Chapter 1 - Spoils
The unbelievable had happened: the vast army sent forward from the Tower to crush these northern enemies of the Dark Lord had been defeated. She had heard the distant roar of urik voices turn from angry belligerence to fearful howls.
That had been one day ago.
This day, Inzilanî stuck her nose out of the tent flap and stared at the utter bedlam that had overtaken the camp, and immediately wished she hadn't. Everywhere she could see grey and green-garbed warriors of the enemy nimîr, overturning cooking fires and slashing at the canvas tents with long and wickedly curved swords, apparently searching for more warriors to fight, as if they believed that not all the uruk had long since gone on ahead. Those swords looked to be swinging at anything that moved; and although she couldn't tell for certain, she imagined that many of the young boys that had served the other officers had been cut down ruthlessly. Those that hadn't been hacked to pieces had been probably been pierced by arrows. It was what happened to those left behind.
She was doomed; she knew it. She stopped straining at her restraints and pulled back into the tent to gaze numbly at the golden manacles and chains that had prevented her from running away from the grey-skinned uruk that had won her by killing her previous owner. The one who had demanded that she call him Zirân had snapped the manacles on her and chained her to his bed; the urkan, however, had simply locked the chain to a metal loop attached to a post driven into the rocky ground. Both had been cruel in their use of her, and she didn't regret their deaths – if indeed dead they were. But their precautions would cost her life the moment she was found, and nothing would change that fact.
The noise outside the tent grew louder and closer. The nimîr would have no mercy; this was well-known from the many stories she'd heard as a small child, in the days before her parents had sold her for food to keep the rest alive another year. Now the war was lost, and all who had been a part of the defeated forces would have to pay the price for that failure. Inzilanî gathered around her body the tattered blanket that had been her only warmth in this cold and heartless land – the only covering her body had known for weeks – and sat down next to the post to await her appointment with death.
She flinched hard as the expected swish of a sharp sword sliced the tent open as if it were a ripe orange. In the few moments that she had left, Inzilanî folded her hands across her chest and put her forehead to the floor; she had no desire to see death coming at her, nor know the face of the one who would send her into the abyss. She heard the whisper of the blade as it descended, and sent a quick prayer to her ancestors, begging them to welcome her and not turn their charity from her. What she had become hadn't been her fault…
What she didn't expect, however, was the harsh clang of metal striking metal, or the hands that grasped hers tightly and effortlessly hauled her up off the floor and to her knees. Wide-eyed, she found herself looking up into a beautiful and terrible face, with grey eyes that burned from within with a strange light and held something else – was it surprise? Whatever it was, it didn't last long. Inzilanî was pulled roughly to her feet and then dragged by one hand behind the silver-haired nimir, clutching at the blanket desperately and trying not to trip over the chains trailing from her ankles and wrists.
Finally, with a grunt, the nimir pulled her forward and gave her a shove that sent her stumbling through a circle of armed warriors and into a small knot of the young boys who, like her, had been the property of the urik and used in much the same way. The boys, some in tunic and leggings, others in thin sleeping shirts, most of them from the lands to the east rather than the south, and all of them wearing chains, recoiled at the sight of her. Inzilanî worked to drag the ragged blanket more tightly around herself. She sank to the ground and slowly pulled the golden chains to her, moving her lips in a fervent chant to the spirits to give her the strength and bravery to bear whatever fate was hers.
Time seemed to slow. The noise of the camp being destroyed continued, and from time to time another boy would be shoved through the circle of shining swords to join the rest. There were not as many as she had thought there would be; then again, knowing the urik and their appetites for mortal flesh, both in the stewpot as well as in their beds, it wasn't so surprising after all. But of the women who had been brought as well, there were none left but her. Inzilanî knew why, but it was no comfort: the women were a good luck sacrifice to the Dark Lord, to be killed just before the final march to battle. She had heard the screams as the others had been killed. But the urkan that had killed to acquire her hadn't cut her throat, hadn't drunk of her blood. He had given her one of his ugly grins and promised to return when the nimîr were all dead and make her service him until she wished for death. She would be his victory prize, her death his sacrifice to the Dark Lord for giving them victory. The thing was, he hadn't returned.
