The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda

Chapter 100:  A Light for the Future

Pippin opened his eyes and saw above him a sagging canvas roof that was stained and dirty and full of holes.

`Merry should have checked that tent before we went camping..` he thought to himself. But then he realised that he was not on some pleasant hobbit camping trip; his memory returned with a rush and he recalled being with the Army of the West as it awaited its annihilation on the barren plain outside the Gates of Mordor.

His last conscious thought was of standing in the ranks of the men of Minas Tirith, side by side with Beregond, the father of Bergil the young boy he had befriended in the city. When the army of trolls had attacked, one of the creatures had felled Beregond with its mighty stone hammer. Pippin, forgetting completely the fear that he had thought would make him unworthy to take part in the final battle, leaped forward and plunged his sword, the red-engraved blade of Westernesse that he had taken from the barrow-wight`s mound, into the vitals of the troll. Pippin`s last memory had been of the massive beast toppling forward and crashing down on him.

His final, fleeting thought had been that this was the end, that he was dying. But now he knew he wasn`t dead, because every part of his body ached. He felt as if he had been crushed till his bones splintered, and raising one hand he saw the fingers were red and swollen and covered with blood.
`But where am I?` he thought. With an effort he lifted his head and looked about him and saw that he was lying on a makeshift pallet. A short distance away there was another pallet, and on it lay a long, lean figure clad in black armour emblazoned with a great red eye.

Pippin started violently, although he was too weak to move. He was a prisoner! This was some place where the wounded of Mordor had been brought after the defeat of the army of the West. Where were Aragorn and the Captains? Had everyone he knew and loved perished, leaving him alone? And what would happen to him now?

Desperate, Pippin looked again at the other bed. The tall warrior had long red dreadlocks that were spread out over the dirty sheet that covered the pallet. His face was gaunt with high cheekbones and deep-set eyes and he had the pallor of one already dead. There was dried blood on his armour, but it was not black orc blood but red as the blood of men. As Pippin looked at him the creature seemed to sense his gaze and opened his eyes and the startled hobbit saw that they were red. For a long moment they stared at each other and then Marfach gave the hobbit a little smile of encouragement, and winked. Then as if he were tired out even by these small actions he looked away, closed his eyes and did not move again.

Feeling strangely reassured, Pippin laid his head back and closed his own eyes and slipped once more into sleep. When he woke up again and looked up, the dirty canvas roof was gone and in its place was a ceiling of snow-white linen, with not a mark or tear in it. Pippin raised his bruised hand and found it wrapped in bandages that smelled sweetly of kingsfoil. To his surprise he found that even when he flexed his fingers they no longer ached fiercely.

Then a deep, gruff voice spoke up beside him;
`About time you woke up! I have heard tell that hobbits like their sleep, but I was starting to think you would sleep all day and the next day too, and we would starve while we waited for you to wake up!`

Pippin turned and saw Gimli standing beside the bed, and with him was Legolas, smiling with pleasure to see the hobbit awaken. Pippin gave a cry of joy.
`Gimli! Legolas! I thought you were all dead, the battle lost and that I was left alone….`
Gimli`s face clouded over.
`Nay, master hobbit. The battle was a close thing, and not without terrible cost, as I will tell you as soon as you are strong enough to hear. But the battle is won! Afterwards I wandered the field for an age searching for you, and only found you when I saw a small foot sticking out from under a great dead troll…I guessed it was you because it was a woolly hobbit foot, and I daresay it was that same hobbit who slew the troll!`
Pippin`s pale face coloured with pride. Then Gimli said;
`But why did you think the battle was lost?`

Pippin frowned and replied;
`I woke up before, and there was one of the Enemy lying on the pallet beside me. I thought I was taken captive…`
`One of the Enemy?`repeated Gimli, baffled.
`Yes.`said Pippin. `He had long red hair and wore the sign of the Eye on his armour…`

Gimli was silent. It was Legolas who replied, in a low voice;
`That was Marfach…`

When the Mouth Of Sauron fled back through the Gates of Mordor, Marfach, remembering the words of Melian counselling him against vengeance, gave up his pursuit of the Lieutenant of the Dark Tower and instead turned his skeletal black steed and spurred it in the direction of the battle, hoping to do what he could to aid his friends and Aragorn`s cause. By now Sauron had sprung his deadly trap and Marfach could see the legions of Mordor closing in from all sides on the Men of the West where they were gathered under their bright banners on the crests of two hills. They had spent their arrows and now the opposing armies were closing with each other with a sound like thunder rolling amongst high mountains.

