The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda

Chapter 18: Frodo's Farewell

By now it was late afternoon and the sun was dipping behind the misty peaks of the White Mountains. Gollum woke with a snort and looked at the two hobbits dozing in the shade of the pines, with Marfach keeping watch, gazing out across the bleak land towards Ithilien, but with his mind on Mordor.

‘Silly hobbitses! Must be getting on!’ hissed Gollum pointing to the sun ‘White Face will soon be gone, then orcses come!’

Frodo sat up and rubbed his eyes. Marfach said;
‘Your guide is right. As soon as it is dark this land will be overrun with the creatures of the Black Land. You had better hurry on to your destination….’
‘Frodo looked at him sharply and Marfach added calmly;
‘..wherever that may be.’

Frodo seemed uneasy and Sam fingered the hilt of his sword. Marfach got to his feet and came over and stood in front of them. They were aware of his great height and Frodo noticed for the first time that his ancient chain mail was torn at the shoulder as if by a sword thrust, and there was dried blood on the iron links. The hobbit started when Marfach said softly;
‘I have told you my story, but you have not told me yours..’ There was an uncomfortable silence. Frodo looked up at Marfach and said simply.
‘We are just two travellers and their guide passing through to Ithilien….’

Marfach interrupted him with a loud laugh.
‘This is no country for a light-hearted ramble! Even if you avoid orcs the Men of Ithilien exact a heavy toll from travellers here; it is death to venture into Ithilien...’

Frodo went pale, and Sam muttered angrily. Gollum looked from one to the other, his great watery blue eyes like saucers of light, full of fear. Marfach stopped laughing and said quietly;
‘Do not fret, hobbits. I will not force you to tell me anything you do not wish to tell me.’

Then Marfach knelt down in order to bring himself level with Frodo and looking earnestly into the hobbit’s face he said;.
‘I can guess much already, things you cannot hide from one who knows the work of Sauron as well as I do.’ Frodo felt his blood grow cold. Marfach went on;
‘You are not simple travellers. Only one with a desperate errand would venture into such a dangerous land as this, and with such a doubtful guide…’
And here Marfach glanced sternly at Gollum, who went to protest but Marfach’s withering gaze struck him silent. Then Marfach glanced at Frodo’s hand, which had instinctively gone to his chest as if to guard something worn round his neck. He said;
‘You bear something, a treasure or perhaps a burden, which you fear to show me or to tell me about…’

By now Frodo was unable to conceal his alarm. But Marfach held up a hand and said in a gentle voice.
‘Be easy, Frodo. I have my own burden; I do not want to take on yours too.’ Frodo did not relax, and Marfach went on;
‘You carry with you the light of Earendil, the star most beloved of the Elves. That light called me back to life. Only one high in the favour of the Elves could bear such a treasure, and for that alone I would trust you, and let you keep your secrets…’

Sam breathed a silent sigh of relief, and Frodo said simply;
‘Thank you, Marfach…’

After some moments Sam got to his feet and made a great pretence of packing up their few belongings. Without asking permission, Gollum bounded away to find something to eat. Frodo took out some lembas and said to Marfach.
‘You are welcome to share what we have, Marfach…’
Sam did not look too happy, but Marfach gave a courteous bow and they sat down and divided up a cake of lembas. But when Frodo offered Marfach his waterflask he refused, saying;
‘You will need all the water, Frodo. It is a long way to the river, and all the watercourses in between are dried up…’

This grim stranger’s solicitude for their welfare was not lost on Frodo. He finished his lembas and packed up his things then said to him.
‘Where will you go now, Marfach?’

For a moment Marfach was tempted to tell Frodo the truth. That when he saw the Haradrim scouts he remembered his vow to Aragorn, that he would rejoin the Southron army and work to betray them to the forces of Gondor. But then he would have to tell Frodo the reason he had been brought before Aragorn for trial; the many Rohirrim he had slain while in the service of Sauron, the terrible deeds he had done against men. Marfach could not do it; in Frodo he perceived such gentle courage he did not want the hobbit to hate or fear him…. He merely replied;
‘I will go north, and seek out the forces of Sauron, and hinder them as well as I can….’
Frodo gazed steadily at Marfach, then smiled. Marfach understood that Frodo knew he too had secrets he feared to reveal.…

Gollum bounded back then, his face smeared with dirt. Sam looked disgusted but said nothing. The hobbits shouldered their packs and followed Marfach across a bare land of lengthening shadows towards the Anduin.

By the time the moon rose they were on the edge of a vale of sweet-smelling ilex, bay and cedar. The river was a band of silver among the black trees. Marfach left them for a moment, scouting about in the woodland. Just as they were growing apprehensive he reappeared and said;
‘It is safe, there is no-one of orc kind or Haradrim near.’ Seeing Frodo uneasy he said;
‘I will leave you, and you can take what direction you want…’

Sam looked relieved, but Frodo seemed suddenly reluctant to part with Marfach. He said to him;
‘I do not think we will meet again, Marfach, but I owe you my thanks for guiding us here…’
Marfach bowed and smiled.
‘It is I who owe you thanks, for bringing me back from the darkness….for a little while at least..’
Frodo looked earnestly at him and said;
‘I hope you find peace. But I do not think peace is what you want…’
A dangerous gleam came into Marfach’s eye.
‘You have a keen eye, little hobbit.’ He said. ‘There is always revenge…’
Frodo nodded and replied;
‘Yes, and it will destroy you, Marfach.’ The stranger was not smiling any more. Frodo went on
‘..and it is not worthy of the Elf who is the last of the Company of Melian.’

Marfach went pale, and his face looked as if he had been struck. Sam tensed and again put his hand on his sword hilt. Gollum stared up into Marfach’s eyes, thought of something to say then decided not to. This stranger frightened him. At last Marfach said;
‘Your words cut deep, Frodo. But whatever I do, I cannot follow the Company of Melian. The door into that world has been closed to me….’
‘Perhaps you can open it again.’ Said Frodo.
Marfach shook his head but Frodo went on;
‘It was you who said you cannot help but hope.’

Marfach did not reply. He studied Frodo and thought that despite the hobbit’s words Frodo did not seem to have much hope himself. Instead there was about him an air of resignation and determination, as if he had already fought great battles but knew that even greater lay ahead. The hobbit had a pallor, and almost Elven otherworldliness that spoke of one who had been brushed by the power of Sauron, and had seen into the dark…

After a few moments Frodo hitched his pack up on his shoulders and held out his hand to him; Marfach took it, but with his left hand not with the hand that bore the Red Dragon. Sam nodded curtly. Gollum muttered to himself. Then Frodo said;
‘Farewell, Cróga…’

Marfach started on hearing his Elvish name, then smiled, bowed and said;
‘Farewell, Frodo Baggins. If you ever achieve this secret and dangerous errand of yours and come safely back, permit me to greet you as a friend.’
Marfach glanced wryly down to where his scabbard should have been and said;
‘ and if I ever bear a sword again, it will be at your service, for with the light of Earendil you woke me from a dark dream, and called me back to life….’

Frodo nodded in acknowledgement, smiling faintly. Marfach thought again how like an Elf he was, his skin pale almost to translucence.

Then with a glance over his shoulder and a wave, Frodo led Sam and Gollum into the deep shadows under the cedars. Soon they were lost to Marfach’s sight and he turned and made his way cautiously and quietly as a hunting beast of prey in the direction the Haradrim scouts had taken….