth in a dish of peppermint oil and waved it under Goldwyn's nose. Sang-mí and the boy waited in nervous anticipation to see what wonder the physician might show them.
Nothing happened at first, but then the doctor made several passes with the peppermint soaked rag. Goldwyn's nostrils twitched, and she frowned in her sleep. Sneezing, she opened her eyes and tried to push the cloth away.
"Ah, finally you awaken!" Tushratta smiled as he gently patted her cheek. "Stay with us this time and do not go back to that other place!" He turned to the servant boy. "Prepare a tea of ginger at once!"
Goldwyn struggled to sit up, but when black and red spots danced before her eyes, she was assaulted by a wave of weakness. She fell back gasping upon the bed. "Who are you?" she demanded, her eyes darting wildly about the tent. "And where am I! Who are these other people?"
Tushratta smiled reassuringly at her, hoping his efforts would comfort her and drive away her fears. "Madame, I would have liked to have met you under better circumstances, but since it could not be so, I am honored to make your acquaintance now. Let me introduce myself." The physician stood to his feet and bowed from the waist. "I am Tushratta of Khand, physician of Esarhaddon uHuzziya, and you are under my care. This is my tent, and this pretty little girl whom you see is named Sang-mí, a slave of my employer. The boy who has gone to fetch tea is one of my three slaves and hopes to learn medicine from me. His name is Aban." The physician smiled at his distraught patient. "All is well, Madame, and you need be afraid no longer." Slowly, as not to frighten her, he touched her golden hair.
Though she did not protest, Goldwyn eyed this tall, foreign man warily. Everything was so strange! She had awakened from the realm of dreams to the strong, irritating smell of peppermint. And what strange dreams they had been! Lost and alone, she had wandered down a passage deep in the bowels of the earth, searching for someone whose name she had forgotten. Who was it? For a moment, a name came to her mind, and then slipped away as quickly as it had come. Where were her sons? She could hear them calling out her name. A great weariness weighted down her body, as though she had traveled many miles on a long journey. The events of the last few days were vague, nebulous fragments of memories, and trying to make sense of any of them only made her more weary.
Who was this strange Easterling who spoke Westron with such a heavy accent? Though he was rigidly formal, she sensed that was a mask to hide an innate shyness. What had he said that his name was? She could not remember. Her head felt as though it were filled with oat porridge, and when she tried to think, she became dizzy and confused.
What had happened to her? She remembered a dark place, cold and damp, and then memory failed and everything faded into mist. Suddenly, an image came to her - a half-remembered dream, or perhaps reality? No, it could not be reality, for she lay dead in a tomb and a stranger gazed down upon her, his eyes dark and cruel, his pale face gleaming with a fell light. He reached out a hand and lay it upon her exposed breast, and she writhed under his icy touch, both from the agony of the bitter chill of his vise-like grip and the perverse pleasure of his wanton fingers. Oh, what was wrong with her? She tried to force her mind to return to the present, but it was as though she were swimming through continuous layers of deep, murky water.
"Aban returns with your tea," Tushratta's voice interrupted her muddled thoughts. "Can you drink some?" When she nodded, the physician lifted up her head and brought a spoonful of tea to her lips. "Yes, that is it. Just sip it. The tea will bring warmth back to your body," he urged as he spooned more tea between her parted lips. "You are doing very well, Madame. Just a little bit more..."
"Yes..." Goldwyn sighed, her body succumbing to the lure of lassitude. "So warm, so soothing..." She closed her eyes and sank back into the pillows which seemed to surround her like downy clouds. So weary... so exhausted... She had felt chilled to the bone, but the tea was bringing a pleasant warmth back to her body. It would feel so good to rest for a while and enjoy this sensation of comfort, to slip into much needed slumber. But she could not allow herself to do that, for if she did, the dreams might return! She shook her head vigorously, forcing herself to wakefulness. "My sons, where are they? Where are they?"