But while time had slowed, it didn't stop entirely, for soon the chill wind came down from the northern wastes as it had every late afternoon in this horrible place. Inzilanî rubbed her hands on her bare shoulders and arms, figuring that the cold would simply be the new form of discomfort she would have to endure. She didn't dare look up to see, but she was fairly certain that the nimîr were unaffected by the wind, thanks to their armor. Whether the boys were as uncomfortable and chilled as she was, however, she had no need to know; they weren't her people, weren't her friends, weren't even known to her. Their chains rustled as they moved, and there was an occasional soft whisper, but they were otherwise as silent as she was.
A barked word came from somewhere beyond the circle of keepers, and suddenly the nimîr were on the move again. The circle of swords shattered, and each one who had stood guard now took one of the prisoners in hand and began dragging them away. Inzilanî, too, was grabbed by the hand and dragged to her feet, only to be pulled along behind the one evidently charged with her keep. All of the nimîr looked alike to her, or so she thought. The one that dragged her had silver hair, as had the one who had pulled her from the tent, and the grasp on her wrist around the golden manacle was just as tight and unforgiving as it had been the last time.
However, Inzilanî had more control over her chains this time, as she had gathered those attached to her ankles into her one hand and wrapped those at her wrists around them. So although she no longer feared tripping, the tight hold on her wrist pressed the hard metal links of the wrapped chain into her flesh painfully. She refused to sound a complaint, though. For some reason, these inhuman demons were keeping her alive for the time being, and she wouldn't give them the satisfaction of a single sound that would betray her weakness between now and when they finally dealt with her. She was already dead, after all – it was only a question of time.
It finally became easier for her to try to trot and keep up with her keeper, for the pace didn't slow but a little bit when she'd trip – just enough for her to get her feet under her again – before she was being dragged on again. From the sounds of cries of pain and frustration, it didn't sound like the boys were faring much better in this forced march that had them heading in the direction of the smoke that hung over the forest to the north. Inzilanî wondered if they were going to be taken to some central place of execution, so that the act of final annihilation could be made into a spectacle for the rest of the victorious nimîr.
But no, after several hours' walk through a dark nighttime forest, they broke through into a clearing lit by many torches and dominated by a large bonfire, over which an entire deer was spitted and roasting. The smells of something better than the half-rancid meat and rough, worm-infested bread that had been her sustenance since being taken by the uruk made Inzilanî's mouth water. So intent was she on the smell of something actually edible that she failed to note her keeper's halt, only to be jerked back and to the ground on her backside when his grasp on her still didn't ease.
Around her, she could see out of the corner of her eye many of the boys having a similar problem. The warriors charged with their keep had stopped in neat lines and rows and seemed to be waiting – for someone or something.
That someone turned out to be another nimir, with shining golden hair the color of her chains and armor that gleamed in the light of the torches and bonfire. Taller than any of the warriors, this one held himself in such a way that Inzilanî knew that he had to be the General - or the King. Before this Great One could catch sight of her looking at his face, however, she knelt in the way she hoped would be acceptable when the grasp of her keeper wouldn't allow her to prostrate herself completely, found a spot on the ground in front of her – a slight thinning of the grass barely visible in the firelight – and focused her gaze there. Her keeper tugged at her hand, trying to get her to rise, but she settled firmly to her knees and refused to cooperate any longer.
As the Great One strode down the line, questioning each warrior he came to, Inzilanî trembled. Would it be an offense to have a woman present in a war camp, or would her circumstances change only in terms of the race of the one who would mistreat her night after night as before? That was, after all, a time-honored tradition: women – especially those who had serviced the officers of the vanquished – were spoils of war to be used as the victors chose. She had no hope that these creatures would be any gentler than her previous owners had been. The nimîr had no mercy, no honor, after all. And as their prisoner, her fate was sealed even more finally.
