Whose Service is perfect Freedom by Linda Hoyland
A young Easterling soldier is forced to swear an oath to Sauron.
Rating Part 1 - R. Part 2 PG
Warning contains themes including human sacrifice, which some readers might find disturbing.Readers wishing to skip dark themes can safely read part two.
The familiar characters and places belong to Tolkien and his heirs. Hulagu and his friends are my own invention. I make no money from writing this story.
"So to love you that we may truly serve you, whose service is perfect freedom;" Augustine of Hippo.-Book of Common Prayer.
Möngke did not deserve to die like this. Hulagu wanted to look away but dared not. He could feel the Noyan's eyes boring into him. Hulagu had no desire to share his comrade's fate.
He tried to meet his friend's eyes, but Möngke was too terrified to look anywhere save at the priest's knife as it neared his throat. His naked body was spread-eagled across the altar and bound with chains.
"May the Lord of Gifts bless us for this sacrifice!" cried the high priest. Möngke screamed. The scream was replaced by a hideous gurgling noise as his life blood drained away.
Hulagu felt bile rise in his throat as tears pricked his eyes. He swallowed hard and stared at his boots. He was forced to look up again when the Noyan spoke, "Mark today well, for thus is the fate of all those who break their oaths and try to leave our Lord's service. The Lord of Gifts is merciful and granted him a swift, clean death. Those of you who are foolish enough to be captured by the Tarks will fare far worse. They will sacrifice you to their cruel gods by hanging you on a tree and leaving you for the ravens to devour piece by piece. Then they will ravish your women and kill your children if you do not stop them from crossing our borders."
A visible shudder passed through the ranks of men. The Noyan continued, "But loyal men will spare themselves and our beloved land such a fate. Will you fight?"
The men struck their spears on the ground and cried. "We will fight. Death to all Tarks!"
The Noyan smiled slightly then said, "A great honour awaits a few of you today after the shame of Möngke's desertion. The high priest himself will consecrate those chosen as they swear allegiance to the great Lord of Gifts." His eyes scanned the silent ranks. He lifted his great spear and pointed "Köke, Hasi, Temür,Orus, Qara, Chagha'an, Esen, Alani, and Hulagu are the chosen ones. You are to go to the inner chamber of the temple where the priest will prepare you."
The nine chosen men marched away led by Orus. The young man's eyes shone. He was known to be a devout follower of the Dark Lord, who offered sacrifices at every opportunity. Hasi was almost as devout. It was hardly surprising as his father was one of the Noyans who had brokered the alliance between the Easterlings and the Dark Lord to fight in this war. Qara was the son of another Noyan, now dead, who would whisper in the yurts at night that life as a soldier had been far happier when his father was the commander. Hulagu did not know the other young men well, apart from Alani who had also been a friend of Möngke. It seemed that few, if any, had been chosen by accident and the consecration was meant as either reward or punishment. For Hulagu it was certainly the latter. He had heard dark tales about ceremonies in honour of the Dark Lord; that they changed a man and ate away his soul. Möngke, Alani and he had always tried to avoid the public sacrifices since they had been brought here. At home they worshipped the Tngri.
The Noyan had questioned him harshly when Möngke had left. He had pleaded ignorance of why his friend had chosen to leave, not wishing the Noyan to learn that Möngke's sweetheart had given birth to his son and he wished only to see the child before they marched away to fight the Tarks.
The inner chamber was lit by flaming torches. A black robed acolyte greeted the nine men in the Lord of Gift's name and ordered them to remove their clothes.
Hulagu shivered as he pulled off his tunic and breeches and not with cold, though a damp chill permeated the chamber despite the heat outside. Were they to be sacrificed to the Lord of Gifts too? His fear increased when the acolyte brought forth a great spear, which he stood holding, its tip pointed towards the men. Even Orus and Hasi looked apprehensive. Hulagu could not help but notice that the two young men had the symbol of the Eye carved into their shoulders.
The acolyte told the men to form a circle around the weapon. Another two acolytes appeared, one holding a bowl and the other a knife. They were followed by the High Priest in his orange robes embroidered with the symbol of the eye.
"All hail the Great Lord of Gifts!" intoned the priest. He stared at them intently making Hulagu feel highly uncomfortable. "Great is your bounty, mighty Lord, and many are your blessings. Today these unworthy supplicants are come before you to dedicate themselves to your service."
Hulagu shuddered. He was standing beside Alani. The two young men shivered and tried to cover themselves with their hands.
The priest then raised his arms aloft. Orus and Hasi did likewise. The acolyte glared at the other seven who quickly raised their arms as well.
The priest then approached Orus with the knife. The young man fell to the ground in a swoon, but the acolytes dragged him to his feet.
The priest then cried "Receive again the blessing of the Great Lord's mark!" He then carved the symbol of the eye on Orus' chest. He then moved round the circle, doing the same to each man in turn, varying the words according to whether they already bore a mark or not. The young men stood passive, fearful of what would happen should they try to resist.
Hulagu tried not to flinch when it came to his turn. The cutting did not hurt as much as he expected it to, for the knife was sharp and the priest did not cut too deeply. He closed his eyes and tried to think himself elsewhere, back in his village as a child, tending the horses and the goats. He had never desired to leave his place of birth and take up arms. He was forced back to the present when the priest spoke again.