Marfach struggled to force his steed through the tightly packed mass of enemy troops. Among them there were not just Easterlings in their gold armour and blood red cloaks but tall, long-limbed goblins with iron helms and massive clubs. But heading the attack was a line of mountain trolls and as Marfach watched they rushed on the ranks of men with great stone hammers raised above their heads. These they swung down, and no sword or shield or spear could stand before them. Shield arms were broken and helms crushed, and men were borne down to the earth where the trolls were able to seize them and tear out their throats with their great yellow fangs.

Desperate to join the struggle, Marfach found a space opening up before him as a lull fell on the enemy`s attack. Ahead he saw the bright banners of the west flying over the two hills and he spurred his black horse towards where the tree and stars of Gondor flew amidst the smoke and noise. But as he raced across the broken land an arrow, whether shot by friend or foe he never knew, smote his black steed in the chest, passing through its mailed breastplate as if it were silk. The beast gave a shrill scream and collapsed under Marfach, flinging him to the ground in front of the advancing army of Mordor.

For some moments, Marfach lay stunned by the fall. Then he shook his head and glancing at the black horse he found it was dead. He got quickly to his feet and looking about him he saw that even in those few moments the shape of the battle had changed.

The allies, realising that they were being crushed on their twin pinnacles of rock, had seen a gap in their attackers` line and had rushed down into a defile between the two hills. It gave them no escape, but they were better able to fend off the trolls as the great beasts found it difficult to negotiate the narrow rocky pass or to swing their hammers without hindering each other.

As the men of the West hastily formed a new battle line, Marfach saw an incongruous flash of sky blue and gold among them. It was the banner of Rivendell and below it Marfach`s keen eyes made out the gold and silver armour of Elrohir and Elladan, the sons of Elrond. Marfach knew that these Elves would not be far from Aragorn`s side, even though he could not see the king`s banner, so he grasped his sword in his one hand and nimbly avoiding the massive trolls as they lumbered to the attack he ran forward to the front of the battle. But even as he did so he saw the banner of Rivendell waver and fall, and a troll snatch it up and break it into pieces, rending the bright silk fabric with its massive paw. Before him a figure, tiny compared to the great beast, attacked it furiously; it was Elladan, trying to retrieve his father`s banner.

The Elf slashed at the troll with his bright sword and wounded it on the thigh. The beast roared with pain and swung its mailed forearm in a long arc, catching the Elf in the middle and flinging him to the ground where he lay winded. The troll snarled and raised its foot to crush the fallen Elf, then seemed to forget what it was doing, or where it was, and retracted its foot and stared stupidly down at the Elf whom only moments before it had sought to crush to death. Then the monster gazed around it in wonder and turning its back on the army of the West it lumbered back through the ranks, shouldering its fellow trolls aside as it made its way home to its mountain lair.

As Elladan struggled to get up a hand grasped him under his arm and pulled him to his feet. He looked around and saw that it was Marfach. At the same time Elrohir hurried up to them. He had fought his way free and had rushed to his brother`s side, but not before Marfach had saved Elladan`s life.

`So, Croga..`said Elrohir with a wan smile as Elladan regained his breath. `Long ago you fought with my father, and now you fight with his sons at this, the last battle of all. The Company of Melian are here at the end of all things as they were at the beginning. You have kept faith and saved my brother`s life, and mine too, for certainly I would have perished trying to avenge him…..`
`If the time comes` replied Marfach `..tell the King of my deed here today. But do not speak of it now, for the battle is not yet done….`

His words were only too true, for even as they spoke a new wave of trolls, aided by goblins and great uruk-hai from Mordor, renewed their attack on the tiny army of the West. Elladan picked up his sword again and Marfach snatched up the banner of Rivendell and placed himself before it, his Mordor scimitar in his hand.

But Marfach`s powers were waning. The influence of Sauron was fading, and with it the superhuman strength that it had given Marfach. To influence the brain of the troll had taken a tremendous effort and now he felt dizzy and weak and it was all he could do to lift his sword.
`Well, if this is the end of my strength, I will make the last of it count!`he thought grimly.

A great legion of uruk-hai had advanced behind the trolls and attracted by the bright armour of the Elves, like a swarm of stinging insects drawn to a bright flame, they closed in on Elladan and Elrohir.

Marfach standing before them in his black armour emblazoned with the emblem of the Red Eye checked their headlong rush and he took advantage of their hesitation to shake off his helmet, crested with the skull emblem of the Mouth of Sauron, and as his red hair streamed out in the wind he fixed his burning eyes on the uruk-hai and bared his teeth and snarled defiance at them in the language of Mordor, their own tongue. At the same time he brandished his black sword in their faces and sent into their dull brains what thoughts of death and darkness his ebbing strength could muster. Shaken, their minds suddenly filled with nameless fears, the uruk-hai backed off.

This unexpected retreat of the front rank of Mordor sent a ripple along the battle line. Some distance away, on the flank of the other hill, the Rangers of the Black Company found themselves suddenly facing empty space as the enemy briefly fell back.

