The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda

Chapter 104:  The King's Decree

‘Callanach! Wake up!’

Someone was shaking Callanach’s shoulder violently. The young Ranger opened his eyes and saw Liofa standing over him with a pale face and he knew at once that something was terribly wrong. He pushed the coverlet aside and jumped from the bed, rubbing sleep from his eyes. In the gloom he made out the glint of his sword hilt in its scabbard hung at the end of the bed. He reached to draw it then stopped short.

‘I am in Rivendell!’ he remembered. ‘Above every place in Middle Earth I am safe here! This is Elrond’s house, where no evil can enter...’
But that was before Marfach came there.

Callanach looked at Liofa and said;
‘It is Marfach, isn’t it?’ The Elf nodded grimly.

Together they ran along the silent halls and passages of Rivendell. The torches on the walls had long gone out and even the moonlight that had shone as brightly as day had suddenly been extinguished as if by a giant hand. Callanach held back his panic and let Liofa guide him, as he had long ago lost his bearings but the Elf knew Rivendell from visits here long ago as King Thranduil’s harpist.

At last they halted and Callanach recognised the door of the room where they had left Marfach. Sleeping peacefully, as they thought. The door was open. Liofa went in first and Callanach followed, holding his breath.

Inside it was at first difficult for the Ranger to see. A great black raft of cloud had obscured the moon and plunged the room in darkness. Liofa’s eyes went immediately to the couch where Marfach had been lying and he saw that he was not there. But someone else was; Lord Elrond sat on the bed, his head bowed as he studied the great sapphire ring on his finger. He seemed not to notice that they had entered.

Elrond’s face was dark and the room was quiet, even the tumbling waterfall outside seemed to have lost its voice. Liofa broke the silence.
‘My lord, where is Marfach?’

At first Liofa thought Elrond had not heard him for he did not reply or raise his head. They waited, and just as Liofa was about to speak again Elrond looked up at them and held the ring out on the palm of his hand.

‘The Rings of power.’ he said. ‘It would have been better for all the world that they had not been made. But made they were and I possess one and I must bear it till fate decides otherwise....’

Liofa and Callanach exchanged anxious glances. Cal looked at the open window, and the wide marble balcony beyond. Seeing his look Elrond said;
‘Marfach, possessed by the spirit of Sauron, tried to take this ring from me...’

Liofa and Callanach looked at him in horror. Elrond waved his hand.
‘Do not concern yourself; Sauron failed and never again will he attempt such a trial of me, or of any of the remaining ring bearers. Marfach has returned to himself but also to the realisation of what he attempted to do. He wished to prevent any further return of Sauron into this world...he sought to take his own life. ’
‘He is dead?’ cried Callanach.

Elrond shook his head slowly.
‘No, he is not.’ he said at length. ‘I prevented it.....’

There was a room high in the Tower of Ecthelion used in former times by Denethor as a private study. There the Steward would study papers and draft letters, then hand them to the scribes to copy for sealing and forwarding to the far reaches of the Kingdom of Gondor. The room was small but high and airy, with a tall window that looked out over the city. The people called it Denethor’s Seat.

Aragorn, now King Elessar, soon emulated the Stewards and took the room as his study. When tired from reading, he would push back his chair and look out at the steep levels of the fair white city and the plains beyond, and beyond those again the river Anduin like a shining serpent in the distance. Closer to hand, Aragorn could see the high terraces of the palace. On this late summer morning he raised his head suddenly when he caught sight of a flash of silver-blue; it was Arwen’s shimmering silken robe flowing out behind her as she walked slowly along the terrace, pausing now and then to smell the roses growing in stone containers along the walls.

Arwen had her back to the window but Aragorn knew she was aware he was watching her. The wind snatched at her long dark hair and it streamed out in the warm breeze.

Aragorn smiled to himself but then his smile faded. Arwen often walked along this terrace and looked out towards the North and the King wondered was she homesick for Rivendell and the cool Northern forests. Summer was waning and soon the roads north would be rimed with the first frosts and the forests would turn to fire and gold. It would be that time of year when the Fellowship had set forth on their quest. Even Aragorn, deep in matters of state, felt the pull of memory and a longing for the first snows of Arnor. How much more would Arwen miss them?