"Let the blood of the sacrifice grant you strength and courage in battle!"
Hulagu opened his eyes and saw that the bowl contained a thick red fluid- Möngke's blood! He felt as if he were going to be sick and swallowed hard as the scent of damp metal assailed his nostrils. His arms started to ache with the effort of holding them above his head, but he dared not lower them. He started to sweat despite the unnatural cold of this place.
He glanced across to the other men. Orus seemed to have recovered himself while Hasi's eyes gleamed with something akin to ecstasy. At his side, Alani was visibly shaking.
Again beginning with Orus, the priest dipped his fingers in the blood and sprinkled it copiously over Orus' skin. He went round the circle, doing the same to each man in turn.
When it came to his turn, Hulagu sent up a silent prayer to Tengri that Möngke's spirit might be already far from this place and safe in the Spirit World, so as not to witness this desecration. The blood felt sticky on his skin and was still warm.
The priest then cried, "Hallowed by the sign and cleansed by the sacrifice, you shall now take your oaths. One by one, you shall come forward and place your hands upon the sacred spear and repeat the words after me. You, boy, shall be the first." He gestured towards Hulagu, much to his dismay. The acolytes pushed him forwards on to his knees. He gripped the spear with trembling hands. At least lowering his aching arms provided some relief.
The priest intoned, "By the sacred weapon, today I offer my life in service to the great and bounteous Lord of Gifts. I am his; body and soul and I freely offer my life in his great service until death take me. This is my solemn oath. Should I betray my vow, may my life be forfeit, my body utterly devoured and my name cursed amongst my people. So be it. All hail the Lord of Gifts!"
Hulagu's throat constricted. He feared the Lord of Gifts, as nothing but unhappiness had come to his people since the alliance had been made and altars were built to him. It seemed that the gifts were not for simple villagers such as himself and Möngke. He wanted to run away far from here and return to his peaceful village.
"Swear!" cried the priest. "Would you anger our bounteous lord?"
Stumbling over the words, Hulagu swore the oath. It felt as if darkness was settling deep inside him with every word he spoke.
He was then dragged back to re-join his fellows and made to raise his arms again. One by one the other eight spoke the words with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Orus was quivering with ill- concealed excitement when it came to his turn and he kissed the spear after speaking the words.
When everyone had taken the oath, the priest dismissed them saying, "Go now and be victorious in battle, bearing the marks of consecration! In victory, you the chosen ones, shall rejoice before the Lord of Gifts' altar. Meanwhile, a special honour is bestowed upon one of you, to remain here and be of service."
Hulagu found he was holding his breath. He let out a sigh of relief when Chagha'an was chosen. Orus and Hasi looked disappointed. Hulagu hardly knew Chagha'an who appeared unremarkable, apart from having fine looks that appealed to the village girls.
Hulagu sighed with relief to finally be allowed to rest his aching arms and pull on his clothes. He badly wanted to wash away Möngke's blood and his own, but dared not. His arms throbbed and his cuts smarted, but inside he felt oddly numb. He hastened to his yurt and fell into an uneasy sleep filled with dark dreams of blood sacrifice.
The next day they marched to war much to the surprise of them all. Some of the newer conscripts such as Hulagu and Alani had only just begun their training. Qara whispered as they set off that it was folly to go to war before they were fully prepared and his father would never have done such a thing. He said no more when he noticed the Noyan's eye upon him.
Hulagu discussed the oath taking with no-one, not even Alani. Their comrades were curious as to what had happened, but after Orus had proclaimed it a sacred mystery, no-one asked further questions. They had learned it was not wise to enquire too closely into the rites of the Lord of Gifts.
On the third day of the march, Hasi sickened and foul matter oozed through his tunic where he had been cut. By the fifth day, he fell from his horse and was left by the roadside to die. After that, Orus no longer offered every unfortunate creature he could catch to the Lord of Gifts. Hulagu wondered if he would meet a similar fate, but although his cuts itched they healed cleanly enough, leaving ugly scars upon his skin.
Some of the men muttered their dismay that one of the chosen had been struck down, but the Noyan said it proved Hasi was not worth the honour bestowed upon him.
The men grew weary and many horses went lame. It seemed that the land they were to conquer for the Lord of Gifts was a long march away. The Noyan told them the land was called Gondor and the men who dwelled there were cowardly and evil. As they marched nearer to Gondor they were joined by many other men from distant lands as well as legions of Orcs. Although Hulagu knew they were the most faithful servants of the Lord of Gifts, he found them highly repulsive. Their stench made him heave.
Hard though the days of travelling were, Hulagu feared the nights far worse as the dark dreams continued to disturb his rest. He dreamt that a great beast was devouring him piece by piece and its fangs were dripping with Möngke's blood.
When battle came, it was like nothing Hulagu could have imagined in his worst nightmares; the noise, the confusion, the clamour, the screams and the stench. Orus charged into the fray, crying "Glory to the Lord of Gifts!" Hulagu never saw him again as he was at once swallowed up by a vast host of men and horses.
Hulagu knew he should follow his comrade, but he hesitated, almost paralysed with fear. A great golden-haired warrior, mounted on an enormous steed charged at Hulagu and knocked him from his horse with his spear. The animal kicked out in his terror as Hulagu hit the ground and he knew no more.