39. The Physician's Initial Observations
Tushratta, private physician to Esarhaddon uHuzziya, looked down at the leather-bound journal spread open before him, dipped his reed pen in the ink pot, and began to write in his usual meticulous script:
JOURNAL OF THE PHYSICIAN TUSHRATTA OF KHAND
Evening of 23 Simanu, the thirtieth year of the Reign of King Shapsusharr of Khand
June 19, 3019, according to the Western reckoning
Observations on the Patient, Goldwyn, widow of Fasthelm of Grenefeld in the Eastfold of Rohan, who perished in the war
"The patient awakened several times during the early afternoon with an apparent return to sanity. However, later that day, once again she became extremely excited with her moods fluctuating wildly. In this highly agitated state, she attempted to use her female charms to seduce me. Of course, being a physician and well aware of her overwrought state, I declined such an invitation. An acceptance would have constituted flagrant exploitation of the patient, and as such would violate the healer's oaths of ethics. This refusal angered the lady, eliciting an extreme emotional outburst on her part which bordered on nervous hysteria. At last she calmed, returning to lucidity, but these wild shifts of mood had left her in an exhausted state. Drained of her physical strength, she collapsed, falling into a deep swoon. After remaining unconscious for approximately half an hour's time, she came to her senses and exhibited a much calmer state of mind.
"It was amazing how much better she looked after this brief rest. The ghastly pallor, along with the clamminess of skin, had disappeared, and her heart and breathing rate had returned to a steady rhythm. I was very encouraged to see that her face was once again suffused with a rosy vigor, such as I had not seen since before the unfortunate incident at the tomb. She seemed much more enthusiastic, even exuberant.
"Earlier I had prescribed a bath for her, both for the purpose of cleanliness and in the hopes that the salubrious waters might calm her nerves. When the bath arrived, she seemed in perfect control of her mental facilities and talked to me as calmly and rationally as any person would. Putting her hand upon my arm, she looked up at me with those beautiful turquoise eyes of hers and said in the most musical of tones that she was grateful for all I had done for her. I was greatly pleased at this development and entertained the hope that she might be making true progress.
"Her mind calmed and her body refreshed by the bath, the lady was provided with a gown from the wardrobe of one of the women whom the Shakh keeps for the entertainment of his men. Knowing the lady's gentle upbringing, I thought it best not to apprise her of the origin of her garments and cautioned Sang-mí never to reveal this information to her.
"As I write this, it is shortly before the evening meal, and, having some freedom from my other duties, I am taking this opportunity to record more of my observations in this journal. At this present moment, the Lady Goldwyn is still employed with her toilet. Sang-mí seems greatly relieved that the lady's emotional state has become more placid. The girl, one of the most willing and eager servants whom I have ever encountered, was absolutely delighted that she was allowed to groom and braid the lady's hair, and promised to arrange it in any style which the lady might favor. The patient herself did not seem adverse to the proposition, or at least she offered no objections. Her emotional state - I am glad to say - continues to be much calmer at this present moment. Whether that condition will continue throughout the rest of the evening is impossible for me to predict. I have learned that there is nothing predictable about this case, and I am increasingly impressed by the continuing feeling of bizarreness that surrounds the whole situation.
"I will conclude this entry with a note that applies only to a personal observation on my part: I found it amusing to see the look of incredulity upon Sang-mí's face when the lady insisted that the gown 'must be modest, appropriate for an honorable wife and mother, and not something which might be chosen by women of ill repute.' These reserved Northern women have such a penchant for respectability! She may be pleasantly surprised when she learns that we of the East and South are every bit as conservative in regard to the attire of our respectable women as are the barbarians of the North."
After placing his reed pen in its holder, Tushratta blotted the parchment with a soft cloth and handed the journal to Hibiz to put away. The physician considered spending some time consulting his worn volume on supernatural lore, but decided against this since the supper hour was too close, and he was hungry. He promised himself that, before he retired for the night, he would read more from the chapter which dealt with those unfortunates who are possessed by unclean spirits.
His eyes drifted over to the glowing brazier where Aziru was supervising the servant boys in the preparation of the evening meal. Smiling to himself, Tushratta watched his assistant fuss and fret about the cooking, often times getting in the way more than he was of any use. How the officious little man fumed when he became convinced that the boys had added too much salt or too little cumin into the pot. "I always thought that Aziru would have been far more in his element as Commander of the Kitchen than as a physician. But the loss to epicurean excellence is medicine's gain," he chuckled wryly to himself.