"Madame, I do not know," Tushratta sighed. Laying the back of his hand against her forehead, he looked into her face. "Can you not remember?" She shook her head. Taking her hand into his own, he massaged her palm with his strong fingers. His voice, though it was foreign and somewhat stilted, was calming, and his gentle brown eyes were regarding her kindly, as though he were trying to help her. "Danger," Goldwyn's senses warned her, somehow resenting his compassion. Recoiling from the tawny skin and dark hair on the back of his hand, she pulled away from his grasp. She willed him to see the resentment in her eyes and understand it for what it was - the intense loathing she felt for his whole race.
"No... I remember very little," she replied tersely. Things were growing cloudy again, her grasp on reality weakening. What had this man said his name was? She knew that he had told her, but once again she had forgotten. Some unpronounceable heathen word, which no doubt had some unspeakably vile meaning. Perhaps he was another part of the dream that never seemed to end? No, she would not be that fortunate! She was sure that he was real. She could smell the scent of sandalwood about him, though she knew not the name of the sweet smell that reminded her of a fragrant grove. Shaking her head, she tried to clear her mind, but again it was caught in dark clouds and pale spider webs of mist.
"Madame, rest a while and perhaps your memory will return later." The physician's thick, offensive foreign-sounding voice was the last thing that Goldwyn heard before she surrendered to sleep's beckoning call.
"Strange," the physician muttered, almost to himself, "ginger tea is noted for being a stimulant."
Rising to his feet, Tushratta went to Sang-mí, who had crossed the tent to stand by the arras. The girl appeared very nervous, fidgeting uncomfortably and rolling her coral necklace in her fingers. "Sang-mí, I must write a dispatch to the shakh and inform him that the lady has awakened several times this afternoon. Then I must attend to my other patients. I do not wish to be disturbed unless the patient's condition worsens."
"Yes, Master." While he talked to her, Sang-mí kept her eyes directed to the floor, as was expected of slaves. It would be disrespectful to look up into his eyes without his permission, for he was a free man, his station in life far superior to that of an humble slave girl.
"Sang-mí," the physician spoke kindly as he tipped her face up with his hand. "Such loveliness as yours was created for all to behold and should not be hidden. When you are in my presence, do not keep your eyes averted. Do you understand?"
Timidly, she looked up at him and smiled. "Yes, Master," she whispered as she gratefully nuzzled his hand.
Tushratta paused, still clasping her face in his palm. "Sang-mí, I know you are frightened and alarmed by these strange happenings, but you should not be. Aziru and I are physicians, trained in the learning center of the world - Bablon. There are none more qualified than we are to unravel the ailments that plague mankind. We will find the answer to the malaise that afflicts the lady!"
"Yes, Master." She lovingly kissed his palm. "I will try not to be afraid."
"Such a beautiful, talented girl! What a shame that she is nothing more than a common prostitute, kept for the pleasure of Esarhaddon's men," Tushratta mused as he pushed aside the arras and walked into the outer room. "Poor, unfortunate Sang-mí!"
Goldwyn awoke slowly from another terrifying nightmare that seemed to go on endlessly. She had been running through a dark, gloomy corridor sectioned off by many gates which opened before her. Suddenly, up ahead, she saw the pale spectre from the tomb. Clad all in black velvet, he held a yellow flower in his long, graceful fingers. He tucked the golden blossom behind his ear, which was such an absurd sight that Goldwyn would have laughed had he not been a fell spirit. Then suddenly the man's appearance began to change, his lean, muscular body giving way to soft, feminine curves and voluptuous breasts which threatened to burst forth from a scandalously low cut gown.
Goldwyn screamed in horror, for she realized she was looking at herself. She lunged for this unholy fiend who had stolen her body, but she collided with what appeared to be an invisible wall. Picking herself up from the ground, she discovered that she was looking through a gigantic mirror set in a frame of gilded wood which had been carved with snarling dragons. As she pounded on the glass, she watched the fiend blow her a kiss over his shoulder as he swayed away in her body. She knew then that she was the illusion, and that he was the reality.
The music of a lute, so out of place in this horrible realm of gloom and shadow, infiltrated her troubled thoughts, and she slowly came to wakefulness. Her bleary eyes caught sight of Sang-mí, who was sitting cross-legged on the opposite side of the tent, her baby lying on the cushions beside her. The girl cooed softly to the child as she played a gentle lullaby upon a long necked lute made of mulberry wood.