She tried not to shudder when those decorated leather boots of the Great One halted in front of her. From the pitch of voices, evidently the Great One was surprised – probably that she had survived this long – and her keeper had much to do to answer the many questions that were fired at him. Eventually a large, long-fingered hand descended and took hold of her chin to raise her face, and Inzilanî found herself eye to eye with the golden Great One, who gazed at her calmly through green eyes that glittered in a way she couldn't understand. Those eyes had seen much, too much, perhaps.
But a word and a gesture from that one had her keeper lifting her physically from the ground until she would put her feet down again, and then dragging her off again into the rows of colorful tents. She sighed. It was as she had expected: the Great One himself would take her now and use her, exercising his right as the victor. Perhaps he would kill her when he'd finished with her, perhaps not. Inzilanî honestly wasn't certain what she hoped would be her fate.
Her keeper brought her to a tent, smaller than she had expected, and pushed her through the flap before following her in. The tent was far more comfortably appointed than either of her two previous owners had possessed: the floor beneath her feet was the soft grass, but there were chairs, a table, a huge bed, and several crates arranged in a very livable manner. Her keeper loosed his hold on her then and spoke a few words, and Inzilanî was certain she knew what he wanted her to do.
With a sigh of resignation, she loosed her hold on the tattered blanket and let it drop to the grass, and then moved to the bed and lay down on it, turning her head and closing her eyes. Would her chains now be attached to the four sturdy posters at the corners of the bed now, so that the Great One would not have to arrange her much before taking his ease in her? Would he be long in coming? Hopefully it would be over soon…
"Baw!" Her keeper's voice sounded strangled, and he suddenly began tugging at her hand. She opened her eyes in surprise to find him gesturing for her to rise from the bed, not exactly looking at her either. What did he want of her now?
It didn't matter. She slipped to the edge of the rather comfortable mattress and sat up, then stood again tiredly to await whatever was in store. Oddly, her keeper was now keeping his eyes averted, and went to one of the wooden boxes and opened it. He pulled something startlingly white from its depths and held it out to her, still not looking directly at her. He had to shake it several times before Inzilanî finally dared take it with shaking hands.
It was a gown – perhaps a sleeping gown, she had no way of knowing the customs of these creatures – of a material so soft that it slipped in her hands like water. Startled, she looked to her keeper again, only to see him wave his hand at her without looking at her and let loose with a whole stream of words that she couldn't understand. Did he really want her to put it on?
Very cautiously, she slipped the gown over her head, and then eased her arms with their trailing chains through the sleeves. The gown wasn't warm, but it was the first time Inzilanî had felt actually dressed since becoming the property of the uruk captain. Finally her keeper was looking at her again, those strange grey eyes of his filled with a light that reminded her of starlight. Again he beckoned, this time to follow him over to one of the chairs. Another gesture clearly told her he wanted her to sit. She obeyed, but started to wonder just what was going on? Where was the one who would possess her this night? Why ruin a beautiful gown…
Her keeper went to the flap of the tent and spoke briefly to someone outside, and then came back bearing something Inzilanî had not expected in the least: two plates, each with a slice of the meat that smelled absolutely delicious, a slice of bread that was unspoiled, a few nutmeats and berries. He put the plates down on the table and seated himself in the other chair, then slipped an eating dagger from somewhere on his person and cut the meat on her plate into smaller pieces. She stared at him when he gestured, obviously telling her to eat, and then set about feeding himself.
But the meat smelled so good, and it had been so long since she'd had any food that tasted anything but sickening, Inzilanî cautiously took up a piece of meat and slipped it into her mouth. The taste was so wonderful that she couldn't help the tears that overflowed onto her cheeks. If she was to die soon, at least these nimîr were giving her a fine last meal. She was so overwhelmed that it was hard to remember that she had to chew and then swallow.
