The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda

Chapter 101:  Comes a Dark Rider

The day after his coronation, the Rangers of the Black Company sought and were granted an audience with King Elessar, formerly their lord Aragorn.

The company filed into the Great Hall of Minas Tirith, the Rangers clad in grey-green and the Galadhrim Elves in shimmering cloaks that caught the sunlight slanting in the high windows and seemed now grey, now blue and now green. The Company had been fortunate during the last battle and although many of their number had been wounded none had been slain.

When all were assembled their leaders Crionna and Callanach stepped forward, bowed to the King and presented him with their black banner.

Only this was not the torn and singed flag that had flown above them on the field of battle. It had been repaired and cleaned and lined with black silk and on it was now embroidered in silver the white tree and stars of Gondor, all surmounted with a golden crown. Aragorn rose to receive it, and bowed in his turn. Then he spoke;

‘Rangers and Elves of the Black Company, you have served me well, once as your lord in Arnor, and then as your king in Gondor. Whatever you wish to do in this time of peace, I give you leave. Yet tell me what your hearts desire.’

There was a moment’s silence, then Callanach stepped forward and bowed. Half turning to his men he said to the King;
‘Lord Elessar, we thank you for your generosity. You above all know our story, and that we have long striven to rise above a heavy burden of ill fortune and revenge. But now in this time of peace we believe that we have put our dark past behind us. Some of us now yearn for our Northern homeland, and will if you permit it they will return to Arnor, there to oversee the rebuilding of our ancient kingdom. The Galadhrim of the Black Company will also return to their home in Lorien ...’

Here Callanach paused and looked at Liofa, Crionna and the leader of the Elves, Rosc. Then he said;
‘...others for their own reasons wish to stay in Gondor, at least for now...’

Gimli leaned forward, his bushy eyebrows knit together in concentration. His thick, gnarled fingers made an adjustment with surprising delicacy to a tiny silver fastening on a metal finger, then he sat back and blew out his cheeks with relief and satisfaction.

‘My Lord Rosc, leader of the Galadhrim of the Black Company....’ he said solemnly ‘..I wish to present you with your right hand, only now it is not made of flesh and blood, but of silver and steel. Such did I promise to make for you, and we Dwarves keep our word. May it serve you well, and may you once more fill the groves of Lorien with the clear sweet music of your harp!’

Standing behind his friend Gimli, Legolas could not suppress a smile. Rosc was silent, but slowly he rose from the seat where he had sat patiently as the Dwarf had placed the new metal hand on his forearm.

The chamber in the Houses of Healing was high-ceilinged with a tall arched window through which streamed the spring sunshine, warm and full of golden motes of dust. Rosc stood bathed in the light, his hand raised, and cautiously he moved one finger, then another, and then all five. His fair, pale face broke into an expression of wonder and joy.
‘Master Gimli!’ he exclaimed. ‘When you promised to fashion a metal hand to replace that which I lost at Helm’s Deep, I was deeply grateful, for a harpist with only one hand is a poor weaver of music. But I thought then that your words were merely a gesture of kindness. Now I see that the Dwarves are indeed a people of their word, and also a race of magical skill. My silver hand will seal a bond between all the Galadhrim and Durin’s folk!’

Gimli, beaming with pleasure, bowed low. But as he gazed at the tall Elf in his bright Galadhrim armour, a shadow passed over his face and he said in a voice that was tinged with sadness;
‘In return for this gift, lord Elf, do me one favour if you please. When you once more dwell in Lorien, remember me to that fairest of all ladies in Middle Earth, the evening star of Lothlorien, Queen Galadriel. Remind her of our speech together, and thank her for her kindness to me at our first meeting...’

The Elf Rosc looked long at Gimli, seeing in his deep-set eyes the glitter of tears. Then he bowed low and replied;
‘Lord Gimli, I will remember you to my Queen, have no fear....’

Springtime in Rivendell was always beautiful, but in the year that the King returned it was fair beyond anything even the Elves could remember. Nature herself seemed to be rejoicing in the removal of the darkness of Mordor. Their hearts free of its shadow for the first time in many ages, the Elves of Lord Elrond’s household walked in the gardens or sat talking and laughing in the sunlit courtyard from which the Fellowship of the Ring had departed only a few bleak months before.