"Oh! Mistress has awakened!" Sang-mí set the lute aside and walked over to the bed. "Perhaps you would like something to drink or eat?"
"Only a little water," Goldwyn replied, trying to think about the terrifying images of her dream.
As she held the cup of water to Goldwyn's lips, Sang-mí fretted over the patient's appearance. Though her skin felt cool to the touch, the lady had the dull eyes of someone who suffered with a fever. Sang-mí had nursed many men, and she had never seen any with symptoms quite like these.
"Are you sure you would not like some food, lady?" she asked solicitously as she set the cup back on the table. "We are not certain when you last ate."
"No, I told you that I wanted no food!" Goldwyn snapped. "Why do you insist upon tormenting me with these questions?" She pulled herself up to a sitting position in the bed and glared at Sang-mí.
"Perhaps the lady would allow this poor slave to entertain her by playing the lute," Sang-mí offered, her eyes lowered modestly, betraying no sign that Goldwyn's words stung her. The woman's erratic behavior was confusing. She could understand the woman's poor manners if she were delirious with a fever, but Goldwyn's skin was as cool as mountain spring water. Not only was she rude, she was hateful!
"Was that the sound I heard whilst I slept?"
"Yes, lady," Sang-mí replied hesitantly, afraid that she had further offended the woman with her music. "I was playing to soothe Nib, my son."
"Well, I suppose there would be no harm in it," Goldwyn grumbled, her upper lip curling disdainfully. "Go on, but play softly. My head feels as though it is splitting in two."
Holding the lute in one hand, Sang-mí gently strummed the instrument with the other. She selected soothing melodies which she hoped would calm the lady. When she had finished her first selection, she looked questioningly at the woman to see if she approved. Goldwyn nodded to her, and Sang-mí chose a pleasant pastoral tune that was seldom played outside of Harad.
"That was lovely," Goldwyn murmured appreciatively, surprising Sang-mí with her compliment. "Where did you learn to play that way? I have not heard any finer music, even in Rohan."
"Harad, the land where I was born." Sang-mí smiled graciously. "I am glad that my playing has brought Mistress joy."
Harad! The very name filled Goldwyn with loathing. The heathen savages were allied with Mordor, and her people had fought against them in Rohan and Gondor. Possibly one of the devils who had slain her husband was from Harad! But yet, as she looked at this gentle girl and listened to her music, Goldwyn's heart began to soften. Though they came from different lands, each of them was no more than a captive in bondage. Slavery knew neither nationality nor country, neither gender nor race.
As she watched, the girl held her finger out to little Nib, who grabbed it in his grubby hand. Gurgling and cooing, the baby kicked his feet and gripped his mother's hand tighter. Sang-mí laughed and gently detached her hand from the baby. "Perhaps he will be a musician, too, when he grows up," the girl murmured, her pride obvious.
"Sang-mí, is your a husband a musician as well?" Goldwyn asked, genuinely interested now.
"Husband?" Sang-mí replied softly. "A slave such as I has no husband."
"Oh." Goldwyn colored slightly. "Then who is the child's father?"
"I am not sure, Mistress." Sang-mí laughed as she looked down at the carpet. "He could have been one of many."
Shocked, Goldwyn felt her throat constrict. "Were you... were you... raped?" She thought of her own situation with the slave master. How horrible it would be to be forced against her will by these cruel bastards!
"Yes, Mistress. I am afraid it is so." Sang-mí raised her eyes and looked with no embarrassment into those of Goldwyn. "But once I could hold my head high, for I was not always a fallen woman. Once I was the daughter of an honorable family of merchants who were respected by all who knew them."
"Sang-mí, what happened?" Goldwyn asked gently.
"My life and my story are of little consequence." Blushing beneath her tawny skin, Sang-mí's gaze returned to her lute.
"Nonsense, my dear!" Goldwyn exclaimed. "I want to hear what happened to you. I implore you to tell me what brought you to such wretched circumstances!"
"Only if Mistress wishes to hear of it." Sang-mí's dark eyelashes fluttered as she began to play her lute softly. "I was born in Harad..."
