The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda

Chapter 16: The Light of the Elves

‘Wake up, Mr. Frodo! Gollum’s gone missing again….’

Frodo forced himself to open his eyes and look about. It was late morning, and he was dazzled by the winter sun that shone through the pines under which they had sheltered for the night. How late it was! Frodo groaned to himself; he had taken the last guard, and had fallen asleep! He had placed them in great danger…

But Sam did not scold his master; when he had woken up to find Frodo in a deep sleep instead of keeping watch, he had just pulled his Elven cloak closer round him, unable to bring himself to disturb Frodo’s rest.

‘Poor Mr. Frodo, he’s that worn out and tired…’ he thought to himself. And the bruises from the long fall down the scree slope before the Black Gates were still livid on his master’s arms and face. But more than that, to Sam’s devoted and attentive eye, was the pallor, the grey shadows under Frodo’s eyes, and his increasing thinness.
‘It’s not right’ Sam sniffed to himself, a tear rolling down his cheek despite his efforts not to cry. ‘a hobbit shouldn’t be so thin…’

And then he noticed Gollum was missing and he forgot his tears.
‘Drat the little beast!’ he said angrily to himself. ‘He’s taken advantage of Mr. Frodo falling asleep to sneak off….’

Sam got to his feet to look round. Beyond the pine copse they had sheltered in for the night stretched a bleak land of thin sandy soil and great patches of gorse. But it was better than the dead land before the Black Gates which they had just left. And in the distance, like a lazy silver serpent on a verdent green plain, stretched the Anduin, and Ithilien. Already it seemed to beckon them, the wind carrying the scents of its bay trees and wild thyme. There it was already spring…

‘You should not have let me sleep…’ said Frodo when Sam at last woke him up. Sam shook his head, then said, unable to keep the irritation out of his voice;
‘Gollum’s gone, Mr Frodo. He took his chance and slipped away while we were asleep….’
Sam’s face was dark with anger, but Frodo replied;
‘Well, Sam, there is no help for that. He has sworn to aid us and we have no choice but to trust him.’ Sam did not look convinced, so Frodo added;
‘If he had wanted to strangle us in our sleep, he could have done so long ago…’

Just then, as if summoned, Gollum appeared out of nowhere and scrambled up to where they sat under the pines. In the bright daylight his scarred scaly grey skin looked even more reptilian and his broad sickly pale face wore an ingratiating smirk. Sam asked angrily;

‘Where have you been? Why did you run off when we were asleep?’
‘Run off?’ said Gollum indignantly, looking at Sam with mock offence.
‘I was just finding a path for masters, not running off. And poor Sméagol is hungry, yess we is. Long ways yet to the river and nice fisshes….’
And Gollum cast out a long scrawny arm towards the distant line of the Anduin.

Sam glared at him, hardly placated. But Gollum’s hands and face were dabbed with chalky soil, so his story about hunting for food might be true. Then Gollum said;
‘But Sméagol finds strange things, orc burials, yess we did, so we went no further, but came back to warn nice master….’
‘Orc burial?’ said Sam suspiciously. ‘What are you talking about?’

Frodo had been half listening as he got to his feet and prepared for their day’s march. Now he listened intently.
‘Yess…’ said Gollum ‘orcs buried their dead, across there, under a great fallen tree….’

Sam and Frodo followed the line of Gollum’s arm to a stand of trees about a quarter of a mile away.

‘Show me.’ Said Frodo.

Sam did not like this one bit, but he followed Gollum as he led them to a deep ditch covered with branches fallen off a lighten-struck larch tree. The two hobbits stared into the tangle of boughs and Gollum said;
‘Down there, an orc who looks like a man!’
‘How did you find him?’ asked Sam suspiciously. Gollum did not reply. Sam said in disgust;
‘You were looking for something to eat, weren’t you? You would even dig up dead bodies and eat them, you filthy creature!’

Gollum began to exclaim noisily, waving his webbed hands, but Frodo silenced both him and Sam with a raised hand. He said in a quiet voice;
‘Take me down to him.’
‘Mr Frodo’ protested Sam ‘I think we should leave this place….’

The deserted hollow did indeed have an eerie quality, made more ghostly by the thin wind keening in the pines. But Frodo was determined, out of some impulse he could not explain even to himself.
‘It will be all right, Sam. I want to see this….’

Reluctantly, Sam followed Gollum and Frodo as they began to climb and slide down the sandy slope. At the bottom Gollum pushed aside a thick layer of dead branches to reveal a body lying on its side as if it had been thrown down the slope.

Sam drew his sword, but Frodo left his sheathed and stepped closer to get a better look.

It seemed to be a Dunlending, or one of the wild tribes of the mountains. He was tall and lean, almost emaciated in his ancient mail shirt. He had long red braids and on the back of one outstretched hand was tattooed a red dragon. Frodo peered closely at it and from behind him he heard Gollum say;
‘That is His sign, the Dark Lord. Like the Eye, he gives it to his servants to mark them out….’.