"Aban!" The sharp rebuke from Aziru gave the boy such a start that he dropped the small jar of turmeric into the cooking pot. The other two slave boys stood gaping in wide-eyed horror. "Foolish little toad! You were not listening to me! The recipe calls for pepper, not turmeric! You have just ruined the whole meal!"
Fearing the discipline but forced to face it, the slave boy dashed away and retrieved the switch which was hanging from a nearby tent pole. With the switch resting across his open palms, Aban knelt before Aziru. "Master, I beg you to punish me and drive out the spirit of stupidity that dwells in my mind!"
His face contorted in anger, Aziru took the switch from the boy's hands and walked behind him. After the boy had pulled the tunic up to his shoulders, Aziru lashed the slave's exposed back five times with the chastening rod. "Now ladle out a bowl of this disaster which you have created! Eat it all! Every last bit!" Azir's voice rose in a scream of rage and frustration. "After you have finished, take the whole pot of this disgusting mess far from the tent and dispose of it. If I were not such a merciful man, I would have you force fed the whole pot!"
"Thank you for whipping me, Master!" Pulling the tunic over his smarting shoulders, Aban rose to his feet and backed away. Although grateful that the penalty had not been harsher, he still bristled when Hibiz told him in sign language, "I never knew you liked your food so spicy." Shooting a glare at Hibiz, who was struggling to keep from laughing, Aban obediently ladled out a bowl of the bitter tasting bean and lentil soup, and with a sour face began drinking it.
Tushratta had watched all of these proceedings in silence. Though he was not an advocate of harsh punishments, he approved of a certain amount of correction when it was administered fairly and in moderation. How else could slaves be kept in check? Without this sort of control, some of them - those inclined to be rabble rousers and violent sorts - might be tempted to rebel, and slave rebellions were a nasty reality which everyone feared.
His bushy black eyebrows furrowing in consternation, Aziru approached Tushratta. "Master Physician, I apologize for that display. I do not know what has gotten into the boy lately, but he has been surly, disrespectful, and foul-tempered. Perhaps the switching will drive this insolence away from him. If he does not cease this audacious behavior, I am concerned that he will become unmanageable!" Aziru raised his voice, making certain that the boy could hear every word.
"We will talk of this matter later, Aziru. Sit down at the table and enjoy a goblet of wine with me while the servants finish preparing the meal." Tushratta spoke soothingly, trying to calm his quick-tempered assistant, but he could see that the little man's bright brown eyes were still angry. "Perhaps we could reflect together upon this unusual case which we are now studying."
"But the meal has been ruined!" Aziru protested, refusing to drop the matter.
"Aziru, you always cook far too much for my simple tastes!" Tushratta insisted. "I will be content with whatever you prepare."
"Master Physician, all I can offer you is a side dish of chickpeas, onions, cloves, curry, ginger and a few other ingredients, all served over couscous. If you are satisfied with such a modest dish, I suppose I will have to be content," Aziru muttered, his gloomy expression announcing that he was far from happy.
"More than satisfied!" Tushratta assured him good-naturedly. "You have provided quite well for my comfort, Aziru." He looked at the little man, who kept glancing over at the servant boys, watching for any to make the slightest mistake. "In any event, you are not required to cook as part of your employment. I would do quite well with eating from the common pot available to all in the caravan. The head cook prepares meals which are quite adequate."
"Master Physician," Aziru arched his eyebrows and glowered at him as though he had been betrayed, "I despise that man! Man? Did I call him a man?" he railed angrily, his words coming in a harsh rush. "He has not had the apparatus of a man since he was a boy! He is a fat, pompous fool, foul tempered and foul mouthed, a miscreant and lying scoundrel! I swear that I would rather starve than eat his cooking!"
"All that, Aziru?" Tushratta raised a brow. "I could never understand what he did to you to bring about such extreme animosity, but we can leave that discussion for another time... I would much prefer to enjoy my meal in peace."
"Certainly, Master Physician. I labor constantly to see that your surroundings are always tranquil. Ah, I see that the servants have almost finished with the supper. Let me go and make certain that none of them do any more damage." His feelings still ruffled, Aziru bowed stiffly and then returned to his watchful overseeing of the cooking.
