The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda

Chapter 26: Marfach's Gift

The sun had just set but the sky was covered with cloud as grey as the winter sea below it. A deep inlet of rough water stretched between two rocky headlands, and on one there reared up a gaunt watchtower, ruined long ago but still crowned by a great brazier, a beacon throwing a column of baleful red light across the dark waves.

Marfach walked towards the tower, along a beaten dusty track behind the low dunes of the bay. It was cold, a biting wind piercing him to the bone. Elves do not suffer from cold and the sensation was new to Marfach. He pulled his cloak tightly round him but it did nothing to warm him. He looked back across the bare salt-bitten fields and wondered where he was. The last thing he remembered was being wounded and slaying the Haradrim champion. He started and looked down; he still had both hands…..
‘Am I in a dream?’ he thought. ‘Or am I dead?’

He climbed to the tower, every step an effort, and only looked round again when he had gained the cliff at its base. Gasping, he gazed out across the sea, and saw in the twilight a sail, as white as a swan’s wing, tacking on the dark ocean. It held a course, but seemed to come no closer. Looking down to the base of the headland, Marfach saw a long stone jetty thrown out into the sea. Tied alongside it was a ship, its sails furled and its long graceful prow rising and falling with the tide. An Elven ship….

Marfach looked back to the tower and saw a flight of broken steps ascending to a gateway. As he approached it he read over the archway in ancient runes;

‘Imigh Gan Filleadh; Saol Gan Cuimhne’; ‘To leave without returning; to live without remembering.’

An even greater coldness settled on Marfach; for him there was no departure to Valinor. This must be some dream, sent by the higher powers to torment him as he hovered between life and death. Some punishment for all he had done….he gathered what was left of his strength and hurried through the archway, past a great iron-bound door with Elvish and Dwarvish runes, and struggled up the winding staircase, up and up, until at last he staggered out onto the battlements of the ancient watchtower.

As he fought for breath, he realised the walkway along the broken wall was not empty; two figures stood at the end, just beside the great iron brazier that was the beacon, warning ships of the rocks below.

Marfach collected his thoughts and straightened up and strode across to them.

One, the tallest, turned to watch him approach. Marfach knew he was an Elf by his graceful, proud bearing and knew he was from Lórien by the silver devices embroidered on the silk border of his deep blue cloak. Marfach hesitated as he neared him; he could hope for nothing but scorn and contempt from the Elves, and expected to be driven away or even attacked by this stern, silent figure. But to his surprise, the Elf smiled at him and said;
‘I believe you are Cróga’.

Tears sprang into Marfach’s eyes; just to be named by his Elven name cut to his heart and he yearned to be what he had once been, a noble Elf, and to really be able to take ship across this grey sea….but he knew it was impossible and held back his tears and nodded and said;
‘That is my name…that was my name. Why do you call me by that which I am no longer?’
The tall Elf smiled again. Marfach noticed he had long golden hair and piercing blue eyes. Under the thick cloak he caught a glimpse of gold armour, overlapping leaves of chipped and scored brazen metal. This was a warrior Elf….
‘Whatever guilt you carry, whatever you have done, you are still an Elf’

Nothing is as great as the pain of reawakened hope. Marfach said almost angrily to the Elf;
‘Where is this place, and who are you?’
‘Don’t you know?’ asked the Elf.
Marfach stared at him and said in anguish;
‘I know this is not the Havens. Where is Cirdan, and the ships? I have no right to go there or to sail West anyway. Where am I?’

The urgent, dismayed tone of Marfach’s voice made the other figure turn. Marfach did not acknowledge him, but out of the corner of his eye he saw it was not an Elf, but a man. He wore a dark travelling cloak which was pulled up to his chin and the hood was drawn up. He regarded Marfach anxiously and wistfully with keen grey eyes fixed on the Elf’s face. The figure and seemed about to approach Marfach, but then held back….
‘Tell me where I am…..’ asked Marfach again, desolate. The tall Elf regarded him for some moments then looked out to sea.

‘You are right, this is not the Havens. And you are right to say you cannot go there, after allowing yourself to serve Sauron. This is further to the West of the Havens. This is Oileann Thiar, the Western Isle.’
Marfach’s head was aching. Was this some place where he would be left to waste for all time, in payment of his deeds? Such a fate was what he had most feared. He bowed his head. After some moments’ silence the Elf said;
‘Look up, Marfach. There is still hope.’

Marfach raised his head. He gazed at the Elf and now he noticed that his face was pale, deathly pale. On the armour there were flecks of blood. There was blood too on his lips. He smiled again, this time with great sadness.
‘Good or evil, all must quit Middle Earth. Elves to the Western Lands, men to we know not where. But for you there is no Elvenhome, because of all you have done.’