Leaning on their swords and gasping for breath, the Rangers looked at each other and down the hill into the hollow where the uruk-hai were re-grouping.
`They will be back soon!`said Crionna to his men. `Be on your guard!` Beside him his men took advantage of the respite to bind up each other`s wounds and look to their weapons, some of which had broken blades. They searched for replacements amongst the dead and wounded and as they did so Liofa looked up from wrapping a rag around a sword cut on Callanach`s arm and saw a familiar spot of red amongst the dim roil of the battle. Liofa peered more closely with his keen Elvish eyes, at first unwilling to believe what he saw but then he realised that those red dreadlocks could belong to no other being. He said to Callanach in an excited whisper;
`Storm, look! There is Marfach, and he is fighting under the banner of Rivendell!`

Callanach pulled his arm away from the Elf and gazed across the small vale piled high with the slaughter of battle. Beyond it his gaze fell on the flag of Rivendell, retrieved from the ground and hoisted once more on the shaft of a spear. Below it Callanach could make out the tall, bright figures of Elladan and Elrohir, their long dark hair streaming out behind them. But before them stood a figure in black armour wielding a black sword and his long hair was red and as Callanach watched he threw himself into the ranks of uruk-hai that at last had summoned the courage to attack him. Marfach disappeared under the dark tide of uruk-hathat rushed forward and engulfed him.

Liofa and Callanach had no time to speak of what they had seen, because at that instant the enemy renewed their attack. A fresh regiment of trolls had been ushered up from the rear, and urged on by the goads and whips of their overseers they charged bellowing up the hill towards the men of the West. The Black Company scrambled to readiness, seeing in the trolls and the endless ranks of the enemy behind them a force that they could not withstand much longer.
`This is the last of it…` said Liofa to Callanach as he took a grip on his sword. To his surprise, the young Ranger of the North and leader of the Black Company turned to the Elf and put his arm round his friend`s shoulder and smiled.
`Do not be sad, Liofa! If we must die, at least we shall die together. I have passed the doors of death before, and it was a dark and lonely passage I took. Now at least I die in the company of my friends, and knowing that another friend, Marfach, has regained his honour this day…`

There was no time to say more; just then the army of Mordor reached their ranks. As Liofa and Marfach raised shield and sword to defend themselves from the trolls, they heard over the din of battle a high, shrill cry.
`That is Fior`s voice….`thought Callanach to himself as he dodged a blow from a great stone hammer. Fior was the youngest Ranger in the Black Company and because of his keen eyesight he was often posted as lookout. Now, despite the confusion of battle his sharp eyes had seen something looming up in the corner of the sky….
`The Eagles!`he shouted. `The Eagles are coming…..!`

All of a sudden the dark tide of trolls and uruk-hai that had been pressing hard on the Rangers broke and receded, like a wave breaking high on a beach. Suddenly in front of the army of the West there was not a tightly packed mass of enemies but a wide plain scattered with fleeing figures, orcs, Easterlings, uruk-hai, goblin-men and Haradrim. Amongst them galloped the trolls, heedless of any in their path, and the screams of those they crushed in their flight mingled with the shouts of joy from the men of the West as they realised that, out of the very mouth of death, they had been given the gift of life.

The end of the battle came not a moment too soon for Marfach, cut off from the army, surrounded by uruk-hai and with his strength rapidly diminishing. His black scimitar moved in a dark blur, and any foe who ventured to lunge at him received a blow that sent it reeling back screaming. But its place was taken by another, and slowly they were bearing Marfach backwards till he could retreat no more, for his enemies were behind him as well as before. One uruk, bigger and bolder than the rest, managed to slash Marfach`s upper arm and he felt blood seep through his black chain mail, and he knew he wouldnot be able to hold his sword any longer. And just at that moment, when he was sure he would be overpowered and slain, the enemy suddenly melted away from around him.

Swaying with weakness, Marfach leaned on his sword watched in amazement as the army of Mordor, the greatest force ever assembled in Middle Earth, turned and fled. The sun came out from behind the black clouds overhead and glittered on the armour of the doomed host. Like a great plague of insects suddenly destroyed by a cold clean autumn wind, they rushed headlong, impeding each other in their terror, vanishing back into the darkness whence they had come.

Marfach understood then that the shadow of Mordor was at last lifted from Middle Earth, and that he had outlived his enslavement by Sauron. Weary as he was, new hope rose in him and he looked to see where Aragorn was. For nothing he had done would matter unless he claimed his pardon at the hand of the King of Gondor.

Exhausted and walking slowly, holding his bleeding arm, Marfach made his way over the battlefield. Abandoned banners of Mordor strewed the ground, and also some of the West. Marfach bent to retrieve one of the torn strips of coloured silk. He knew that for long ages to come it would hang in the place of honour in the halls of Minas Tirith, and this day would become a great story told to the music of the harp, before hushed audiences and generations not yet born.

