The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda

Chapter 15: The Wings of Sauron

Orcs do not bury their dead, they merely hide them lest their carcasses give them away to Men or Elves. So when Greim at last was satisfied that Marfac was dead, and not playing some Elvish trick on him, he looked about for somewhere to conceal the body.

They had left the banks of the river and entered a bleak tract of land that ran between the fragrant valley of Ithilien and the Mountains of Shadow. The ground had become dry and barren, with pine groves on sandy outcrops and great sprawling banks of gorse. It was now late morning and the orcs were weakening in the bright winter sunshine. There was no point wasting what strength they had left hauling a dead Elf any further. The Eye could hardly punish them for leaving a corpse behind….

Greim raised his blunt snout and smelled the air, and swept the bleak land with his keen sight. Orcs saw only in shades of grey, without colour, and they could not detect the sweet scents of warmed leaf and flower. They only smelled the blood of living beings, Elves or Men. Now Greim searched for the scent of his enemies but detected nothing; they had left the Rangers of Ithilien and their stern prince Faramir safely behind them. Greim snorted with satisfaction and turned to where Marfach lay.

Elves were so tricksy, you could never tell when they were pretending. He bent over Marfach and examined his face. It was grey-white and the closed eyes were sunken, the lips bloodless. The long red braids were torn and sullied with river mud and the body had already grown cold and stiff. Greim pondered burning it, just to be sure, but the smoke would give them away. Why not cut off a hand or an ear, to show Sauron the traitor was dead? Greim drew his long sharp black dagger but then paused; orcs hated Elves but they feared them too. Some magic might be unleashed if he mutilated the Elf. Better just to hide him and leave him to rot…

In a sheltered grove of trees a great larch had been torn down by a storm some winters past. Its branches were now bare and grey, strewn about the sandy ground. At their leader’s command the orcs dragged Marfach by the hem of his Elvish cloak to the edge of a ravine and tipped him in. Then they gathered dead branches and threw them into the pit to cover him, taking care not to cut or break anything lest the keen eyes of Men saw the marks and followed them.

Then, tired by even so little exertion in the daylight the orcs hurried on towards the East and Mordor. Greim followed, only once turning to look back at the burial mound of branches. For some reason a cold feeling came over his animal heart. He shook it off and loped on after his orcs….

As each heartbeat came more slowly and the power Sauron had given Marfach drained away he remembered for the first time all that had befallen him on the day he had been taken….

In all the army of Gil-galad there was no Elf fairer or more brave than Cróga, pale-skinned and grey-eyed, tall and straight and slender as the spear he bore. His long dark hair fell onto his shoulders and on his bright gilded armour he bore the leaf and flower emblem of Melian, for he and his brother Elves had vowed their company to the honour of this Maia, guardian of trees and patroness of poetry and music. Her blue banner flew over their heads as they awaited battle with the armies of Mordor.

And under her banner the Company of Melian were all either slain or taken.

Cróga like all Elves did not need speech to talk to his brother Elves. So when he awoke on the smouldering battlefield and found his friends gone he knew in an instant they had been taken by Sauron and he determined to follow them. It was no less than folly, for what could he do against the hosts of Mordor? But his heart ruled his head, and he ran on, through the dense poisonous smoke, towards the dim line that marked out the army of Sauron…

But when he came up to the ranks of orcs he could not engage them in combat. They fell back, yelling insults and curses, but fending him off with their long lances when he tried to attack them. He hacked uselessly at the long black shafts but only succeeded in being drawn deeper and deeper into the army of the Dark Lord. At last he stopped to catch his breath, and saw that he was now surrounded by orcs, hundreds deep, on all sides, and he could not escape.

Suddenly a great silence fell upon the host. They dropped their lances and murmured among themselves, then began to shuffle backwards. Cróga stared as a space opened up around him, wider and wider, until he was standing in a bare circle of burned ground. He stood wondering what fate the creatures of night had in store for him when a cry suddenly went up;

‘Scréadach! Scáinte! The Wings of Sauron…….!’