Marfach looked down to hide his grief, but the Elf went on;
‘Your last deed was to serve the King of Gondor and by that in some part you have redeemed your shame. But you will always be Sauron’s till Sauron is defeated. And more than that, you are tied to the earth now by not just the hate of Sauron but by love for those you have left behind….’

And Marfach remembered Líofa and Callanach, and looked sharply at the Elf. But he spoke no more. Marfach stepped up to him and peered into his face; there was a smudge of blood on the cheek. Marfach raised his hand and gently pulled aside the heavy cloak. He looked closer and saw the Elf was wounded; he had been run through with some broad-bladed weapon. It was a mortal wound. The Elf was dead.

Marfach retreated to the parapet and looked down at the waves boiling over the rocks far below. If he threw himself over, would he die in earnest? He looked at the Elf and asked;
‘Who are you?’
‘My name is Haldir, of Lórien’.

Marfach knew the name, and the lineage of this Galadhrim. He stared at him in astonishment and said;
‘How came you to be slain?’ The Elf shook his head and replied;
‘The alliance of men and Elves has cost us as dearly this time as it did in ages past. My time on earth is over.’
‘But what do you want of me?’ asked Marfach fearfully. Haldir gestured to the hooded man.
‘You cannot take ship to the West, but you can give up your place. Here is one whom you can allow to go in your stead….’

‘But…’ said Marfach, bewildered ‘he is a mortal man, and men cannot go over the Sea….and if I give him my place, I can never go, all my hope will be lost. I will be doomed to wander Middle Earth for all time, long after all the Elves have departed….’

Haldir did not speak for a long time. Then he said quietly;
‘It is true that men cannot go over the Sea. But the Lady Galadriel has made intervention for this one, to the very limit of her powers, for as all Elves know she is under the ban put on all the Noldorin. But she too has guilt, and wants certain things done to be undone. But even she needs an Elf to give up his place on the Ships for this man to reach the West…’

Marfach felt dizzy. He did not understand. Haldir smiled sadly and said;
‘None can say, for even to us who have left the world the future is not clear, but it is not impossible that you still may journey into the West. But not while Sauron lives. But for now, give this Man your blessing, to take your place on the ship. I will bear him with me, for he has done both great good and great evil. Your mercy will not go unnoticed….’

Marfach thought for a moment, but it did not help him. He felt lost and afraid. Then he saw the look of anxious hope on the man's face and nodded and stepped up to him. Marfach noticed he was fair after the manner of the men of Numenor, with tawny hair and grey eyes. He stared at Marfach, searching his face as if looking for an answer to his own questions. Then he bowed and reached out his hand after the manner of men. Marfach took it and the Man embraced him impulsively and said;
‘My thanks, Lord Cróga’.

Marfach bowed too, and said;
‘You have my blessing, such as it is. But before you depart, let me ask you your name.’
The Man shrugged, looked at Haldir, who nodded, and replied;
‘I am Boromir.’

With a scream of rage Síota threw himself from his horse and pulling a long black-bladed dagger from his belt he ran to where Marfach lay dying, crushed under the mighty carcass of the dead orc.

‘Stop him!’ shouted Salanda ‘Marfach won the contest! Stop him!’

Síota would have cut the Elf’s throat, but at a gesture from the judge, An Seacál, two guards lowered their pikes to prevent Síota from reaching Marfach.
‘The Red Dragon wins’ said The Jackal. ‘Living or dead, he has won the test.’

Then he turned to Síota and said
‘By giving him victory over a mightier opponent the Gods have approved what Marfach said, that only treachery lies beyond the Black Gates, and we go to slavery and our doom if we fight for Sauron.’

Síota stood almost breathless with rage. Long ago, unknown to anyone else, he had yielded to the promises of Sauron and agreed to lead his people to Mordor to serve the Dark lord. Now all his plans were dashed, and he faced the wrath of Sauron….but quickly he regained his composure. All around the chieftains of the Haradrim were watching. He had no choice, he had to obey the laws of his people…..
‘Those clans who wish to turn back to Harad may do so!’ he shouted in a voice trembling with suppressed rage. ‘The rest can continue on to Mordor and the gold and glory that Great Sauron has promised us….’

And so, after a fierce debate, upwards of a third of the Haradrim army, and with them a score of Mumakil, turned back to their own land. Among others the clans of the Salamander, the Sun, the Lion and the Jackal, persuaded by the outcome of the contest that Marfach had spoken the truth, returned to Harad, and took no further part in the War of the Ring…..