The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda


Chapter 25: Trial By Combat


News of the fight between Marfach and An Gréad ran through the Haradrim army
like lightning. The warriors and their chieftains quickly gathered round,
marking out a wide circle on the trampled yellow grass. Marfach stood
watching them, not sure of what to do next. The Jackal said to him;
‘You must choose someone among the chiefs to be your judge, in case you are
both mortally wounded…’

Marfach did not know any of the chieftains but the Haradrim were a warrior
people and trial by combat was their highest court, so he trusted them to
honour the outcome of the contest. He asked the chieftain;
‘Will you do this, An Seacál?’

The Jackal hesitated, then nodded and removed the black scarf covering his
face. His skin was lined and weatherbeaten by the desert wind and his beard
was streaked with grey. He was clad in black and round his neck he wore an
amulet of a lion's claw set in gold. He fingered it as if to ward off evil
as he spoke to Marfach. He glanced over at An Gréad and said;
‘Your opponent has a sword and a knife, you have only a sword. Take this
dagger and you will both be equal…’

And The Jackal handed Marfach a dagger with a carved hilt. Looking down
Marfach saw it was a weapon of Gondor, captured in some ancient war. On the
pommel was a leaf and star design engraved in fine detail. Marfach
remembered Aragorn and thought to himself;
‘I have kept my word after all, Dúnedain…’

He accepted the dagger from An Seacál with a bow, glancing at Síota, who
stood at a distance watching him with an expression of undisguised hatred.
He took off his cloak and sword belt and Salanda held out his hand and said;
‘Give them to me, I will look after them….’
As Marfach handed over the cloak his eye saw that the star brooch taken from
the dead Ranger, Ciall, was still pinned to the cloth. Marfach placed his
palm on the star then on his breast, and thought to himself;
‘That debt too I will soon pay….’

He drew his sword from the scabbard but Salanda shook his head and said;
‘Your Scorpion is too light for hand to hand contest. An Gréad has an orc
scimitar, it will cleave through a slender blade like that. Take my sword,
it is heavier..…’
And Marfach looked and saw that Salanda was holding a Ranger’s sword, the
one he had taken from Ciall’s body. He frowned but Salanda forced it into
his hand with the words;
‘Take it! The dead have no further use for it. Let it avenge its master….’

Marfach unwillingly took hold of the hilt, and at once felt better armed. He
was used to wielding a Numenorean sword, and it strengthened and reassured
him. He raised and swung it and the bright sunlight flashed on the blue
steel and showed up lettering along the blade. The runes said;
‘Svae gan Díoltas’
‘Victory without revenge’

‘I hope so…’ thought Marfach. ‘Now at any rate I am armed as were the
warriors and Kings of Gondor….’

Opposite them An Gréad was pacing up and down, swinging his arms, releasing
the knots left in his muscles after so long in the saddle. He was as big as
one of Saruman’s Uruk-hai but as light on his feet as a panther. His sword
was not a crude hacking tool but a well-balanced and deadly scimitar of fine
steel. The sun shone on the oiled skin of his powerful shoulders and his
yellow eyes, set wide apart in his broad heavy skull, settled on Marfach
with a dangerous gleam. He took in his opponent’s long arms and legs and
light agile frame, weighing him up....

'He has slain many men...' whispered Salanda to him.

‘Lucky for me I am not a man, then….’ thought Marfach wryly. As if reading
his mind Salanda said;
‘It is said the Elves are great fighters…’
‘So they say’ replied Marfach with a sad smile.
‘Pray to your beloved stars they are….’ said Salanda, laying a hand on
Marfach’s shoulder as if in farewell and stepping back.

An Seacál called the two fighters together into the centre of the wide
circle of withered grass. In a voice loud enough for all the crowd to hear
he shouted;
‘This is a fight to the death to prove the truth or untruth of the words of
Marfach. Not by the first blood, but by the last, will this contest be
decided. Let no man intervene….’

And at that An Seacál nodded sharply to the two opponents and turned and
walked away. Marfach approached An Gréad and bowed to him, raising the sword
of Gondor in salute. An Gréad bared his sharp teeth in a smile, and raised
his scimitar….