My parents were merchants in the city of Ereniri, which is in the region of Northern Harad which is known for its beautiful forests with towering green cedars and plane trees that rise and spread their arms to try to capture the stars. My father was an importer of spices, and my mother an importer of fine silks, satins and cloth of gold. When I was born, I was espoused by my parents to the newly weaned son of another merchant, a trusted friend of my father. When I was but a small child, scarcely weaned from my mother's breast, my father and mother allowed my betrothed's father to bring him to visit me.
As we grew, he would play games with me that I enjoyed, simple games played with twigs and small toys. Often we pretended that we were building the house where we would dwell when we were married. Constructing the walls and ceiling beams from fragrant cedar sticks, he would cover the roof with fragrant grasses. Pebbles and tiny stones we used for chairs, tables, beds, benches, couches. I would contribute to the cushions and linens by sewing scraps of old cotton, linen and silk taken from my nurse's sewing basket. With his knife, he made notches in the larger pieces of wood for cupboards in which to place fine chalices and urns. With him I wandered over the meadows and played by small streams, where he caught silver minnows in his hands and gave me to eat raw. I look upon these days so long ago as being the most idyllic of my life.
Sang-mí paused for a moment in the telling of her story to strum her lute slowly in a lovely wistful tune. Every touch of her slim, graceful fingers seemed to breathe life into the instrument.
My heart speaks through the lute, and without it, I would be mute. Even though I were to search the world for all the words that it contains, there would never be enough to express myself the way that my friend the lute can.
When my betrothed was a youth and I was still a maid, we would sit together beneath a great plane tree as he told me all that was in his heart. He said though he had loved me even before he had ever met me, his mind was restless and he wanted to leave. I thought that our small city was the most beautiful in all of the earth, but he said it had become oppressive to him. Though I considered it foolish, he told me that he even felt stifled within the confines of the beautiful forest. He was a man, and make his own way in the world.
How I wept when I learned of this! I was but a child of only twelve summers when my beloved revealed this terrible secret to me! I could only cry as he placed his hand upon my shoulder and tried to soothe me. "Come and let us play upon the needles beneath the cedar and inhale the essence of the forest," he whispered in my ear. Now that I am older and know the ways of this wicked world, I think he hoped to seduce me.
I, however, was in no mood for play, or much of anything else. I could scarcely see about me for the tears which came so readily to my eyes. I pouted and sulked and even tried to strike him, but he was much too strong. As he tried to wipe the tears from my eyes, he explained that his dissatisfaction had nothing to do with me, but lay within himself. My sulkiness was soon replaced by anger, and I told him with much heat and fury that he should think about the day when I turned fifteen, and he would take me as his wife. How could he expect to be a husband when his mind was always roaming to places neither of us had ever seen?
His face clouded up and became stormy like the sky when the summer storms come. Both of us glaring and furious, we began to argue and revile each other with unkind and cruel words. I ran away from him back to my home and told the servants at the gates not to admit him, for he was a rude and horrid boy and had said vile things to me. I was met by my mother, who asked me why I was weeping. When I told her, she looked at me with her kind, gentle eyes and explained to me that my betrothed was just unsettled by something and that upon the morrow he would be back as firm and staunch and happy as he had been earlier in the day. I did not believe her, and after asking to be excused, I called upon my nurse to tell the servants that I wished to go to the baths and forget the world for the next hour or two.
Upon the next morning, I found the house in a great tumult. A messenger had arrived with the dreadful news - that Samir had run away during the night. Of course, though I was saddened, I did not find the news all that unexpected.
Almost a year had passed before he came back, much taller and far more handsome than when he had gone. He brought me a necklace of pearls and corals. This small piece that I wear in the necklace about my neck is all that remains of it.
Sang-mí's eyes held a faraway look, and her strumming became so wistful and haunting that it would have touched anyone's heart, even the impervious Goldwyn.
There were other things that he gave me, but none I liked so well as my pearl and coral necklace. When he came back, he promised our parents that he would never so much as entertain the thought of running away again. Though he never stated where he had disappeared, his father always believed that his wanderlust had taken him to the City of the Corsairs. He also suspected that at the port city, Samir had joined the crew of a far-venturing merchant ship. My mother, however, always of the opinion that he had turned to piracy and gave as evidence the terrible scar that streaked across his left cheek like a flaming meteor.
