The Dragon and the
Chapter 105: No
Story can Tell
Aragorn was right, of course. We never went back to Minas Tirith. The
last time I set foot in Gondor was the day we left it, more than forty
years ago. Now I, Callanach Steward of Harondor, have decided to set
down a chronicle of the events of those years...’’
Callanach paused and laid down his pen. In all that time, had he ever
missed his homeland? The biting North wind, the bleak fells, the silent
lakes like pieces of sky frozen on the ground....Callanach felt the
years; the white streak in his jet black hair was indistinct now. For
all was turning grey. He gazed out at the open terrace. It was after
midnight and the sky was ablaze with desert stars. Below them the
darkness was broken by the fires of nomads camping outside the city.
The scent of jasmine wafted up from the gardens and somewhere the sweet
sound of a harp threaded the silence.
Where else to begin than at the start?
‘’After we left Minas Tirith we passed through Ithilien on our way to
the land of the Haradrim, meeting no-one on our way. We thought this
was because the people of Ithilien had suffered greatly from the
inroads of the Haradrim and were unhappy that the King should now try
to make peace with them. But as we prepared to cross the shallow, rocky
ford over the river Poros Liofa held up a hand and said;
``There are armed men in the woods beyond the river; thirty at least.
They are watching us….``
We knew that Aragorn had ordered the Rangers of Ithilien to allow us
safe passage, but an ambush was always a possibility in these uncertain
times. I went to draw my sword, but Marfach stayed my hand.
``No!`` he said. ``It is Faramir….``
And with that a bay horse emerged from the trees and stepping proudly
it crossed one of the small tributary streams towards us. Its rider was
The last time I had seen the lord of Ithilien and former steward of
Gondor was when he was recuperating in the Houses of Healing. He still
looked thin and pale but now his long fair hair streamed out golden in
the sunshine and his handsome face glowed from wind and sun. He moved
quickly and with determination and as he cantered his horse up to us I
could see his grey eyes twinkling and I realised that he was glad to
see Marfach again. The former enemy of his people, for his part, sat on
his black desert pony and a smile softened his fierce features. When
they met to my great surprise Marfach leaned across and they embraced.
They talked for some time, but what was said I do not know as the sound
of the river carried their words away.....’
Marfach spoke first. ‘I did not think we would ever meet again my lord
Faramir, this side of death’
Faramir smiled and replied; ‘Nor I, Croga. It appears we have both been
spared to see another age of this Middle Earth.’
‘You, perhaps, noble prince’ said Marfach. ‘Not me. I go to my doom.’
Faramir’s smile vanished. ‘But you are free now, Marfach...’
Marfach shook his head
‘You have heard perhaps of what passed in Rivendell?’ he asked. Faramir
nodded grimly. Marfach sighed and said;
‘Elrond says I am safe, but such a one as I will never be safe. Even if
the Dark Lord never touches me again even in dream, my day is done. I
feel a winter in my blood, even so far south’ Marfach nodded towards
his entourage. ‘They do not know, but I have known since Rivendell.’
He indicated his long dreadlocked hair, once red and now silver and
smiled sadly. ‘I am dying, Faramir. Now that I am mortal, the years
held back by the power of Sauron are rushing up on me. It is my desire
not to fade away, but to die in battle. There are few places now that
can offer an eager warrior death in battle, but I am going to the one
people still anxious to provide it; the Haradrim.’
Faramir did not speak to Marfach again. He looked for a long into his
grey eyes, still tinged with red, then leaned forward in his saddle and
embraced him. And without a word the lord of Ithilien and the last
Steward of Gondor turned his red horse and slowly rode back across the
river up the bank and away into his realm without once looking back.
The Haradrim were galloping hard in their direction, their black and
grey desert ponies raising a cloud of gritty yellow dust. Marfach led
his small band towards them at no less a pace, the great dark blue
banner of Gondor flapping above them in the desert wind. Fior squinted
against the blinding sun, trying to make out details of the Haradrim.
Soon they were close enough for him to see the black armour they wore,
close fitting like the scales of a serpent, and their burnished brass
helms and the black scarves that concealed their faces. As they got
close they threw their round shining bucklers in front and lowered
their long lances and yelled their strange war cries. Fior’s mouth was
dry; would they run straight into a fight with no parley at all?
When the two groups were no more than a spear’s throw apart one of the
Haradrim spurred out in front of the others and rode athwart their
ranks, a dangerous move that made his comrades rein in sharply. They
raised their lances to set them at rest and fighting to control their
startled horses they stamped and circled to a halt. Having stopped
their charge, the solitary Haradrim warrior turned and galloped towards
Marfach watched him approach and gradually a smile spread over his
hawkish face. When the man stopped before him he said calmly;
‘I am glad you lived to see your homeland again, Salanda..’