Into this sunny courtyard however on one of these spring mornings there came a dark reminder of the great war that had just ended.

The Elves were sitting talking and listening to the harp when they heard the ring of horses’ hooves under the archway through which Frodo had departed on his quest to destroy the Ring. Two white Elven steeds entered bearing the sons of Elrond, Elladan and Elrohir. Before the last battle, they had begged their father’s leave to go and fight with the army of the West, and Elrond had reluctantly given them his permission.

The news that the battle had been won and that the sons of Elrond had both survived it had of course long before reached Rivendell. But it was still a great joy for the people there to see their Princes return safely and it was some time before they realised that there were others accompanying the Elven princes; mounted on tall swift horses of Rohan were two figures clad in the grey-green cloaks and silver seven-pointed star brooches of the Rangers of the North.

One of these riders was indeed a Ranger but little more than a youth, with a lock of pure white running through his black hair and with a face aged by some great illness or trial. The other figure was no Ranger but an Elf of Mirkwood. The two riders were Callanach and Liofa.

But a third horse followed them through the archway, and as it did so a dark cloud crossed the spring sun. This horse was black and its rider was also clad all in black, a colour forever associated with Mordor. As the Elves stared, the figure raised a skeletally thin, pale hand and pushed back the hood of his cloak.

The Elves gasped and gave exclamations of horror and anger. Some even ran to collect their bows.

For the stranger was Marfach. He was known and hated by all Elves, but by the Elves of Rivendell above all the rest.

But Marfach was greatly changed from the enemy that had been so feared by the Elves. His hair, once red, was now streaked with white like the hair of Callanach beside him. His face was thin and pale but what differed most was his eyes; once red as his hair, they were now grey as the eyes of Elves or of the men of Gondor. And in those eyes there was no recognition or awareness; Marfach gazed about at the Elves of Rivendell as if he had never seen them, or any Elves, before. Certainly he saw the hatred in their eyes, but after glancing at them he listlessly returned his gaze to his bony white hand and took no further interest in where he was, or who was with him.

The Elves however were not as unconcerned; some nocked their arrows and raised their bows. But at a signal from Elrohir they halted.

‘Stay your hands, and do not fear!’ he cried. ‘You know this creature as Marfach, and you justly hate and fear him. But he is not the servant of Mordor any more; we owe him our lives, Elladan and I, for he saved us in the last battle. We have brought him to Rivendell in hopes that our father can heal and restore him. For our sakes, treat him as a guest of our house, and do him no harm.....’

There was some murmuring amongst the Elves, but at last they bowed to their prince and some stood forward to take the reins of the black horse and carefully lead him forward. Meanwhile Liofa and his friend Callanach dismounted and walked forward quietly into the courtyard.

As they did so a figure clad in blue and russet robes and wearing a silver circlet on his long black hair appeared at the top of the steps leading into the hall. All the Elves at once turned and bowed to their Lord Elrond.

The master of Rivendell swept the courtyard with his gaze, taking in the strangers, then lingered on Marfach. His face clouded for a moment, but then his glance moved to his sons, and it lightened again like a sky after storm. Descending the stone steps he held out his arms to the two princes and they in turn hurried forward to receive his embrace.

‘Elladan! Elrohir!’ Elrond cried. ‘All is well now you are returned! My heart was heavy with fear until the moment that I received news of Aragorn’s great victory. But now my eyes see you in truth, my heart knows an even greater joy! Welcome home, both of you! A great feast will be prepared for you. Come, enter again into your home....’

And Elrond again embraced his sons, and they wept with joy to see their father again. But as Elrond turned to enter the hall, Elladan hung back.

‘Father...’ he said ‘We sent you word of what befell us on the field of battle. We have brought home with us the one who saved us. We look to you to try to heal him, for we owe Marfach our lives.’