For another year, Samir was a dutiful son, swearing to his father that he hoped to be a merchant just as his sire. Some months passed and once again we were walking in the forest when he confided to me that he had never slaked his thirst for adventure, and the urge had become an obsession, consuming his every thought! He could neither eat nor sleep, and when he worked on his father's accounts, his mind was easily distracted by thoughts of the sea. Only that day, his father had become enraged when he discovered drawings of ships in the margins of the account books. Then on the morrow, just as it had happened a year before, Samir ran away again. His father said that he would come back soon, but as the months passed and it drew nearer to my fifteenth birthday, Samir still had not returned.
The wedding date, which had been set the year before by the augerers, the haruspieces, the soothsayers, the seers and the fortunetellers, came and went, and still Samir had not returned. I was beyond myself with despair. My father vowed that he would break the engagement and pledge me to another whom I did not love and knew I never would love. Foolish as I was, I determined to find my beloved Samir, and so that night after gathering a bundle of food and some clothing, I set out for the west.
Skirting around the city and charting my course by the stars, I walked in the direction which I believed was west. Two days after I had left Ereniri, I came upon a broad road. Joy leapt up in my heart, for I was certain that it would lead me directly to the City of the Corsairs. I found much to my grief that it led me only to slavery.
Late that afternoon near dusk, a band of six men riding upon fine horses met me as they were traveling eastward. I hailed them and asked if I was going the right way. One of them, whom I later found out was the leader, told me that I was traveling in precisely the right way. Then swearing that they would protect me, one of them took me upon his horse. Instead of turning their horses westward, they continued riding to the east!
That night, I knew the fetid stench of the stale wine upon their lips and the sour smell of their sweat as all of them ravished me repeatedly. The one who had vowed to be my protector was the first one to rape me, tearing away my virginity forever in the midst of my screams and bloody agony.
The next morning, they took me with them, and each night thereafter, I was forced to lie with them, enduring the cruel thrusts of their throbbing swords. A month later, we reached a city far from my own city of Ereniri. There upon the slave block, they sold me to a dealer. This scoundrel later sold me to another, swearing that I was a virgin as pure as though I had just come from my mother's womb. When it was discovered that I was with child by a man I did not even know, my master became infuriated and beat me so severely that I thought that both the child and I should die.
As soon as I had recovered, he, too, offered me upon the slave block, my stomach bulging with a bastard child. One of my Master Esarhaddon's agents happened to be at the auction house that day, and after he had questioned me and learned of my plight, he purchased me in the name of the House of Huzziya. I was to be used for exactly what I have become - a harlot. By this time, I no longer cared, for I would never see Samir again. Being a good man, Master ordered that I was not to be put to public use until after the babe was born.
I must confess that, though I was abused by the outlaws who kidnapped me, I found that I had become a devotee of the altar of the Goddess of Love. Now night after night, I offer up one adoring oblation after another to her as my body convulses in fits of consuming lust.
That is my story.
Her face serene, Sang-mí smiled as she strummed the concluding refrains of her melody, the lute resonating with her skillful playing.
Her face twisted with horror, Goldwyn cursed softly under her breath. She was enraged that the slaver had forced this poor, ignorant girl to be a harlot, servicing his men in their nightly debacles. Sang-mí was so deluded that she actually thought she enjoyed her life as a prostitute!
If Esarhaddon had any heart at all, he would have tried to redeem her instead of making her a toy for every man's pleasure! Sang-mí was a talented lute player, and if she had the opportunity to study and develop her abilities, she could have been a musician in the household of some kind and decent person. Instead, she was forced to give her body night after night to those grinning, leering beasts who were in the employ of Esarhaddon uHuzziya! Surely, the man was a willing pawn in the hands of his master, the Great Enemy Himself!
Goldwyn hated him with all her heart and all her soul. She prayed that Death would strangle the life out of Esarhaddon with his cold, pallid hand and drag him down to the grave forever!
An image of Sang-mí's lute can be found at http://circlesofpower.byethost22.com/thecircles/book3/book3chapter27.html