The Southron pulled the scarf down revealing a face dark from the sun,
with a scar on his cheek and a golden ring in one ear. He showed white
teeth in a wolflike grin.
‘I can thank you for that, Marfach.’ he said in the Common Tongue,
comprehensible but strongly accented. ‘After you persuaded some of the
army to return home I was able to accompany them. All the Haradrim who
survived name you as their saviour.’
Their spears now at rest the Haradrim had their attention fixed on
Marfach and they seemed to be in awe of him. Marfach smiled and
‘Well then, that should make our task in this land easier. I am sent to
bring the King’s peace to Harondor. All who swear allegiance to the
King of Gondor will have his protection.....’
Salanda’s smile vanished. He gave a quick shake of his head and moved
his horse closer to Marfach so his words would not be heard by anyone
‘I would swear allegiance to your King here and now, Marfach. He could
not be a more vicious tyrant than Siota, who rules us now with a hand
of iron. But it is not up to me....’
‘Siota?’ said Marfach grimly.’How did that gilded vulture escape the
slaughter of the Pelennor?’
Salanda showed his teeth. ‘By the same way you escaped, I suppose.
In spite of himself Marfach laughed. Then he looked at Salanda and
‘Where is he?’
Salanda turned in his saddle and scanned the horizon. Above the level
sandy plain heat mirages wavered like images under water. Above them a
column of dust spiralled up into the brassy sky. Salanda pointed to it.
‘We are but a scouting party. That is his main army. He knew you were
in Harondor the moment you crossed the Poros. Now he is coming to meet
you. To meet you and kill you.’
Marfach took a deep breath and turned his horse away and rode aside,
beckoning to his comrades. They dismounted and Marfach said to Liofa.
‘Elf, once upon a time, before you had the misfortune to know me, you
were the harpist of the King of Mirkwood, were you not?’
Liofa frowned. He did not think his friendship with Marfach was a
misfortune, but he nodded. Marfach pointed to a bundle wrapped in cloth
of Elven weave, strapped behind Liofa’s saddle.
‘And you have brought your harp to this land, in hopes that you will
compose and once again be what you were born to be, a singer?’
Liofa did not answer at once. He was thinking back to an evening in
Rivendell when Lord Elrond summoned him to the room the Elves called
the Observatory. When Liofa entered he was surprised to see Legolas
there. He bowed his knee at once, for Legolas was the son of Thranduil,
Liofa’s king and lord. But Legolas moved to raise him up.
‘Do not kneel to me, Liofa.’ he said. ‘I am not your prince but your
Liofa straightened up, his face showing his astonishment. Legolas
smiled. He bowed to Elrond, who stood beside them and he said
‘Lord Elrond has told me that you intend to accompany Croga, or Marfach
as he once was, to the South, on the errand the King gave him.’
Legolas paused. Liofa could see he was struggling to find words, even
he, an Elf...
‘What troubles me is the hatred that I have felt for Croga.’ Legolas
said at last. ‘A hatred shared by all Elves but a hatred none the less,
and unworthy of us all. When I heard that you were going to accompany
Croga I felt....proud. But also relieved, and guilty. I wished to do
some good, to make some gesture, in return for what I have said and
done against this being who was once of our kind.’
Then Legolas turned and picked up something swathed in black silk and
handed it to Liofa.
‘This is your harp, the Black Harp you left behind in the halls of King
Thranduil. Take it with you to the south, and if your embassy is
successful, let the desert ring with the sound of Elven song. For there
can be no better healer than music....’
‘Yes...’ said Liofa hesitantly to Marfach. ‘I do indeed have my harp
Marfach abandoned his light tone and looked deep into the Elf’s eyes.
‘We have made a long journey together, Liofa my friend, but it is
coming to an end. I task you when you journey on without me to make a
song of it, for no chronicle or story can ever tell it as it was, nor
would it ever be believed.....’
The dust cloud was getting closer. Marfach nodded at Salanda who rode
back to his men and ordered them also to dismount. Then he calmly began
to unwind the long scarf that protected his head from the sun. He shook
out his long hair, silver now but still long and dreadlocked. He
unclasped his cloak and handed it to Fior.
‘Be you my squire today, young Ranger. I know you once harboured hatred
for me because I slew your friend. Well all deaths will be answered
today. Forgive me.’