For the first time, she began to wonder if all the stories told of the nimîr and their ways had been mistaken. Certainly the gown she now wore, and the food waiting for her on the plate, indicated that perhaps they knew mercy and extended it, at least once in a while.
She still flinched when her keeper arose suddenly and walked past her to where a pitcher sat on a crate with several metal cups nearby. He poured the liquid into two of the cups and brought them back to the table, setting one in front of her before returning to his seat. He nodded at her as he took a sip.
A little braver this time, Inzilanî picked up the cup and sniffed. Water! Fresh, clear, sweet water! Never had something so simple tasted so good! She sipped at the water, holding the cup in both hands in case it would be taken from her. More than food, she had missed the taste of water. The draughts that the uruk continually drank had been nauseating and not at all thirst-quenching.
She looked up to see the nimir watching her closely with those strange, glowing grey eyes of his, totally lacking in animosity or disgust. Taking a chance, she reached out and pinched another bit of meat and sat back in her chair, as far away from him as she could get, and chewed it slowly, still cradling her cup of water in the other hand. He used his bread to wipe up the juices from the meat and then sat back himself, munching on the nuts and berries.
When her keeper didn't move a muscle after finishing his meal except to keep a close eye on her, Inzilanî cautiously pulled the plate into her lap, where she could pop the bits of meat into her mouth with little effort. Suddenly famished, she made short work of the meat, followed her keeper's example to sop up the juices with the bread, and then put the plate back on the table, full and suddenly quite sleepy.
She jerked awake when her keeper rose and came next to her. Her cup was drained of its water, so she didn't fight him when he took the cup and set it back on the table, but her eyes went wide when he took hold of an arm and gently pulled on it, urging her to rise again. So the time had come at last, although she had been given a good meal to convince her to cooperate. It was better than the uruk had ever done, and so even though she was shaking like a leaf in the wind, she allowed him to pull her back towards the big bed.
The gown was only so she could be decent while eating? Inzilanî began to pull the gown back over her head, only to have her keeper's hands tug the gown back down again with another strangled, "Baw!" Did that mean "no?" Instead, he pulled back the top covers on the bed and gestured for her to climb in.
It made no difference to her whether she was used on top of the blankets or beneath them. And maybe the Great One enjoyed destroying clothing. Either way, she wouldn't fight him. He'd seen her fed, no doubt by his order, given her water to drink and clothing to wear for however little time. She wouldn't fight. Perhaps, then, he'd decide to keep her – and if he didn't hurt her too badly very often, she would think herself lucky.
Inzilanî did as she was bid, and could hardly believe how warm and comfortable the bed was once her keeper had pulled the covers over her. There was a soft padding that cradled her head just right. She yawned despite herself, but forced herself to keep watch on the tent flap for when the Great One would appear. But her keeper was now moving about the tent, extinguishing candles until only one lonely flame at the table illumined the tent's interior.
Her eyes widened in sudden understanding. Perhaps it wasn't the Great One who would be possessing her tonight, but rather this nimir warrior instead? She grew more confused, however, when her keeper simply sought the chair he had taken while eating and stretched out his long legs to cross them at the ankles. This didn't make any sense! She was spoils of war – she knew her fate! Why were they toying with her?
Maybe they wanted nothing to do with one who had been possessed and used by the urik? Maybe she disgusted them, and they only waited for the light of day to put her out of her misery. They'd given her a last meal, to send her soul on its way to her ancestors without the curse of hunger.
Oh, but she was tired, and the light was dim enough that it was hard to hold her eyes open…
Vocabulary - (s) Sindarin (a) Adúnaic
baw - (s) no, don't
nimir - (s) Elf
nimîr - (s) Elves
urik - (a) orcs (obj. case)
urkan - (a) orc (nom. case)
uruk - (a) orc (obj. case)