The Dragon and the Fox
Chapter 17: Lord of the Flies
Sam and Frodo sprang up and grabbed their packs, but Marfach stopped them.
‘Wait!’ he said. ‘Do not run on blindly into danger. This is open
country, if these are indeed orcs they will soon see you and catch you.
Stay in this wood. They don’t know you are here and might just go past
without stopping to search it….’
The hobbits looked uncertainly at each other, not yet wholly trusting Marfach. He turned to Gollum and said sternly;
‘Let me see these orcs…..’
Gollum looked annoyed at being doubted but Marfach walked towards him
and he shrank before the tall gaunt figure with the pale face and
fierce eyes. He turned and scuttled off and Marfach, no stranger to
hiding and hunting, followed stealthily.
Gollum led Marfach along a dry stream bed. The winter had been so arid
the water was only a trickle over stones at the bottom and the slopes
of the watercourse were clothed with thorns. They dropped down onto
their hands and knees to crawl up to the lip of the ravine and peered
The sun by now was high overhead, and in the strong light Marfach saw
two figures in dusty black loping across the bare plain, looking
cautiously about as they ran.
‘They are no orcs..’ murmured Marfach to himself. ‘They are Haradrim…’
They were Southron scouts, clad in long black and red robes and with
their faces covered with masks. Over their shoulders they carried their
short wickedly curved black bows and at their sides long scorpion
blades. Gold glinted on their belts and headscarves and the scabbards
of their swords. Of their faces only their dark eyes could be seen in a
slit in their masks. They ran swiftly, only looking from side to side
as a caution; they had not seen Marfach or Gollum or the hobbits.
Marfach crept back down the slope, followed by Gollum, sweating in the bright sun.
‘Haradrim scouts…’ said Marfach to himself. ‘But why are they going to Ithilien…?’
Gollum said defensively;
‘Looked like orcses, they did! Sméagol doesn’t know the
difference, not when the bright face shines…..’ and he squinted up at
Marfach studied Gollum for some moments. He knew a creature in thrall
to the power of the Dark when he saw one, having been one himself. But
there was something not totally evil about Gollum. And the two hobbits,
who had no evil in them, trusted him. Still, he made Marfach uneasy.
‘It doesn’t matter what they are.’ he said to Gollum. ‘As long as they
are not following us.’ And he led Gollum back to where Sam and Frodo
were in hiding.
‘Be easy’ he said to them. ‘They are not orcs, but scouts from the
South, making their way into Ithilien. But…’ and he looked out towards
the distant Anduin before continuing; ‘..this is the way all the
creatures of Mordor take to the Black Gates and the land beyond, so you
must not stay here but hurry on your way, whatever that might be…’
He saw that the hobbits did not wish to tell him where they were going.
‘There is a road that runs from the Morannen, built long ago by the men
of Gondor. I can bring you that far, and then you can go whichever way
There was a moment’s silence, then Frodo said;
‘Very well, I would be glad of your woodcraft, even though you have no sword to guard us with’
Marfach smiled ruefully, then Frodo added.
‘It is better to wait for nightfall, as the land is so open, and our
companion….’ And he indicated Gollum ‘..cannot travel well in sunlight.’
Marfach did not think a delay was wise, but nodded agreement. They rose
and went deeper into the pine copse. It was dark and cool and full of
the fragrance of sun-warmed pines. They sat down and passed their
waterflask to Marfach. As he drank Frodo suddenly asked;
‘You have told us your name, Marfach, but not who or what you are…..’
Marfach sat in silence for some time, remembering…
When he awoke at last there was no sight or sound of battle, no fire or
smoke. His last memories were of falling, a horrible sensation of the
black burning ground rushing up to meet him and the screaming of
Sauron’s ghastly winged beasts in his ears. Then only darkness.
But when he woke he was in a high, dim room with bright, burning rays
of sunshine falling through gaps in the window shutters and the sound
of sparrows scolding outside.
He sat up cautiously; his injuries had healed, and he raised a hand and
stared at it in wonder; every bone must have been crushed by the fall,
yet now he was whole.
He felt strange; something was not quite right….but before he could
think about it the shutters were thrown open and in from a bright
courtyard strode Deis and Tuar, the friends he had lost to the orcs, as
‘Still sleeping, Cróga?’ said Deis, ‘We have all been waiting for you to wake up…’
The sun dazzled Cróga but he strained to see the faces of his
friends, the Elves of the Company of Melian whom he had never thought
to see again. Behind Deis and Tuar came Duairc and Súgach, and
they stood round his couch, laughing at him.
Brushing tears of joy from his eyes Cróga got to his feet. He
swayed and the Elves caught him and steadied him with laughs and jests.