In spite of the inauspicious preliminaries to the meal, Tushratta was looking forward to it. He seldom had guests, and there was only Aziru to share his quiet meals. Tonight he was having a guest, the Lady Goldwyn, and he could not deny his excitement at that prospect.
A solitary man given to little talk except when it was absolutely necessary, the master physician preferred to read, meditate, or play chess when he was not treating patients. The energetic, ferret-like Aziru was the physician's opposite, and he always had a comment to make upon everything, even though the doctor often considered his chatter inconsequential.
Both men enjoyed playing chess. Aziru was an excellent player, and his games were always challenging. Tense and aggressive, the little man often took a perverse delight in baiting his superior into playing a game with him. While Tushratta enjoyed a spirited game, he often grew weary of the constant crowing and boasting by his assistant whenever he proved to be the victor.
There was a slight movement by the curtain to the inner chamber, and a smiling Sang-mí stepped out to hold the arras open for Goldwyn. Bowing to the physician, the serving girl quickly excused herself to attend to a hungry Nib. Tushratta rose to his feet. "Come sit down across from me, my lady. You look greatly rested and absolutely radiant tonight!"
It was true. Goldwyn had gained much from both her rest and her bath. Her body had been filthy after her desperate flight through Osgiliath and her dreadful sojourn within the walls of the tomb. The bath water had been warm and soothing, fragrant with many scents which Goldwyn could not recognize. Sang-mí had offered to massage away the pains and aches from her muscles and apply sweet smelling oil to her body, but Goldwyn had declined, feeling it somehow improper. The servant girl had combed her hair and worked the many snarls and tangles from her tresses and then braided them in the Northern fashion. Sang-mí had offered her a choice of gowns from the wardrobes of Esarhaddon's common women, but Goldwyn had rejected all but one as being "immodest, improper, or downright lewd."
The attire which the Northern woman chose had been contributed by Kishi, who had originally come from a far land east of Khand. Kishi had been quite willing to part with the garments, which she described as "just old rags which I had long cast aside." Though Kishi had disparaged the clothing, the whole costume was of fine quality, little worn, and fashioned of costly material. While Goldwyn detested anything which came from the "vile East," she realized that the rich material and excellent craftsmanship of the well-cut garments flattered her figure, making her think that it must have been crafted for a high-ranking lady.
The customs of the East seemed strange to Goldwyn, for there the women dressed in breeches like men, though no man would ever wear breeches with such fine embellishments. Goldwyn was clad in a close fitting white tunic which fell a little past her knees. The garment had long, narrow sleeves and gold embroidery at the modest round neckline and around the forearms and wrists. She wore loose yellow trousers which were drawn close about her ankles by bands of brocaded ribbon. Slung low about her hips was a narrow blue sash which was knotted at the middle and hung down to the hem of the tunic. On her feet were backless white satin slippers woven with gold threads, and on her head was a small golden cap. A translucent cream colored scarf was fastened to the sides of the cap, and the slight band draped down over her breastbone.
At least the garments were not like that "shameful dress which was designed to provoke men's lusts" that Esarhaddon had forced her to wear that embarrassing night when she had dined with him. Perhaps she should be grateful to the unimposing physician for not requiring her to wear a similar revealing style, but she was still distrustful of him.
"Radiant?" Goldwyn queried as she lifted a glass of water to her lips. "I am not some servant girl who is impressed by flattering words."
"Madame, my comments were not shallow talk designed to flatter you. You recently underwent a grueling experience which had a profound effect upon your health, but now you seem to be recovering. I am merely stating that you appear well rested and greatly improved... and very lovely," Tushratta added, wondering if he had made a mistake to reveal so much.
"The meal is served," Aziru triumphantly announced as he stood back to watch the three servant boys place the heavily laden platters filled with spicy vegetables over couscous, loaves of flat bread, cheeses, pickled vegetables, and dried fruits upon the table. Smiling in self-approval, he sat down beside Tushratta, who took the opportunity to introduce him to an unimpressed Goldwyn. The physician and the lady immediately fell into an uneasy silence, and had it not been for Aziru's almost constant stream of banalities, the meal would have been eaten without a word being spoken. When the diners had finished eating, the boys cleansed and dried their hands with rosewater. Their kitchen duties finished, Hibiz moved to guard the entrance to the tent while Aban and Naqi went to their sleeping mats under Tushratta's wain.
