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Elana's Tale  by Elana

Chapter 3 – No Matter What

The cell gate opened, and Elana was flung inside. She collapsed in a heap on the floor, sobbing. The gate crashed shut again. With silent compassion, Roswyn sat down next to her. After a while Elana’s sobs slowed, and she turned to the other woman. Roswyn put her arms around her, and together they rocked gently back and forth for a long time. Then, still wordless, Roswyn fetched a rag dampened from their meager water supply, and helped Elana clean herself. Then they sat together again in silence. Finally, Elana turned to Roswyn. In her eyes flamed the same spark that burned in Roswyn’s soul. “I have to live,” she said. “No matter what. I have to survive.” Roswyn nodded, and they sealed the bargain with clasped hands.

The midday meal was brought, stale brown bread, raw vegetables – onions, greens, wilted carrots – and more water. Though unappetizing, Elana recognized the food as nutritious, and forced herself to eat. Then an orc came to take them from the cell. Elana tensed with fear, but Roswyn shook her head reassuringly, and went along with the orc without resistance, so Elana followed. They were escorted through many twisting passages to a cavernous room.

In the center of the room, an orc sat on a high stool, a long whip in his hands. Around the perimeter, women shuffled slowly in a circle, round and round. Elana thought there might have been as many as fifty, all in similarly ragged condition as herself, and most showing signs of various stages of pregnancy. Elana and Roswyn fell into the line, the orc with the whip watching them boredly to make sure they kept moving. Elana found that the women were allowed to whisper together, as long as they formed groups of no more than three or four. She was the object of much sympathy and interest, as by ones and twos the woman fell in beside her, murmured their names and homelands, and squeezed her hand or touched her arm. Most also came from villages around Rohan, although a few had been captured as they traveled through. Elana found their presence both horrifying, that so many others shared her fate, and greatly comforting, that she was not alone.

They were kept moving for at least an hour. At first Elana welcomed the chance to stretch cramped muscles, but by the end of the time her feet were stumbling, and the whip cracked in her direction a few times to speed her tired legs. Then orcs came and took the women back to their cells, two or three at a time. Having been the last to arrive, Elana and Roswyn were the last herded back down the corridors to their cell.

Once there, tired as she was Elana was seized with a restless energy and roamed about the cell, searching every corner. In one corner was the chamberpot and water basin, on the far side a second pallet had been added next to Roswyn’s. The only other feature was a square opening high up on the back wall. At Elana’s urging, Roswyn boosted her up and she wiggled inside. A narrow, sloping tunnel led back many yards through the rock, to a small opening closed off by a heavy iron grate. A little sunlight and a bit of a fresh breeze seeped through, and Elana hungrily peered out through the grate’s tiny holes, though all she could see were rocks and a bit of scrubby brush. She wrestled with the grate with all her might, but of course it was firmly in place, edges sunk deep into the rock. At Roswyn’s urgent whisper, she slithered backwards down the narrow passage to the cell, to find an orc guard staring in through the cell gate. Seeing her, he gave a sharp nod, slapped the butt of his whip against his gloved hand suggestively, and went on down the hall.

Later their supper was brought, a reasonably hearty stew of potatoes, carrots, turnips, and meat – best not to wonder what kind. The two women sat with their backs propped against the cold stone wall, eating and talking.

“My home is the town of Waymeet.” Roswyn started.

“I know where that is,” Elana exclaimed. “Just a few hours from Grassymede. Sometimes we take horses or produce to the market there.”

“Yes, its market is famous. My husband is a blacksmith there. We’d been married three years when I was taken. My babe was almost two. That was more than three years ago now. I doubt he even remembers me. They probably all think I’m dead. I expect Teolar has taken a new wife by now.”

“How were you… taken?”

“I went down to the river with laundry early one morning. The women often meet there to wash clothes, but that day I was the only one. Some orcs had set an ambush in a thicket of bushes. I had just set down my basket when they jumped me.”

They were silent for a while. Then Elana said, “Surely my father will try to rescue me. The men of the village will help him. They fought off the orcs attacking the village.”

“They probably assume you were killed. But even if they try to track down the orcs, what chance do they have? That was just a small raiding band, more interested in grabbing what loot they could and escaping than fighting. This is their fortified stronghold. Villagers or townspeople wouldn’t stand a chance. It would take the king’s army to break in here. And a few missing women aren’t enough to attract the king’s attention.”

They continued to talk far into the night. They told each other about their families, their homes, their former lives. Finally, when they couldn’t stay awake any longer, they huddled together for warmth and comfort, and slept.

Elana’s days fell into a routine. Each morning was the horror of the breeding room. The rest of the day was the cold of the cell, broken by the few precious hours of contact with her fellow captives in the exercise room. Her friendship with Roswyn deepened. Their shared ordeal, along with a natural affinity of their personalities, bound the two women close together.

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