The orcs were looking up so Cróga turned and looked up too. For a moment he did not comprehend what he saw; two winged shapes, black against the low poisoned clouds, sweeping in from the East. But then with cries of terror the orcs suddenly broke and ran, and he found himself quite alone on the burned moor. He watched the orcs flee then looked again at the skies, and threw himself flat on the ground as one black shape swooped down upon him, talons outstretched, and almost crashed into him. As it flew past him, screaming in rage, he saw what had frightened off the orcs….

The two winged creatures, called the Wings of Sauron, were Scréadach and Scáinte, Screamer and Carrion-Eater. As they passed over Cróga he saw them more closely, and caught their foul stench. Eyes watering he wondered what manner of bird or beast they were. Larger than an eagle, even one of the great eagles of the mountains, they had no feathers, rather grey scaly skin, blotched with sores and luminous with putrefaction, and webbed wings like giant bats. At the end of long thin necks their heads were triangular and
crested with sharp spines, and their eyes were like the eyes of dragons, fiery yellow, keen and full of cunning. Curled close to their foul bodies their talons were hooked like scimitars, long and black. Although they flew, in circles high above him, their gaze never left Cróga and the Elf knew they intended to attack only him…

Cróga took a firm grip on his sword, and looked around. The orcs were far away, but still surrounding him. He could not escape, he had to fight. He whispered a prayer to Melian, and for a brief moment on the burned land he had a glimpse of a green forest glade. Then the vision faded and he saw the two winged monsters sweeping down towards him from different directions, and he stood ready on guard…

Scréadach The Screamer attacked first and as Cróga swung his sword in both hands he was deafened by a piercing shriek that nearly sent his stroke awry. But he kept his nerve and as a great talon reached out of the air to rend him he drove the tip of his Elven blade upwards into the foul grey hide and for one wild moment he thought he had pierced the creature’s heart. But to his horror the bright steel scraped away across the dark hide leaving a trail of sparks and Cróga realised that the beast’s scaly skin was as hard as a warrior’s armour, and as impenetrable.

The Elf paused to regain his balance and bring up his sword again. But in that moment of unreadiness the other winged creature, Scáinte, Eater of the Dead, hunting in unison with its deadly partner, flew straight out of the grey-black sky and collided with the Elf, knocking his sword from his hand and flinging him to the blackened ground.

Cróga scrambled to his feet but it was too late. The first monster, Scréadach, had wheeled and dived and as the Elf got up it crashed into him like a hawk into a heron and transfixing him with its long curved claws it snatched him from the ground and bore him up into the smoke-filled air…

Cróga let out a scream of pain as the crooked talons embedded themselves deeply in his shoulder and side. He felt their poison enter his blood and his senses swam. But he was kept awake by the rushing of the cold wind, and looking down he saw spread out below him the whole battlefield, the ranks of Men and Elves and the banners of Gil-galad the Elven-king and Isildur, King of Gondor. He saw too the armies of Sauron, dark rank upon dark rank under their black flags, stretching back into the mist towards Mordor. Then everything grew smaller and smaller, and instinctively he clutched the very talons that held him. As he did so he heard a voice, ghostly and cold, say with a laugh like a death rattle;

‘Scaoil é. Let him go!’

And with a long wailing shriek Scréadach opened its claws and released Cróga to fall to the ground…

Galadriel left her Mirror, now dark and without image or reflection, and silently ascended the mossy steps to her bower. She sat down on her silver throne and drew her grey hood over her bright hair and mithril diadem. Then she bowed her head and for a long time did not move, but the great Elven-ring Nenya glowed with white fire on her hand.

Towards dawn its fire faded, and the Queen put back her hood and looking up saw the stars begin to pale.
'I too begin to fade' she thought. 'I am weary of grief and loss...'
Then she smiled.
'Why have I worn out my strength trying to save this one Elf, when so many are in peril?' she wondered. Then she remembered Frodo, and thought;

'We cannot save many, but perhaps we can save one and by that our loss may be redeemed. And this Elf was once beloved....'