After the long silence, Goldwyn at last spoke up. "How many slaves do you own, Tushratta?"
"Three," he answered, wondering where she was going with this line of questioning. "The boys you saw tonight - Aban, Hibiz, and Naqi."
"I have three sons, you know." Her flat statement was tossed out like a challenge, which slid off Tushratta's emotional armor like oil off metal.
"Madame, if you think to engage me in a debate on the evils of slavery, I will first say this to you. Those boys were not born into slavery. Their fathers sold them when they were small children because they did not have the means to provide for them. Slavery is a reality in lands where poverty and starvation are everyday facts of life. The other choice was to take them into the wasteland away from their village and leave them there for wild animals to eat. Their sires could have simply killed them for that matter. In their land, the father has the right of life and death over his children. Which is more merciful? Death or slavery?" He shrugged his shoulders. "I cannot answer that. I am a doctor, not a philosopher."
"Oh," Goldwyn replied, outraged at the heartless barbarism. "Such cruelties are unknown to the people of my land!"
"I think there you are incorrect, Madame." His face an expression of bland indifference, Tushratta tapped his fingers together. "There are many kinds of cruelties. I have heard it is custom among your people to make vanquished foes work out a term of indenture to pay for their 'war indemnities.' I do not disagree with this policy. It is far more merciful than simply killing them."
"They are rightfully deserving of any punishment that is inflicted upon them. They, not we, were the invader!" Blazing with anger, her blue eyes met the doctor's calm ones. Whatever the arguments these people used, she could never accept slavery. An oppressive silence once again settled over the table.
Uncomfortable with the deafening quiet, Aziru looked from Tushratta to Goldwyn. Rubbing his thick nose, he stretched and then cleared his throat. "I do not know about the lady, but I always enjoy wine after meals. Tonight I have selected as my vintage of choice a light Dorwinion that is neither too sweet nor too tart, but is a perfect compromise between the two. Tushratta," he turned to the doctor, "I know you greatly prefer that lofty ambrosia which is so loved in our native land, 'Goddess of the Vineyard,' the rich, red wine which makes you believe that you are basking in the light of the gods after only one drink! However, if you accept my recommendation, I am certain that you will be pleased."
"Aziru, we both must be getting old." Tushratta looked to Aziru and smiled. "Every night, we have the same discussion about wine. We sound like old graybeards!"
Aziru rose to his feet, belching loudly and thumping his hefty paunch to drive out the excess air. "Flatulence," he explained. "I am often troubled with the ailment after meals, but wine settles my stomach. I always recommend it for both health and happiness. Now, my dear doctor and my gentle lady, perhaps the two of you would prefer tea or coffee... whichever is your choice, I will be more than willing to prepare it, always your obedient servant." Smiling, he bowed with a flourish.
"No, I will take wine," Goldwyn replied quietly.
"Aziru, wine, of course," the physician told him. "An old dog always returns to his favorite bone."
"Quite true, quite true," Aziru rambled as he poured wine for the three of them.
"Now, Madame, may we talk some more... over wine... for the sake of health, of course, and also happiness?" Tushratta looked into Goldwyn's eyes. Though he maintained his air of detachment, he had never seen eyes such a captivating shade of blue.
Before she could answer, Aziru turned to the doctor and grinned. "I do not suppose I could persuade you to engage in another one of our common habits - a game of chess after supper." Although he knew that it was rude to interrupt, he did not want to listen to another of the lady's vehement barrages against the East and South.
"No, not tonight," Tushratta replied. "After I finish this wine, I need to be getting back to my work. There are far greater matters of importance on my mind than chess."
"Coward," Aziru chortled triumphantly. "Always some excuse to get out of the indignity of being defeated by me. Then, Master Physician, since you decline once again on the grounds of 'greater importance,' I believe I will take my wine and retire to my sleeping mat. May you both have a pleasant evening." Rising to his feet, he bowed and started to walk away, but turned to glance back at Tushratta. "If you should work up enough courage to challenge me later..."
"No, I will not be dissuaded," Tushratta chuckled.
"If you change your mind..."
"Go to bed, Aziru!"
"Aye... coward! Aziru smirked, lifted up his goblet in mock salute, and hastily made his exit.
Turning back to Goldwyn, all signs of merriment vanished from the doctor's face, his brown eyes growing solemn. "My lady, might we now talk? There are some serious matters which I would like to discuss with you. And if you have no objections, might I record any relevant information in my journal?"