Marfach circled once, then again, searching for a way through An Gréad’s
defence. He felt a sense of urgency; he did not know what strength was in
him, or if one of Sauron’s spells would suddenly render him helpless before
his attacker.

An Gréad’s glance fell on Marfach’s hand, on the mark of the Red Dragon. For
a moment he seemed to pause, as if his dull animal brain was struggling to
comprehend something, and in that moment Marfach darted in and thrust the
Ranger sword into the half-goblin’s chest.

In a move too quick even for Marfach’s eyes to follow An Gréad brought his
scimitar down in a blur of silver and it crashed onto the Ranger's sword and
forced it to the ground. Marfach dragged it back but An Gréad followed,
bounding forward like a great cat and bringing his own blade down on the Elf
’s head.

Marfach twisted aside and hooked down the scimitar with his sword, but fast
as he was he could not get out of the way of the creature’s charge and An
Gréad smote him in the chest with his leather armguard and flung him to the
ground.

Marfach was on his feet in a second but already the bright arc of An
Gréadach’s scimitar was again descending to hew him and he had to clip the
blade aside with his own and dodge backwards. But his reach was shorter than
his opponent’s and An Gréad pulled a long black dagger out of his belt and
slashed at Marfach, piercing his chain mail and opening a long wound across
his chest.

Marfach dropped to the ground, surprising his enemy and giving himself a
chance to roll out of his reach. He felt blood well up under the chain mail
and soak his tunic but he could not afford to pay any attention to it. The
crowd started to murmur; first blood was to Síota’s champion.

Watching, Salanda found his fists were clenched tight shut, sweat running
down his face. The tall Elf with his long red braids was being forced back,
ever back, by the larger and stronger half-man. It was like a bulldog
closing in on a deerhound. Also, Salanda thought Marfach seemed weary, as if
weighted down by a wound or some weakness….The crowd were calling out the
names of the fighters now and Salanda took a chance and shouted;
‘Marfach! Ar aghaid ar ais!’

Tired of parrying and falling back Marfach ran in under An Gréad’s sword and
once again attempted to skewer him with his keen Gondor sword. Once again
the longer reach of the half-goblin foiled him, and he found himself
retreating under a rain of hard blows. He had wondered at first but now he
knew it was true; he was weakening, either on account of Sauron’s spells or
because they had been removed. Sweat burned on his face and arms and he
thought; I will not win this…

Although he tried to push them away, a great many thoughts forced themselves
into his mind; Aragorn, promising him freedom in Gondor; Líofa, whom he had
left behind wounded in a cave in Isengard; Callanach, riding to war with
King Théoden….

He tried to dodge backwards to break off and attack again, but as he tired
his feet dragged and the dry tough winter grass caught his heel like a
malevolent hand and he was pitched to the ground. At once An Gréad rushed
forward with a bellow and brought his scimitar down on the fallen Elf. In a
wild heartbeat Marfach brought his sword up to parry but missed and the
scimitar continued its deadly arc downward and caught him on the wrist and
hewed off his hand.

A great shout went up from the crowd, but Marfach did not hear it; a dark
silence closed in on him as his arm went numb and his sword fell to the
ground beside him. Instinctively he clutched his maimed limb to his chest
and tried to crawl away from his attacker, who had raised his sword to
strike him again. He felt his life ebb away with the blood soaking into the
dry grass and knew he had little time left.

Seeing Marfach crippled, An Gréad made his first and last mistake. He
decided to forego a quick kill in order to torture his dying opponent. He
halted the downward swing of his scimitar and put a hand to his belt to draw
his long black knife and mutilate the Elf. With the last of his strength
Marfach tried to roll away and something sharp dug into his ribs and he put
his good hand down and felt the pommel of the dagger An Seacál had given him
and he closed his fingers round it and pulled it out and as An Gréad bent
over him he lashed out with it and buried the sharp blade of Gondor in the
creature’s throat…..

A great scream went up from the crowd and Marfach let go of the dagger and
dropped back onto the ground. His blood ran fast away into the dry sand and
above him the shape of An Gréadach loomed black against the bright sky,
wavering as it clutched the hilt of the dagger embedded in its throat. Then
the massive body crashed down on the Elf, and Marfach was plunged into
darkness….