Frodo nodded but said nothing. He drew out Sting and looked at the blade; it did not glow blue, but remained dark, the sunlight playing on the fine steel. Frodo sheathed it again. Then something caught his eye and he looked closer; the creature, whatever he was, wore a cloak of some material like to the Elven cloaks Frodo and all the Fellowship had been given in Lothlórien. Frodo put out a hand to finger the cloth. There was no doubt; it was an Elven cloak.

Taking his hand away Frodo brushed the cold stiff body, and suddenly the eyes opened and looked straight into the hobbit’s.

Frodo gave a cry of horror and started back, but the creature shot out a lean scarred hand to seize his throat. The hobbit however was too quick for him and the fist clamped on the front of Frodo’s waistcoat and held him with an iron grip.

Gollum gave a screech of terror and bounded out of the pit and disappeared. Sam shouted at the creature and leaped forward, his sword held out before him. He placed the tip at its throat and growled;
‘Let him go, or I will slay you, whatever you are….’

The creature let go of Frodo then sat up and looked around. The hobbits saw he had fair skin under a fine tracery of scars, and clear grey eyes, startlingly like those of the Elves. As Frodo backed away and Sam watched apprehensively, he slowly and stiffly got to his feet and stood unsteadily, gazing around and then down at the two hobbits. Sam raised his sword and said threateningly;
‘Don’t touch him! Nor me neither for that matter! And who are you….?’

In response Marfach stared at Sam as if seeing him for the first time. Sam bristled but Frodo saw the look of strangeness in the creature’s eyes and asked simply;
‘Who are you? And why did the orcs bury you?’
‘Because I was dead’ said Marfach in a deep, quiet voice, slightly musical and wistful. Sam frowned and shook his head but Frodo, on an impulse he could not explain reached into his pocket and drew out the Starglass given to him by Galadriel.

Marfach gazed in astonishment at the glass phial shining through the hobbit's fingers, his eyes fixed on it as if drawing some strange power from its light. At last Frodo put it back in his pocket and said again;
‘Who are you?’
‘I am Marfach’ replied the stranger. ‘and I used to be an Elf…’

At this Sam burst out;
‘You’re a servant of the Dark Lord and an orc!’ and he raised his sword as if to defend Frodo. But the stranger without acknowledging Sam’s words turned and walked slowly over to the hobbit, who took several steps backwards. The creature was almost twice Sam’s height and powerful even if lean and starved. He said to Sam in a kindly voice;
‘Why not put the sword down, little friend? Or if not, use it!’

Sam wavered. Frodo was watching him. At length Marfach said;
‘Do you really think your Elven toothpick would stop me?’

At that Sam looked up at the tall fierce warrior clad in ancient chain mail and long red braids and had to admit to himself that he could not fight off this foe even if he had no weapons. Nor strangely did he have any desire to strike him. As he wavered Marfach said in a quiet voice;
‘You know who I am now, but who are you? I can see you are hobbits, but what are you doing on the borders of Ithilien?’

Frodo was listening keenly. He said;
‘You have met our kind before?’ Marfach nodded, and added sadly.. ‘In former times I journeyed to every corner of Middle Earth, and to Bree, where I met hobbits.’ He paused while Sam and Frodo took this in, then added;
‘Such service as I can lend you little travellers I here offer’ And he bowed as low as his weakness would allow.

The creature, Elf or orc or whatever it was, seemed despite his height and wiry frame to be frail and sick, and Frodo could well understand why the orcs had abandoned him for dead. But remembering his manners he bowed in response to Marfach and said;
‘My thanks. I am Frodo son of Drogo and I am at your service and that of your family’. There was the slight ring of a sword being sheathed and Frodo said;
‘And this is Samwise Gamgee, my gardener…’
Marfach bowed solemnly to Sam, who looked uncomfortable, but returned the courtesy. After a few moments Frodo, eyeing the swaying figure, said;
‘Why not let us help you out of this pit, and you may share some of our breakfast, such as we have to spare?’

They climbed slowly out of the ravine and Marfach sat wearily down under the pines. Frodo offered him some lembas, watching him out of the corner of his eye. Marfach picked it up and said;
‘Waybread!’ and took an eager bite. Frodo winked at Sam and Marfach caught the glance.
‘Testing me, were you?’ He said with an amused grin. Frodo blushed but Marfach went on;
‘I don’t blame you, Frodo, encountering a fearsome stranger in the wilds. I am an Elf, but not so long ago I was nothing, just a slave of Sauron.’ Sam put a hand to his sword hilt but Marfach stopped him.
‘Nay, Samwise Gamgee, I am no longer under his spell. By the power of the Elves and the light of Earendil…’ and he nodded to the pocket where Frodo kept the star-glass ‘I have been saved.’

There was a few minutes silence, then Marfach went on; ‘But the power of the Elves is also on you, Frodo son of Drogo’ Frodo looked up at him and Marfach added
’..for you were able to wake me from my sleep of death…’

Frodo would have replied but just at that moment Gollum, who had disappeared when Marfach woke up, bounded up to their side and shrieked;

‘Orcses! They are coming back….!’