The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda

Chapter 20: The Man Who Brought Back The Sun

Síota leaned forward in the saddle, but he could no longer see Marfach, fallen under the blows of his Haradrim. He felt a fierce joy; to be the one who had slain the Dunlending, the accursed one! And yet he was glad he himself had not been the one to strike Marfach down.

Just then a chill fell on the air. The sun was dimmed, although there were no clouds in the sky. The daylight took on a strange colour, a grey-yellow hue, and it became hard to see. The Haradrim, who worshipped the sun and regulated their lives by its rhythms and seasons, looked up quickly. Shielding their eyes with their hands they saw what appeared to be a copper-coloured arc impinge on the disc of the sun.

A murmur of unease went round the great army; the warriors who had been beating Marfach stopped and fell back, gazing upward with looks of bewilderment and fear. Síota pulled off his gauntlet and raised his hand and shading his eyes he saw the dark shadow increase in size and creep inexorably across the face of the sun.

By now the whole army had seen the phenomenon and had stopped in their tracks to stare anxiously up into the sky. The Oliphaunts proceeded on but came to a halt when their way was blocked by unmoving ranks of soldiers. Then, infected by the fear of their human guides, they raised their trunks to scent the air, and trumpeted, long piercing sounds that caused the already apprehensive Haradrim to start. A horse bolted, throwing his rider, but no-one laughed or jeered, and the other mounts grew restive and pulled at their bridles.

Marfach lay on the ground curled up against the rain of blows, clutching his injured ribs, covered with dust and blood. He did not move and seemed dead, but no-one was paying any attention to him. The light had now dimmed to a colourless twilight and it seemed as if the sun would soon be totally extinguished. On many faces plain terror could be seen. Suddenly a voice shouted out;
‘It is the Dunlending! The Red Dragon is a witch! He has put a curse on the sun…’

All at once the Haradrim began talking and arguing among each other. How could anyone put the sun out? But the Dunlending was a sorcerer, he could never die…anything was possible with such sorcery. Síota, taking no chances,, ordered;
‘Pick him up! Get him on his feet!’

At once several warriors ran to lift Marfach up. Dragged back from unconsciousness he at first could not stand, but a voice hissed in his ear;
‘Stand up, Marfach! It is your only chance…..’

With great effort, and ignoring the pain of his cracked ribs, Marfach put his feet under him and stood up straight. He presented a fearsome appearance to the Haradrim, his face battered and streaked with blood, his clothes torn and dusty. But he held his head high and glanced up at the now eclipsed sun. He fought down a bitter laugh and ran the back of his hand across his mouth to wipe away the blood. The fools, the fools….then wondering who it was who had called out he looked around. Standing behind him was Salanda, the Haradrim he had fought for at the battle of the Ford.

Marfach had wondered often if Salanda had survived the battle that had almost cost him his own life. But the wily Southron mercenary had changed a great deal since then, and bore the marks of defeat and captivity. There was a fresh scar on his cheek and his hair was long and matted. He wore a golden collar which Marfach realised was a slave ring of one of the desert chieftains. Marfach went to speak to him but Salanda motioned him to silence and said in a low voice;

‘They think you put out the sun. For your own sake persuade them it is true…’

Marfach looked about him. It was now no brighter than a moonlit night. A noise was growing on all sides like that of an angry swarm of bees and Marfach had fought enough battles to know it was the sound of an army about to panic. Even those who did not think it had anything to do with Marfach were afraid. The people of Harad knew eclipses but they did not know what caused them and always took them as omens. That such a portent should occur just as their greatest army was about to enter Ithilien for a mighty war had to presage some dreadful disaster….

’Cumhacht’ shouted Marfach suddenly, raising his arms to the sky. The Haradrim all stared at him and Síota went pale with rage.
‘Cumhacht!’ he shouted again, knowing the southmen did not know this ancient tongue.
‘Ar Ais!…Taispeain ar ais!.’