Half-turned on the steps, Elrond looked at Marfach and his face grew dark. Long ages ago he had fought against this foe, made even greater than the ordinary slaves of Mordor by the great powers he had formerly enjoyed as a lord amongst Elves favoured by Melian herself. Then Elrond shook his head; that was the past. A new age had been born with the fall of Sauron. It was for him to find some healing for those who still lived on even broken and scarred by that evil time.

Elrond said aloud to his people;
‘So be it. Take Marfach to my quarters, I will attend him there later...’
Then Elrond looked at Callanach and Liofa and his stern look softened. He smiled and said;
‘To you, our brother of Mirkwood, we extend our welcome, and to any Ranger of the North the gates of Rivendell are always open. But for those who fought at the side of my sons a special honour will always be reserved. So come, enter and take your rest. Soon a great feast will be laid and you will be our honoured guests....’

It was dark outside, and the Hall of Fire was lit with a myriad of silver lamps when Lord Elrond quietly withdrew from the feast held to honour the return of his sons. Unobserved by even the Elves he made his way down a wide cool corridor, past his lofty study to a room that had three windows looking out on the waterfall.

Turning the handle, Elrond opened the door and slipped inside.

For some moments he stood in the darkness, sensing more than hearing the headlong rush of water outside the window and the wind sighing in the trees on the valley slopes. He was aware too of the room, circular with a high vaulted ceiling and a floor of amber coloured marble. The windows had been thrown open during the day but now richly embroidered hangings kept out the chill night air. A bird cried in the darkness and memory rushed into Elrond’s mind.

He remembered the night that Frodo Baggins, the Ringbearer, had been brought to Rivendell.
‘This was where I ordered him to be taken....’ thought Elrond. ‘....that night of darkness and fear, with Gandalf ordering my people to and fro and all in chaos and uncertainty...’

And Sam. ‘I won’t forget Sam!’ thought Elrond with a smile, recalling the sturdy hobbit’s stubborn refusal to budge from his master’s side, even when the time had come for Elrond to draw out the poisoned tip of the Morgul knife that was working its way to Frodo’s heart.

‘I do believe that Sam suffered as much as Frodo that night...’ thought Elrond. The deathly pale face of Frodo and the anxious face of Sam came into his mind and the Lord of Rivendell felt a strange longing for that time. Certainly, all was dark and full of fear for what the future held, but hope shone like a star in the evening sky and amongst the folk that were with the Ringbearer, Aragorn, Merry, Pippin and later on Gimli and Legolas and Boromir, there was such loyalty and steadfast friendship as Elrond had never seen before, nor would ever see again.
‘It was our greatest hour, even if it was not our happiest....’ he thought with a sigh.
‘Nothing will ever match that time....’

Against the far wall stood a wide bed adorned with a wooden headboard carved in the shape of leaves and boughs in a pale honey coloured wood. It was the bed in which Frodo had awoken after his ordeal. Now someone else wounded by Mordor lay on the same bed; Marfach.

The ancient enemy of Elves and men no longer looked dangerous. He lay as if sleeping, his eyes closed and his face gaunt and tired, worn by long illness. Under his black cloak his frame seemed wasted to nothing. The long red dreadlocks lay on the pillow tangled and shot with grey and despite himself Elrond felt a stab of compassion, remembering what Marfach had been before Sauron had captured him.

But as Elrond gazed at him, Marfach suddenly opened his eyes and looked straight at the Elf-lord. Those eyes which had been grey were now red once more, glowing in the darkness of the room like angry coals. The blank expression on Marfach’s face was also transformed, from that of someone who had forgotten everything to that of a malevolent and all-knowing enemy. In a movement that had nothing in it of weakness and fatigue, Marfach sat up and said to Elrond in a deep grating voice that conveyed all the chilling emptiness of Mordor;

‘So Lord Elrond, we meet at last’

Elrond had always known that Sauron could not be destroyed completely. As a great power, an entity governing armies he had, perhaps, been defeated and could never take shape again. But if there was any evil in the world, any void in the fabric of Middle Earth or in the hearts of its inhabitants, there would the formless spirit of Sauron find a portal into the world.

And in the wounded shell that was Marfach, Sauron had found such a portal.

Elrond closed the door behind him and said;
‘Yes, Sauron. We meet at last.....’