Fior, open-mouthed, took Marfach’s cloak and the scabbard of his sword
that he also handed over. Then Marfach turned to Callanach and embraced
him. He stepped back and smiled.
‘I am glad it will end like this, Storm. I would have made a very poor
civil servant but you will be the first and the greatest Steward of
When the army of Siota, lord of the Haradrim, came upon them Marfach
was ready. He stood on his own with a sword of Gondor in his one hand
and a small Harad buckler strapped to his other arm. Salanda had
promised Marfach that in payment of his debt he would not take any part
in this encounter and he and his scouts did not move when their
chieftain drew up in a cloud of dust and sat on his sweat-lathered
black horse glaring at them.
‘Sons of dogs!’ he shouted at them in their own tongue. ‘Why have you
not slain him?’
And he pointed to Marfach with his whip.
Salanda got to his feet and walked slowly across to his chieftain.
Behind Siota his army, numbering several hundred horsemen, sat staring
at Marfach and muttering to each other. Salanda said in a voice loud
enough for them all to hear;
‘I will not touch the Red Dragon because he is a demon as everyone here
knows. A terrible fate awaits any who strike him and do not slay him.
If Lord Siota wishes to kill Marfach, he must do it himself...’
Uproar broke out in the army. Siota was yelling at Salanda but even he
could not make himself heard above the din of his own men. In
exasperation he reached over and yanked a war horn from one of his men
and blew a long raucous blast on it, finally bringing silence.
‘Is there not one of you here who will do his lord’s bidding?’ he
bellowed at them.
The silence deepened. The Haradrim stared coldly at their leader.
Siota, clad in gilded leaf armour and a red cloak and wearing a golden
pendant round his neck and gold rings studded with garnet on his hands
glared back in fury. Like many cruel overlords before him, like Sauron
himself, Siota was learning that a leader who rules by fear will be
defied by his people when one appears whom they fear even more.
‘They will not fight me, Siota...’ said Marfach in a calm, almost
amused voice. ‘It is for us to complete our unfinished business. Do you
not wish to avenge your champion Gread, whom I slew before the eyes of
your other army, the one you lost in Gondor?’
There was a ripple of suppressed laughter. Siota’s eyes bulged, their
whites bloodshot. He remained silent for some moments, collecting his
wits. Siota might be angry but he was no fool. Breathing hard, he spoke
in a calm voice;
‘Very well, if that is what the Haradrim wish, so be it. I will show
them what you are, Marfach; no demon but just a cripple. Your powers
are gone and you are nothing but a shell, a ghost. You will be sorry
you asked for this fight. But if it is to be, let it be!’
With quick, impatient movements Siota dismounted and began to prepare
himself for the fight. On the other side Fior approached Marfach and
offered him a flask of wine. Marfach took just a sip and handed it
back. He smiled.
‘Thank you, Fior...’
As he had done so long ago for the other contest, Salanda marked out a
wide circle in the sand. ‘Who will be the judge?’ he asked and
Callanach stepped forward.
‘I am the steward of King Elessar who outranks all here...’ Siota
opened his mouth in protest but Salanda and Liofa both spoke at once;
‘Aye; we will be seconds.’
Marfach paced the circle, glancing up at the sky. It was just after
noon, the worst time for a fight; the sun beat straight down and the
heat would sap their energy. But Marfach wanted the contest to be over
quickly; the sun would not have time to weaken them.
Siota walked forward holding a long, curved scimitar. The blade was of
fine blue steel, with a pattern like waves; a weapon of the very best
Southron make. Marfach shifted his grip on his own sword, feeling its
weight, balancing it, aware of it like a living thing, an extension of
himself. Beyond the circle the entire army held its breath and kept
silent. Even the horses made no sound....
In the end Siota attacked first, his anger getting the better of him.
Marfach parried him easily, feeling strong, but he gave ground to
Siota, feeding his rage by appearing indecisive. The Southron’s face
was glistening with sweat, not of fear but of rage. He doubled his
blows and the clang of metal on metal rang out over the desert.
Siota had the advantage as Marfach was one handed. The southerner made
full use of this, shifting his sword from hand to hand and so varying
his attack and not tiring himself. Marfach however could only parry
blows with the small targe on his left arm. He felt bruises forming on
his forearm, but schooled himself not to notice the pain. A murmuring
arose from the army; Siota was now driving Marfach before him. Once, he
stumbled and almost fell, and Siota was on him like a cat, darting the
tip of his scimitar under Marfach’s guard. It slashed through his
Gondorian mail and opened a long cut across his chest. But he sprang
back in time and the wound was not deep. But he could feel the warmth
of blood seeping through his tunic and into the links of the mail.