Lost in these thoughts, Marfach did not notice that he was approaching the ranks of the men of Minas Tirith. They too were cheering wildly at the rout of the enemy. But as Marfach drew near one young soldier of the Citadel Guard spied his black armour with its emblem of the Red Eye and thought he was one of the enemy who had not perished with the rest. At once he nocked an arrow to his longbow and before any could stay his hand, he loosed the barbed shaft at Marfach.

The air was keen with frost and overhead the sky blazed with stars. Marfach looked up at them through the branches of tall trees, and smelled all around him the sweet scent of pines. The deep sharp pain in his side eased and he felt only intense cold. Looking down he saw he stood in deep snow, and against its starlit whiteness the trees stood like black statues.

Against their darkness the cloak of Melian shone like silver. She stood at the edge of the forest, looking over her shoulder at Marfach.

He had never seen the Lady Melian outside of the city realm of Doriath. As he gazed at her she turned towards him and her cloak of white fell away to reveal a pale blue robe caught at the waist by her girdle of diamonds. Marfach took a few steps towards her but she raised her hand.
‘Come no further, Croga the brave, for where I am going you cannot follow. This is the place where I must leave you.’
Marfach looked at the dark forest.
‘But who will guide me now?’ he asked her.’And where will I go?’

Melian smiled and said;
‘You have been freed from the power of Mordor, but you can never enter the Undying Lands of the Elves. Seek now the dominion of Men, for after many trials it is there that you will find welcome. Farewell, Croga. Do not forget the stars of Doriath in her glory, even while you find a light for the future….’

And before he could question her further, Melian turned and faded into the dark forest, her bright cloak gleaming through the trees like a star among clouds until at last it vanished forever from Marfach’s sight. When it had gone, he turned and looked away from the forest. Below him the long snow-covered slopes of the mountain fell away to a plain and on that plain there shone the lights of a great city. Under the stars they were like the fires of a mighty army encamped, only this was no army but a great city at peace.

‘Always it has been so with my house…`thought Aragorn sadly, looking at the young soldier standing in front of him with a face pale with fear and shame.
`..always in the moment of our greatest joy and triumph there comes some sadness. Even now, when Frodo and Sam have been brought out of the very heart of Mount Doom and I am eager to visit them and rejoice in their escape, I must deal with the consequences of this tragic mistake and the striking down of Marfach. In joy and also in sorrow men are doomed to live….`
`Lord Aragorn…`the young man stammered. `…my King…I am truly sorry! I did not know that the black-armoured warrior was one of our army. I saw the Red Eye and thought…`

Aragorn gestured to the soldier to stop. Then he stepped forward and laid his hand on the young man`s shoulder.
`Do not trouble yourself, for you are not to blame. It was a mistake, and clad as he was in the armour of the enemy, there was every chance someone else would have done what you did. Return to your duties, soldier of Gondor, and share in the rewards of victory; you will not be punished…`

Seeing the sudden relief on the young man`s face Aragorn realised that he was little more than a boy. Such losses had Gondor incurred in its long war with Mordor that mere children had been forced to fight in her armies. What could one so young know of Elves, or of a being such as Marfach? Now he would probably never know, as the Elves were leaving, and Marfach was close to death, too weakened by the loss of the power loaned to him by Sauron to recover from the arrow wound he had received.

Aragorn returned the salute the young man gave him as he left. Then he turned to Elladan and Elrohir, who had witnessed the encounter.

`This is my fault` he said to them. Elladan shook his head and went to protest but Aragorn raised a hand and went on;
`When I sent Marfach into Mordor on this errand, I knew well that it could have only one outcome. If Marfach succeeded, he would in all likelihood perish in doing so. And if he failed, he would also certainly die. He was a thorn in my side, and I found a way to rid myself of him. I disguised it as a test of his loyalty, but in my heart I never really doubted Marfach’s loyalty. There are many in this world who are good who yet do not seem so. It is by what we do that we should be judged, not by what we say, or how we appear.....‘

The two Elves listened in respectful silence and when Aragorn had finished Elladan ventured to speak;
‘My Lord Aragorn, Elessar as we must now greet you…’ he said. ‘We do not pass judgment on your decision. How can we? For we Elves cast Marfach from our midst many ages ago, and cursed him as one of Sauron’s minions. How long he has been a friend to the West we have no idea, for we gave him less chance to show his loyalties than Men did.

But let us put the past behind us and find a light for the future; we know that you have tried to heal Marfach’s wounds without success. But there is one in Middle Earth whose skills in healing are even greater than yours; our father, Lord Elrond. We owe Marfach our lives, so let us take him to Rivendell and perhaps his life can be saved there, as was the life of the Ringbearer himself, Frodo.`