The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda

Chapter 31: The Greatest Warrior Who Ever Lived

Before Aragorn could collect his thoughts and reply, Rosc said;
‘Until morning, Lord Aragorn, when the Elves will attend you for your orders….’

And with another bow the leader of the Galadhrim turned and went back down the hall followed by his second-in-command, the Ranger An Bruadar and Dearfa his lieutenant. Seeing king Théoden standing out of respect for the Elves, the Rohirrim shuffled to their feet also, and stared curiously at them as they passed out of the great oaken door of the feast-hall, still splintered by the onslaught of the Uruk-hai.

The men of Rohan, battle-weary but elated by victory and ale wondered at the contrast between Rosc’s fair hair, gleaming in the firelight, and the long black hair and stern proud bearing of Dearfa. They wondered at the Ranger with them, who it was said could see the future in dreams and although a mortal had been made a leader of Elves.
‘You would think, to look at them..’ whispered Gamling to Éomer
‘..that they have come from a summer evening’s singing and harping in their Golden Wood, not from a battle..’
Éomer nodded, gazing at the Elves’ golden armour, stained with the blood of orcs, and their own blood…
‘You have drunk too much ale, Gamling..’ thought Éomer. ‘Look at their hands….’

Rosc had a torn strip of bloody silk wrapped round his hand, concealing his missing finger and Dearfa’s hands were cut and bruised by the sword hilts of the Uruk-hai. But they passed out of the hall quickly and gracefully, their feet making no noise on the stone flags. As the door was opened for them a gust of cold night air filled the lofty hall, blowing back the Elves’ midnight-blue cloaks. Éomer noticed that the lining of the material was sewn with innumerable tiny silver stars, like a winter sky. Then the Elves passed out of sight.

‘You must be very proud of your people, Legolas…’ said Gimli gruffly, half into his ale cup. Legolas stared after the Galadhrim with tears shining in his eyes.
‘Yes’ he thought….’I am…’

The two Elves and An Bruadar walked along the battlements and down into the Cashel towards the Caves. The parapets were lit by torches but when they descended to the ground it was dark, and suddenly deprived of light they saw above them the sky sparkling with thousands of brilliant stars. Rosc and Dearfa stopped and looked up, as if on the same impulse. An Bruadar halted too, gazing at the stars scattered like diamonds on deep blue velvet. He admired their beauty, but he knew the Elves drew something far deeper from the stars, which he could not share, only guess at. Although he stood beside them, and was now one of their leaders, An Bruadar had never felt further from the Elves….

At last, with a sigh, Rosc turned to go on, and Dearfa with him. They walked without talking, but An Bruadar noticed Dearfa turn his head once or twice to look back, then say something to Rosc in Elvish. He wondered at it then after a few more paces Dearfa suddenly turned round sharply, strode back past An Bruadar and seized someone out of the shadows….

‘Who are you, and why are you following us?’ the tall grim Elf demanded, and An Bruadar looked at the figure held firmly in his grip, and realised with astonishment that it was the young Ranger, Fíor.
‘It is one of the Black Company….’ He said to Dearfa, who let the lad go at once. Fíor stepped back and said in a flustered voice;
‘Pardon me, my lords, I did not mean any harm…’
‘Then why were you following us?’ asked Rosc in a gentler voice. Fíor hesitated then suddenly he went down on one knee and addressed Dearfa;
‘I want to tell you that I think you are the greatest warrior that ever lived!’

An Bruadar’s eyebrows shot up and he suppressed a smile, and Dearfa stared at the boy in astonishment, but without waiting for an answer Fíor went on;
‘I saw you on the Wall during the battle. You were alone, fighting off the enemy with your sword. Uruk-hai attacked you from all sides but you never gave ground, not even when the order was given to retreat. You never faltered or turned back, truly you are the mightiest warrior among Elves or men! You do not know what fear is!’

An Bruadar had never seen Dearfa smile, but now his stern expression softened and a slow smile spread over his face and his grey eyes twinkled in the starlight. He rested a hand on the hilt of his sword and said;
‘I did wrong to disobey the order to retreat…’
‘No!’ said Fíor vehemently. ‘You were right to disobey! You are the bravest of us all, for you refused to give in even when all hope was gone…..’
Dearfa smiled again. Then he said;
‘What is your name?’
‘I am Fíor’ the boy answered. ‘I am a Ranger.’
‘Fíor?’ said Dearfa thoughtfully. ‘That means Truthful. But you do not speak the truth when you say you are a Ranger; you are too young to be a Ranger….’

The lad got quickly to his feet, his face pale and tense.
‘I wish nothing but to be truthful. I know I am young, but I am indeed a Ranger, the youngest of the Black Company, since we lost Callanach…’

Dearfa raised his hand and said.
‘Be at peace, Ranger, I am only testing you. I know you are a Ranger, I saw you during the battle….’ Fíor’s face lit up with joy ‘..and I know you are of the Dúnedain of the North, whatever your age.’

Then the tall Elf bowed to the lad and said;
‘I thank you for your praise, for praise from the brave is the best of all to a warrior.’
Fíor beamed with pleasure, and Dearfa said;
‘But tomorrow those of us Galadhrim who are left will follow the Dunedain Aragorn himself, to whatever end.’ He gazed questioningly at Fíor and asked;

‘Which way will the Black Company go now..?’