Prisoners of War

by Varda
‘Sam! Wake up! The fire is smoking….’

Sam came awake with a curse. He had fallen asleep after their meal of stewed rabbit, and now the fire, which he had thought was out, was sending up a telltale spiral of smoke into the clear blue midday sky….

‘What a numbpate I am!’ he said to himself, but Frodo did not reprimand him, just made his way quietly through the low bay and box hedges and lay down under the trees on a high sandy ridge. Here he could see down into a dry river course which ran East to join the Anduin, a bright glitter of water glimpsed through dark cedars…

‘Sam!’ he called softly ‘Come and see this…..’

Sam made his way furtively to Frodo’s side, wriggling forward on his knees and elbows until he too could see across the valley. He stared in astonishment at what lay below...

Sam had never really known any Men but Aragorn and Boromir. But here were thousands of them, a whole army, tramping along the sandy flats beside the dried up river. But these were not men of the North; they were clad in long robes of black and scarlet, with tall keen pikes and curved bows slung over their shoulders. They carried round black leather bucklers studded with brass and wore pointed helmets that caught the sun’s rays. Their faces were masked but their eyes were dark and fierce and their skin burned by the desert sun. Sam felt a chill fall on his heart when he saw them, and a drum throbbing somewhere up the river seemed to find an echo in the blood pounding in his ears. The host seemed to be hurrying to catch up with another body of warriors, for their chieftains exhorted them to speed. As they broke into a trot across the bare sand the ground shook….

‘Who are they?’ asked Frodo. And a voice spoke up at his elbow, nearly frightening Sam out of his wits….
‘Southrons!’ said Gollum. ‘from Harad, way over the mountains to the south…’
‘But where are they going?’ asked Frodo, half to himself.
‘They are summoned to Mordor’ said Gollum, with something like satisfaction, as if the power and glory of his former tormentor gave him a strange joy…
‘The Dark lord is gathering all evil to him, for his attack…’
‘What attack?’ asked Frodo in a dead voice.
‘His attack on all the world!’ exclaimed Gollum, and cackled with laughter.

Frodo felt sick. There seemed no end to the dark-clad warriors, and he thought of Aragorn and the Fellowship and his heart grew heavy. Would that Gandalf was still with them…
‘Let us go’ he said ‘we have no more time…..’

But just then the earth shook with more than the feet of the passing army.
‘Look!’ said Sam in a loud whisper. ‘An oliphaunt!’

And so it was, a great broad grey forehead brushing aside the tallest branches of a great cedar to march down to the river bed. Sam settled back on the sand to gaze in awe and delight at what he had always thought was a children’s story…

On it came, describing circles in the sand with the delicate tip of its long trunk. From time to time it raised its mighty head and, not able to see far with its tiny eyes it swung its tusks from side to side as it to ward off enemies, or flush them out of the trees. Sam noticed that the yellow ivory of the massive tusks was tipped with brass, and that high up on the back of the beast was a gilded wooden castle in which were archers ready to fire. A driver sat behind the great sail-like ears of the beast and from time to time the rumbling gave way to an earsplitting trumpet. Sam put his hands over his ears then turned to Frodo, who was gazing in astonishment as well, and said;

‘They’ll never believe this in the Green Dragon….’

But just then Gollum raised his head, sniffing the air. He looked dried up and dead in the bright sunlight, but it was not the daytime that bothered him. From all around came the calls of birds, unnaturally loud in the noon light. In a flash Gollum was gone, and they were alone….

‘Sméagol?’ said Frodo. ‘Where has he gone….?’

But before he had time to wonder a his attention was called back by cries and screams from the valley below. They both looked down and saw a hail of arrows begin to fall among the black-robed troops. Both Sam and Frodo crouched down further, and almost at once from all around them flights of arrows were discharged, from archers and bows they could not see, raining down on the Haradrim, driving them to panic.