Growing accustomed to the light he gazed at his friends and saw they
were clad in fresh clothes, tunics of blue belted with silver and
cloaks of dark green. Still hardly able to believe such a happy ending
to such a deadly battle Cróga looked closely at Deis who stood
near him. The Elf’s face was fair and cheerful, his shining dark hair
bound with a silver circlet and his dark grey eyes clear and bright.
Cróga felt a surge of joy; it was no dream, his friends had been
delivered from danger….
‘Come’ said Deis. ‘take some food…’ and he handed a sword and scabbard
to Cróga, who wondered why he was offered arms. But he buckled
the weapon on and followed his friends out onto a terrace overhung with
vines. Green wooded slopes fell away in the sunlight to a lake
surrounded by flowering trees. The sight lifted Cróga’s heart
although he could not think what this place was…but the Elves gave him
no chance to question them but led him across the terrace to a long
table set with a feast. He sat down and Deis poured a goblet of wine,
and raised it to him…
The Elf began to make a speech to celebrate their recovery, but
Cróga’s attention wandered. A fly buzzed over the table and he
fixed his eyes on it, and its drone filled his ears. It was a blow-fly,
and its angry hum and blue-black glint was out of place in the beauty
and calm of this place. But the other Elves seemed not to see
it…suddenly another joined it, and after flying round the table one
lighted on the food. Cróga wanted to brush it away, but once
again the other Elves seemed not to notice. Then a sudden breeze
brought a waft of dreadful stench to Cróga’s senses. It was a
smell he knew from the war; the rotting dead.
Alarmed now, Cróga went to speak to Deis, but his eye fell on
the lake beyond the terrace. Dim in the bright sunlight he saw bodies
floating in the water. That was where the smell came from…
Cróga leaped up and turned to Deis, but his words died on his
lips. He saw now that the Elf’s face was yellow and the skin stretched
taut across the skull. But worst of all was a great gash torn in Deis’s
throat. The blood on it was dried, and at last Cróga understood;
Deis was dead.
He looked wildly round at the other Elves; they were all hollow-eyed
and sunken-cheeked. Their blue tunics hung on empty rib cages.
Cróga drew his sword in a panic, and saw it was a black blade of
Mordor, inset with beads of red enamel like drops of blood. Behind the
blue sky he heard laughter….
Enraged, Cróga seized Deis. His hand gripped empty clothes. He
saw movement under the blue silk tunic and tore it away. Where the
heart should have been was only a great black mass of insects, seething
With a yell of horror Cróga took hold of the sword with both
hands and thrust it into Deis’s chest. He staggered forward as the
blade plunged into rottenness then into nothing. A great horde of black
flies surrounded him and blinded him but he fought on, hacking and
stabbing, until he had felled all the Elves, beheading the last one,
Súgach, named for his bright and cheerful spirit.
He stepped back, weeping. For many minutes he could not look upon what
he had done, but when he at last forced himself he lowered the sword in
On the marble floor of the terrace lay his four friends, not skeletal
corpses but as they had been in life, before he had slain them.
He dropped to his knees beside Deis and took his hand. It was still
warm. The blue silk tunic was stained with blood where Cróga had
plunged his sword into his chest. Weeping, Cróga bent over and
kissed his friend on his forehead. He heard again a distant laughter,
like dry bones rattling down a rocky slope…
Brushing away his tears he got to his feet and taking the hilt of the
sword he placed the sharp tip against his ribs. He took a deep breath,
said a silent prayer to Melian and drew down all his resolve and
‘But I could not do it’ Marfach said to Frodo.’ I wanted to live, and I still do….I reckoned without the power of hope….’
Marfach stopped speaking. In the silence that followed they could hear
the wind in the pines above them and the fitful snoring of Gollum,
sleeping in the shade. Sam regarded Marfach with horror, but in Frodo’s
face there was only pity…
‘You killed all your friends….’ He said in a low voice. Marfach nodded.
‘All the Company of Melian who did not perish in the battle I slew.’ He
looked at Frodo and went on;. ‘I freed them from Sauron, but I could
not free myself. They could seek the eternal home of the elves, but I
cannot ever go there. I am doomed to remain in Middle Earth for a
lonely eternity, unless I am slain….’
He said no more. After a long pause Frodo asked;
‘Are you real, Marfach, or just an evil dream?’
Marfach looked at the hobbit and saw he had instinctively placed his
hand on his chest as if protecting something he wore round his neck. In
the greenish light of the pine grove his skin was translucent and the
fine tracery of veins and even the bones, light as a bird’s, could be
seen…. Marfach replied;
‘I am as real as you are, Frodo….’