"Is this an interrogation?" she asked suspiciously, instantly on guard. "Was the whole purpose of the evening merely to regale me with food and wine in an attempt to gain my confidence? If you think that you can wheedle information from me on where you might find my sons, you can forget it! Granted, wining and dining me is a new tactic. I can at least say upon your behalf that you have not pawed all over me like an animal as did your master. Perhaps you plan that later." Her eyes issued him a bold challenge. "But you might as well realize now - even if I knew where they were, I would never tell you heathen bastards!"
"Madame," he looked her squarely in the eye, "let us understand one another. I consider your sons lost both to Shakh Esarhaddon and to you. Almost two days have passed and they have not been found. They had too great a start upon the trackers, and it is my belief that they will never be found."
"Then what do you want with me, physician? What knowledge could I possess which would possibly be of any interest to you?" She studied the physician's face, trying to fathom what he really wanted from her.
"Madame, I have only one question for you, and rest assured it has nothing to do with your sons. I ask it only in the attempt to gain scientific knowledge..." He paused. "Was there some reason why you called out the name of your husband, Fasthelm, when you were in the tomb? Surely you know he is dead."
She looked at him as though he had asked the most ridiculous question possible. "Because he was there," she murmured softly, her eyes taking on that disarming quality of looking right through him, as though they were staring trance-like into nothingness. "You could not kill him!"
"Damn! I am losing her again!" Tushratta realized with a sense of panic. "If I do not pull her mind back to reality some way, she will slip into another mental seizure. It is at these moments that the physician must be very cautious and avoid alienating the patient at all costs. Every effort must be expended in the attempt to gain her trust, and once gaining it, expanding upon it until she at last feels she can confide in me."
"Physician, you do not believe me, do you?" she demanded.
"Madame, I believe that, owing to your extreme emotional and physical exhaustion, you thought that you saw your husband."
"It was Fasthelm. Make no mistake about it, Physician, it was Fasthelm," she asserted with finality, the look in her eyes declaring that nothing could persuade her otherwise.
"The poor woman is delusional, and cannot be held responsible for anything which she might do or say. She has been driven beyond sanity by conditions over which she has no control. Poor creature!" There was no other way that he could explain the strange chain of events, Tushratta thought bleakly, but he kept his words to himself. He must attempt to maintain his calm demeanor. As he looked at her, his face was a mask of sympathetic concern. Long ago he had trained himself to remain aloof from his patients, never betraying his own emotions and always guarding his feelings.
"I was wrong in my earlier evaluation of her emotional malaise. Previously I had considered her depression temporary, brought on by the loss of her sons, combined with her mental and physical exhaustion. I had thought that she was a much stronger woman, but I now fear I was mistaken." He must draw her out and enter more deeply into her mind before he could help her. How could he possibly do this? Damn his shortsighted stupidity for never studying the deeper arts of the shaman!
"Did you see your husband, my lady, or only hear him?" He lowered his voice to what he considered a soothing, unalarming tone.
"Physician, I both saw and heard him, but your men threatened my husband and drove him away! How could you be so wicked as to separate us when we had only just reunited?" Her voice cracked with sorrow and she looked at Tushratta with an expression so pitiful that he could not help but be touched. "My husband, physician!" Her voice was pleading. "You do not understand! He has returned to me from the halls of the dead!"
"She is mad, totally mad!" He hated to admit it to himself. "I must humor her and not disturb her any more." How she looked like a child, her lower lip trembling and her eyes filled with anguish! He longed to do something to help her, something more than simply plying her with more drugs.
"He cannot do that, Madam. Your husband is dead," Tushratta told her as gently as possible.
Bursting out into tears, Goldwyn flung her hands to her face and sobbed. "I love him so much, my darling Fasthelm, and I desperately need him!"
"There, there, my lady," Tushratta offered his usual sympathetic encouragement. "It will be all right." He moved to sit by her side, which only caused her to cry all the more fiercely. How lovely she was, even when she was a babbling madwoman! She had all of his sympathy, every last bit of it. There was nothing he would rather do than take her into his arms, hold her closely to him and console her as best he could. Professional decorum prevented that, however, and so he merely patted her shoulder solicitously and offered her his monogrammed linen handkerchief to use to dab her tear-swollen eyes.
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.