The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda

Chapter 29: Sunlight and Starlight

Marfach listened in silence as Salanda told him what happened after he had been struck down and lost his hand. When he described how the army of the Haradrim had been split because of him, and how many had returned home rather than go on to Mordor to serve Sauron, a tired smile spread over Marfach’s face. Salanda said;
‘So you kept your promise to Aragorn; will he keep his to you?’
Marfach shrugged and said;
‘That is out of my hands; I have done what he asked me to do. I trust the word of the Dunedain…’

Salanda nodded, but returned to staring gloomily at the fire. The Elf looked at him and said
‘So you stayed to take care of me, and lost your chance of gold and plunder in Gondor?’

Salanda did not reply, only threw more wood on the fire. His face was angry. Marfach smiled and Salanda looked at him and growled;
‘I don’t know what you are laughing at; it is all right for you, if the Rangers and their accursed leader, that fox Faramir, find us they will let you go but they will slay me….’

Marfach was not smiling any longer. He said;
‘I have promises to keep, Salanda; I must find either Aragorn, or reach Minas Tirith, and we may indeed encounter Faramir. But you are wrong; I owe you my life and I promise I will not let any harm come to you, if I can prevent it…’

Salanda turned and looked searchingly at Marfach. In the firelight he was serious, his pale, thin face earnest. Then Marfach said;
‘If you go on to Mordor, they will kill you. If you go home, they will kill you. All that is because of me.’
He looked away from the fire and went on;
‘We are both outcasts, Salanda. It is my intention to offer my services to Faramir. I have nothing to lose. Come with me and perhaps we both can outrun our doom…’
‘Faramir!’ said Salanda, and gave a harsh laugh. ‘He would kill me on sight, we Haradrim are his mortal foes….and anyway, what about your vow to serve Aragorn?’

After a long silence Marfach said;
‘Aragorn has taken a path I cannot follow. But I have fulfilled my promise to him, and I am free in the lands of Gondor….’
‘The men of Gondor might have something to say about that!’ snapped Salanda. Marfach nodded as if he was thinking the same thing, but replied;
‘That is their duty. Yet Aragorn is their king, for all that. But I must go to Minas Tirith for another reason…I have to offer my service to Faramir…’

Marfach stopped, thinking of his strange dream, and his promise to the shade who called himself Boromir to protect his brother…

‘You are mad!’ Salanda broke into his thoughts. ‘They will kill you, and me too if I am with you…’
Marfach sighed and lay down. He was weak from his wound and tired out by talking.
‘It is up to you’ he said. ‘Think about it and tell me tomorrow what you decide….’

Salanda wrapped himself in his cloak, put more wood on the fire and settled down to watch. But exhaustion overcame him and he fell asleep. He dreamed; in his dream he saw strange mountain peaks, with sinister winged shapes veering between him and the stars, and rearing up before him was a white tower blackened by fire….

He woke with a start; it was dawn, grey and cold, and Marfach was gone.

Salanda leaped up with a curse, and ran from the cave. He looked about wildly, fearing some treachery, but saw only the lonely braes between the wooded slopes and the riverbank. And there, on a long sandy spit running out into the water, stood Marfach.

Salanda heaved a sigh of relief, and started down to him, but stopped some distance away and stood watching …

Moving stiffly because of his maimed arm, Marfach pulled off his ancient chain mail and tunic and bending down scooped up cold clean river-water to wash the dirt and dried blood from his arms and chest. Then he waded out into the stream and put his head under water and straightened up again, flinging his red dreadlocks back over his shoulders. In the pale light Salanda could see the silver line of the long scar on his back where the Rohirrim had speared him but failed to kill him. Men of many races had tried to kill Marfach, but still he lived. Some had paid for their attempts with their own lives…

The river water seemed to revive Marfach, because he stood straighter and breathed more freely. He turned and waded back to the shore just as the rising sun broke through the bank of dark cloud that hung all the time now over the Eastern mountains. As the first rays struck the river, Marfach turned his face to catch its faint heat. He put up his uninjured hand as if in greeting and stayed for some time not moving, as if he and the sun held some silent communication…..

Then the Elf turned and Salanda saw that he had placed the sword of the dead Ranger, Ciall, on the sand beside him. He stooped and picked it up in his left hand, bowing his head briefly as if honouring the spirit of the man who had wielded it. Then he walked out onto the sand again, holding the long heavy sword out in front of him, chest high. Salanda held his breath, wondering what Marfach was doing. But then, gradually, as if his hand was learning the contours of the well-wrought hilt, he began to swing it slowly in an arc, first to the left, then to the right. Suddenly he dropped it, and Salanda jumped. But Marfach, with a wry smile, just bent down and picked it up and continued to exercise his new sword arm.

If anyone doubted that Marfach was an Elf, they had only to look at his hand; long and slender, eloquent when he gestured in speaking, elegant despite its scars, strong as the jaws of a wolf. Striking imaginary enemies, parrying imaginary attacks, swinging and slashing, Marfach learned to wield a sword all over again. By now the sun was high over the trees, and the Elf looked up and seeing the yellow orb clear in the sky, he pointed the bright blade of the Range’s sword at it and held it there for some moments, the light glinting blood-red on the steel. It seemed to Salanda that Marfach was making some silent vow….

Then he dropped the sword, and turning round he looked straight at Salanda and said;
‘Awake at last?’

Unsettled, and not a little frightened, Salanda stepped forward and said;
‘I am sorry…I fell asleep on watch..’
‘Did you dream?’ Marfach asked sharply.

Salanda remembered the blackened Tower but lowered his eyes and shook his head.
‘No’ he said. Then, as if to change the subject he remarked;
‘You recover quickly….’ Marfach looked at him with a strange glint in his eye. Despite himself, Salanda said;
‘It is not natural! Not even for an Elf, never mind a man…You must have the power of Sauron in you still…..’
Marfach shook his head
‘No!’ he replied. ‘Sauron has great power, but he cannot heal. What strength I have I get from the sunlight, the starlight, the trees and the great river. It is the strength of the Elves…’
He looked at Salanda with a dangerous smile;
‘Sauron can destroy us but he can never defeat us….’