Marfach took a tighter grip on his sword. His palm was sweating but his
grip was firm. With his heightened senses he was aware that many in the
Haradrim army did not want him to lose, and not just because they hated
Siota. They owed Marfach their lives and in Harondor that was a debt
never to be forgotten. By some strange process, their good will
strengthened Marfach. He had to win, not just for the King but also to
deliver these people from a harsh tyrant. Marfach spoke his thoughts;
‘Why do you not yield to the King of Gondor?’ he asked. ‘You would keep
your lordship, if you would promise to be a just ruler....’
‘Death and darkness on your King!’ hissed Siota. ‘I am going to kill
you and all your rag tag band and send your heads back to Minas Tirith
in a sack...!’
And with that, enraged further and wishing only to end it, Siota sprang
forward, raining blows down on Marfach with such force that his sword
was sent spinning from his hand onto the dry ground and he was forced
down on one knee before his attacker....
A great shout went up from the Haradrim army. Fior, who had been
watching every move of the fight, leaped forward and gave a shout of
dismay. He saw Siota circle quickly then dart in and there was a flash
of steel and Marfach fell backwards onto the ground; it was over.
A great scream went up from the army. Salanda, standing beside Fior,
was saying something to himself and the young Ranger imagined that it
was some kind of prayer. Fior went to rush forward but Callanach
grabbed his arm to stop him.
‘No’ he breathed.’Wait!’
In the arena Siota was holding up his helmet and sword and shaking them
in defiance. His words were drowned out by the howling of the army.
Behind him, Marfach lay on the ground and Fior could see a great dark
stain spreading on the sand under him. He was not dead but gripping the
sword still embedded in his side. Siota shook his fist at his mutinous
army then turned to finish Marfach off. There was a terrible twisted
smile on his face. Then the smile slipped, because Marfach was smiling
Ignoring the sword thrust in his side, Marfach struggled to prop
himself up on one elbow. Then with his one hand he undid the buckle
that strapped the small shield to his arm. Gripping the heavy brass
disc in one hand he let himself fall back on the ground and swung his
good arm wide. Then he flung it forward and the targe left his hand and
flew through the air and struck the surprised Siota right between the
The army gave a great shout, and Fior shouted too. Siota staggered
backwards several steps then fell flat on the ground, blood pouring
from his broken nose. As he lay stunned Marfach sat up, disengaged the
sword from his side and rose slowly to his feet.
A deathly hush fell on the army. The whites of their eyes showing in
their dark faces, the Haradrim watched Marfach with superstitious
terror as he took slow, wavering steps towards the fallen Siota. When
he reached him he took a close grip on the scimitar which he still held
in his bloodstained hand. Siota was coming round. Dimly, through a haze
of blood, he saw Marfach standing over him and he struggled to rise.
Before he could even sit up, the scimitar descended in a great swathe,
like a sickle reaping wheat. Siota’s head leaped from his shoulders and
his torso, spouting blood, thumped back down onto the ground.
The roar of the Haradrim army sounded only dimly in Marfach’s ears. He
did not look at Siota. His sight was growing dark and he wished to look
his last at his friends. He dropped the bloody sword and turned and
just then Liofa reached him and threw his arms round him to hold him
up. Callanach was just behind him, and Fior too. Marfach could see
tears on the young Ranger’s face and he was aware that Callanach was
speaking. He put up his hand as if he would speak, but merely smiled
and closed his eyes......
The river was in full spate, its water pounding the banks beyond which
rose tall trees. Marfach stood on the edge, feeling the grass wet with
spray, and looked around him. As if waiting for a signal, a figure
emerged from the shadows of the forest and walked over to where he
Marfach stared at the man’s face; it was familiar...the man smiled and
Marfach remembered. It was Boromir. And he knew where he was....
‘You should not be here...’ Marfach said. ‘I gave you my place on a
ship into the West, that you might enter the Undying Lands...’
Boromir had reached the spot where Marfach was standing. He was clad in
a cloak trimmed with fur and wore a tunic of richly embroidered cloth.
His face was fair but pale. He spoke to Marfach
‘I have come back to be your guide’
Marfach frowned. ‘Where will you take me?’ he asked. ‘I cannot go into
Boromir replied ‘You can go wherever you desire, into the Immortal
realm or even, if you wish, you can return to Middle Earth. But if you
go back, it must not be as the creature Marfach. That life is over....’
‘Yet I may return to Middle Earth?’ asked Marfach.
Boromir smiled and nodded then turned and walked away towards the
forest. Marfach took one last look at the river and the forest beyond
then turned and followed him......