Aragorn sighed and looked down at the letter on his desk. The seal of Elrond was attached to it. Not for the first or even the last time King Elessar missed the counsel of Gandalf the White.....

Aragorn’s thoughts were interrupted by a soft rap on the door. He hid the letter under other papers and called ‘Enter!’

A fair face with a sleek head of long golden hair peered round the door. Aragorn smiled and got to his feet at once.
‘Legolas! Mellon...!’
They embraced and Aragorn wondered how his old friend had once again slipped past his guards. As a Companion of the King Legolas had of course the right to audience, but still....the Citadel Guards hated to be made look foolish. But Aragorn was too glad to see his old friend to bother with such details and he indicated to Legolas to sit.
‘You are still in Minas Tirith?’ he asked the Elf. ‘I thought you were bound for the North, journeying with Gimli.’

Legolas’s smile faded slightly. He nodded.
‘Indeed we intended to leave last night. But then I heard of the letter from Elrond.....’

Legolas glanced at Aragorn’s papers, and the King sighed. He would not be able to keep Elrond’s news from Legolas, who knew all that happened in Rivendell, and Mirkwood too.

The King turned and walked slowly to the window and looked out over the city. He noticed that Arwen was gone and the sunny terrace was falling into shadow as evening drew on.

‘We have had a lucky escape, Legolas.’ he said in a low voice. ‘If Sauron had succeeded in acquiring Elrond’s ring, who knows what would have happened? All we have striven for was placed in terrible danger....’
Legolas did not reply and Aragorn turned to face him.
‘Marfach kept his word to me and it was my intention to keep my promise to him and pardon him. But now I see he will always be a threat. I can’t kill him, but I can’t let him go free...’
Aragorn glanced at the Elf and added;
‘I know you have always hated him, for what he is and for his treason to the Elves. Legolas, Marfach is all too easy to hate.....’

Legolas raised a hand as if to ask the King to stop.
‘Aragorn....lord King Elessar..’ he said. ‘ speak truly when you say I have always hated Marfach, killer of men and betrayer of Elves. But the world has changed. Once I could not have imagined a time when my dearest friend would be a dwarf, the race most despised of the Elves. Aragorn, after all I have seen in this war and after all he has done to try to redeem himself, I have no hatred left for Marfach.’

Aragorn stared at Legolas in astonishment but the Elf merely smiled.
‘The world is not as it was, Elessar. I know that if you let Marfach go you will find no rest wondering if your kingdom is safe. And yet I know you are not a tyrant who would kill one whom you promised to pardon. Especially one who has tried so hard to come back from darkness into light.’

Aragorn was looking at Legolas with his head on one side. Legolas smiled again and said;
‘Allow me to suggest a compromise.....’

The day after the first storm of autumn had covered the woodland paths with leaves, a fine bay horse entered the gate of Rivendell and its rider, a young Ranger, slid from the saddle and announced to the astonished Elves;
‘My name is Fior and I am the King’s herald. I seek an audience with Lord Elrond!’

The Elves of Rivendell had never seen so young a Ranger, except in those long ago days when the boy Aragorn had dwelt under their roof. But this youngster bore on his green cloak a badge with a white tree and stars, and above them a winged crown. By that emblem the Elves knew he was a royal herald of Gondor and at once they ushered him into the presence of the lord of Rivendell. Fior walked with slow, dignified steps, feeling relieved that the Elves had not questioned him too closely. For despite his brave bearing this was his first errand as royal messenger and inside he was quaking with fear.

Fior had been one of the Black Company who had left Minas Tirith to return North, because they missed their homeland of Arnor. It was Fior’s intention to assist the new governor of Arnor, Teagar and his scribe An Bruadar, in re-establishing the Northern Kingdom and administering the King’s law there.

But the incident during their journey north, when An Bruadar had had his terrifying dream encounter with Marfach, had changed Fior’s mind. An Bruadar had eventually woken up and after several days when he did not even recognise his friends, he recovered and they continued their journey north.

On reaching his home in Arnor however Fior was unable to settle down. He was haunted by the events of the war and especially by his memory of the Galadhrim Elves at the battle of Helm’s Deep. He could not forget Dearfa, the Elf whom he had led from the battlefield but who had later been slain when he had pursued Marfach into Ithilien.