For some moments Sam did not dare look up, but at last the terrible sounds of battle forced him to raise his head. Below was a great slaughter of men, and those not slain were fleeing back across the narrow water of the stream, attempting to reach a roadway that ran along the high ground of the far bank. The leading Oliphaunts, struck by scores of arrows aimed in vain at their eyes, stopped and shook their heads then with an ear-piercing squeal they plunged forward, into the brush and low trees, carrying whole boughs and trunks along with them. They ploughed through their own men to escape the stinging darts fired from all sides and to Sam’s horror almost reached their position. Just at that moment an arrow fired from close to them on their right struck one of the archers on the beast’s back and he fell with a cry and hurtled to the ground beside Sam. The Olipaunt crashed through the trees, past them on into the forest.

Sam looked at the fallen warrior. His scarf had been torn off in the fall and Sam saw that his face was lean and weatherbeaten but not particularly cruel. He could have been asleep but for the blood covering his robes and the broken arrow shaft sticking out of his neck. Sam wondered what the man was like, and if he had deserved to die such a death. He suddenly felt sick, and thought that he had seen enough of war to last him his whole life long. As if sharing his thoughts, Frodo said;

‘Come on, Sam. We’ve lingered here too long….’

Frodo got up and crept backwards into the bay grove. Sam for a moment could not look away from the dead, as if they had cast some spell on him. He heard Frodo call to him, then scrambled to his feet and hurried to follow…..

..and ran straight into a tall man clad in green and grey with a long yew bow in one gloved hand. The other he shot out to seize the hobbit, who found himself imprisoned and unable to move, despite his struggles. Worse, another of the tall green men seized Frodo as well, and deftly disarming him of Sting he twisted his arms behind his back.

Realising they were being taken prisoner, Frodo struggled desperately and the man holding him gave him a rough push that knocked him to the ground. As he lay breathless the man, his face hidden by a mask, leaned over and whispered;
‘Be quiet, little spy!’

Sam looked up at them in horror. Taken, they were taken! What would become of their quest now and all that depended on it? What would happen when these grim Men masked and clad in green found the Ring…..

It had been a matter of only a few minutes to set the gorse fire that had diverted the rearguard from the path followed by the rest of the Haradrim army. Now Marfach was returning to the column, like any scout, his bow in his hand. All round he could hear calls in the trees and knew at once it was Faramir’s men. He half expected an arrow in the back, but either the Rangers remembered him or Faramir had given orders that he should not be slain.

Or perhaps it was neither…

He stopped and looked about. The sandy ravine was empty, a dry wind blowing along it, carrying dust and weeds. He seemed to hear voices on that wind. It occurred to him, he could escape now. He had fulfilled his vow to Aragorn, to betray the Haradrim. His work was finished; he was free. He turned and placing the bow on the ground as a gesture of peace to the watching Rangers he began to walk away from the army, to freedom.

But after a few strides he felt a pain in his chest. He ignored it but as he went on it grew more and more, until he had to stop,unable to breathe. When he stood still it eased, but when he started off again to walk, it returned, worse then ever, until a crushing weight pressed on his breastbone and he could hardly draw breath…

He stopped. Sweat ran down his face and he shook from head to foot. He bowed his head and remembered….

Those few Elves who had been captured by Sauron had been bound to him by spells and counter-spells in a slow process over many ages. Their memories of their Elven selves were deracinated and gradually all recall and association was burned out of their minds. They forgot their names, where they came from, who their kin were. They recognised no land or race, they yearned for no home, they loved nothing and no-one. Layer by layer their minds were stripped bare and their lives eroded down to existence. Every action was governed by the will of Sauron; he had bound their souls to his.

Marfach tried once again to walk out of the ravine. He planted one foot in front of the other, slowly, painfully, until at last a crushing weight bearing down on his shoulders forced him to fall to his knees. He began to crawl along the sand, now hearing from the direction of the river cries and shouts of battle. But for all that, he could not move any further. Pain, such as mortals cannot feel, forced him to stop. He knew this was his only chance of escape; but he could go no further. The agony would kill him, or drive him mad. Defeated, he put his head down on the sand and waited till his strength rallied, then he turned and began to crawl back to the Haradrim.

Bitterly, he knew what had happened. He was bound by spells too powerful to break. He could only move in obedience to Sauron, and the power of that will would grow stronger as he approached Mordor. Unless he was slain, he must return to the Black Land and serve the Dark Lord.

Aragorn had promised him freedom if he fulfilled his vow.

But Aragorn had no power over Sauron…..