The eclipse remained, and Marfach stood as still as one of the stone statues of the Kings of Gondor that still survived in Ithilien, defiled and broken but erect. His arms ached, and he did not dare look round. Blood roared in his ears, and he felt himself become dizzy. Sound faded away, and even the, pain of his wounds diminished. He seemed to be in another place, a wide terrace overlooking mountains..was it the blow on his head, or something else? Suddenly, a glowing sliver of sun appeared behind the dull disc and the air at once began to feel less chilly. A great scream went up from the army. Marfach kept his eyes closed, tears trickling down his cheeks from his scorched sight. He did not dare look round or drop his arms, but he felt, like a blind man, light and heat on his face. He began to wonder when it would be safe to rest when he was violently shoved from behind and fell to his knees.

It was Síota; he had urged his horse forward and knocked Marfach to the ground. Pandemonium seemed to have broken out in the army as daylight returned, a frenzy of relief. But when they saw Marfach thrown down a terrible silence fell.

Marfach twisted round and looked up. Síota, his features distorted with fury, glared down at him and whispered;
‘You did not put out the sun! Nor did you call it back! You do not have the power….’.
Marfach replied calmly;
‘That is not what your people think. If you kill me now you will enter Ithilien without an army….’
‘That is not true!’ hissed Síota.
‘Do you want to take such a risk?’ asked Marfach.

Síota continued to glare, but he knew Marfach was right. His face twitched violently, then moving stiffly he dismounted from his horse and stepping up to Marfach raised him from the ground, embraced him and kissed him. A savage shout rose from the army, and Haradrim rushed forward to throw their arms round Marfach and touch him, as if even by contact he could preserve them from harm. The Haradrim who had beaten him were now themselves beaten and their weapons and ornaments stripped from them.

At length Salanda forced himself through the celebrating throng and pushed them back. The Haradrim drew away and picking up their weapons fell into their ranks and began to resume their march North, breaking into a rhythmic trot and chanting. Marfach had the torn shreds of his Elven cloak pulled off and thrown away, despite his protests, and he was given a black cloak embroidered with silver and red, and necklets of Oliphaunt tusk and gold, and armlets of gold wrought like snakes. A white horse with a saddle richly decorated in black and silver and a red tasselled bridle was led up and he was helped to mount by Salanda. Seeing this, one of the black-robed generals on horseback beside Síota called out in a desert tongue Marfach could hardly understand;
‘That was my slave, Marfach! Now he is yours, I give him to you….’

As a cheer went up from those Haradrim within hearing Marfach glanced at Salanda and for just a moment the impassive face was twisted by a look of grief. Then Salanda smiled grimly and said to him;
‘Ride up to Síota, you must be seen to lead the army together…’
Marfach went to urge the horse on but felt a sudden hesitation and looking back at Salanda was aware of a feeling he had experienced only once before, at the Ford when had seen Théodred struck down…he felt pity for an enemy. Salanda saw his look and said;
‘Never fear, I will not be far away. You are no sorcerer, as these fools think. But you have some strange power that protects you….the power of the Elves, perhaps. I will not be far away from you. But remember..’
and he stood on tiptoe to speak in Marfach’s ear unheard by any other;
‘..if you fail them, or give that clawed beast a chance…’ he nodded at The Leopard. ‘they will leave you blinded and staked out in the sun to die….’

Six miles North of where the Haradrim army paused to witness the eclipse, it was seen by Faramir and his men, sheltering under a grove of cedars, their eyes on the great column of dust that marked the army of the south.

When Faramir saw the sun obscured, he thought not of portents of the future but of the past, and of Gandalf. In a moment the young Prince was a boy again, back in the library of Minas Tirith with a star map of Elvish make spread out on the table, and Gandalf in his patient, kindly voice was pointing out the constellations to his pupil. The candles guttered low and the time for dinner was long past, but still Faramir drank in the learning of the Elves of old….

A crow, circling high above as it sought carrion, cried out hoarsely and called Faramir back to the present. The eclipse had passed over, but now the sun was obscured by the dust raised by the enemy host. Faramir got to his feet, beckoned his Rangers out of hiding, and moved forward into the valley of the army...