‘What will we do about Fior?’ Teagar had asked An Bruadar. ‘He is not happy here...’
‘Send him back to Minas Tirith as royal herald.’ replied An Bruadar at once. ‘We need a messenger, and he will be kept busy travelling to and fro. For his heart is not in the North where he thought it was. It is with his friend the Elf who was slain. For Fior, the war is not over. He must journey further to find peace.....’

Fior was ushered into the presence of Elrond, to whom he gave letters from the King. The Elf lord indicated that Fior should sit while he read them. Elrond's face showed surprise and he put down the letters and looked at the young Ranger.
‘Do you know what is in these letters?’
Fior hesitated then nodded.
‘Aragorn....sorry, King Elessar told me when he gave me this errand...’ he replied anxiously. The Elf lord nodded and said;
‘Well then you should be the one to tell Marfach what the King has decided for him and for Liofa and Callanach as well, for it seems they must share his fate. You will find them on the terrace overlooking the waterfall...’

The autumn sun cast a pale golden light on the wide river terrace and a chilly wind from the north chased a drift of fallen leaves across the marble flagstones. Looking out over the river were two figures that Fior remembered, Liofa and Callanach. Sitting apart was another figure that Fior also recognised. He gave a slight start; it was Marfach.

The young Ranger had seen Marfach in Minas Tirith after the battle of the Pelennor. Then he had vanished, escaping from the city on his own errand. Fior remembered his long red hair and strange red eyes, but the figure on Elrond’s terrace was greatly changed from the creature Fior had seen in Minas Tirith.

Marfach’s tall frame was slightly bowed, as if by a great burden. The red, dreadlocked hair, streaked with silver after his battle in Mordor, was now pure, shining white and he wore it combed smooth and tied back with a circlet of adamant studded with tiny diamonds. His red eyes had turned dark grey, like a Northern sky heavy with snow and his rusty Elven mail had been replaced by a long robe of shimmering dark blue silk that caught the light with every movement of his powerful frame. A silver belt set with amethysts encircled his lean waist and silver stars were sewn into the black cloak that was thrown about his shoulders against the autumn chill, a reminder of his recent wounding and illness.

Fior stared in astonishment for in his dress and bearing Marfach had once again become the Elven prince he had been before Sauron captured him.

‘You are Fior’ said Marfach in a quiet voice. The young Ranger felt a chill in his heart; how had Marfach known who he was? Elrond’s people must have told him, he assured himself. Then Marfach said something that no-one but Fior could have known;
‘I am the one who slew your friend Dearfa, the Galadhrim Elf you led from Helm’s Deep. I am sorry, Fior.’

And Marfach raised his arms and Fior saw that he had lost a hand, but that a tattoo of a Red Dragon snaked along the back of the one remaining. Rising to his feet and stretching out his one hand to Fior Marfach said;

‘I could tell you that I did not wish to kill Dearfa. I could tell you that when he pursued me I did my utmost to elude him and avoid a confrontation. I could tell you that he found me and in the end I had to kill him or be slain myself. But such excuses are of no worth. We are accountable for what we do and I am guilty of his death and if you wish to take your revenge, Ranger, strike now. I would not blame you, and you will not be punished...’

Fior stared at Marfach and despite himself he grasped the hilt of his sword. Suddenly and without warning a great wave of rage and hatred swept over him, drowning out every thought except that of Dearfa the slain elf and the other friends he had lost in the war. Fior thought too of the home that could never be home again and he knew that standing before him was one of those who had wrought all this evil. He wanted to kill Marfach more than anything else in the world.....then as quickly as it had come the feeling passed and Fior shook as if he had taken a great blow in battle. His heart raced and he dashed tears from his eyes. At the end of the terrace Callanach and Liofa watched silently, making no move to intervene.

A cold that had nothing to do with the autumn day had taken hold of Fior and there were ashes in his mouth. He looked into Marfach’s grey eyes and he knew now why this creature was so feared; even now, when he was no longer evil, he was still dangerous....

‘Fior, royal herald...’ said Marfach quietly. ‘ see now why I can never be allowed to live in Gondor. Open the letter you bear and tell me what fate King Elessar has decreed for me.....’