The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda

Chapter 34: Mist and Shadow

‘They are out there, Faramir’ whispered Marfach when he caught up with the Captain. ‘Crossing the river in vast numbers….’

The ancient river quays of Osgiliath were broken and half submerged, slippery with moss and slime. Faramir’s Rangers and the soldiers of the garrison strained their eyes to pierce the reeking fog but could see nothing, and hear only the lapping of water on stone…..Marfach, however, with his Elvish sight could see the barges and rafts approaching, filled with a great host of armed orcs…

Faramir looked into Marfach’s strange grey eyes, flecked with red in the dark and leaning back against a wall he drew his sword slowly; the ring of a blade and the glint of steel even in this murk would give them away. In his heart he knew Marfach was telling the truth. The blood pounded in his ears. Through these very streets Boromir had chased the orcs from Osgiliath. Now his brother was dead and he was witness to the last vain struggle to hold the city. Grief smote Faramir but he put it away, this was no time to remember….

Across from where he stood concealed waited his lieutenant Tostach. Faramir raised a hand outspread then closed it in a fist and pointed to the river. Tostach nodded and followed by his Rangers, crept through the tumbled stones of the quayside alleys to the water’s edge. Sound travels quickly across water, and at once they heard the furtive dip of an oar, then another and another. Suddenly the mist parted and in the cold starlight Faramir saw the river covered by scores of craft, barges and boats and rafts, bearing hundreds of orcs to the shore. In the ghostly light their spears and pikes bristled like the weapons of an army of the ******.

‘Let me not die before I avenge you, Boromir…’ Faramir prayed silently taking a tighter grip on his sword hilt, and in that moment a long wailing scream went up as the first orcs splashing down into the shallows from their barges were cut down by the Rangers….

'What is happening?’ wondered Dian. High on the hill, lying among the ruins of the citadel of Osgiliath she could hear the sudden clamour of shouting, screaming and clashing of arms as the men of Gondor engaged with the enemy in the dark

‘Draw your bow, Dian …’ said a voice beside her. It was Cuanna, one of the officers of the garrison who had been left on the citadel in charge of the rearguard, and had the care of the horses in case they had to retreat….
‘The mist is too thick for shooting, Cuanna!’ replied Dian in despair. ‘why cannot I go down to fight?’

Cuanna put a hand on her arm and in a quiet voice spoke words that struck a chill into Dian’s heart;
‘Stay where you are. The enemy will be here soon enough….’

‘Go back to Minas Tirith…’ Faramir had said to her. Then, in a less kindly voice;
‘Or do you want me to send you back…’
But Tostach had spoken up for Dian.
‘Let her stay, Faramir. It is now as dangerous to go back to Minas Tirith as to remain, and she will do more good here than trapped behind the walls, if the enemy get that far….’
‘Very well’ said Faramir. ‘But keep to the upper reaches of the citadel, far from the river….’ Faramir knew his Rangers were wasted fighting in the narrow streets of Osgiliath, where their green cloaks and earth-red tunics afforded no cover, and where they were unprotected from the constant bombardment of fire and great stones. Yet his father Denethor would have them fight thus....

Dian felt a breeze on her cheek; the fog was lifting as dawn broke. Suddenly the sun pierced the gloom and she saw below her, spread out as if on a chessboard, the lines of ruined houses and along the streets a great black mass of orcs, like insects swarming out of some foul hive, and the green cloaks of the Rangers and the bright armour of the knights as they fought and fled before them.

Dian stood up and took her long bow of red yew. Selecting an arrow she nocked it and drew to her ear. She sighted on an orc scurrying along a wide broken street, and loosed….

The orc fell, flung forward onto the rubble to lie without moving. Dian sighed with relief and drew again….
‘When you young wolves can shoot like this lassie, then you can call yourselves bowmen….’ The archery master had said to the crowd of grinning cadets, pointing to the butts where Dian’s arrows bristled in the heart of the target. This was something she could do well and she reached for the next arrow and drew again and again, evenly and steadily, forgetting all else around her.

She did not notice a dark shadow cross the sky, or a great sinister shape born on wide leathery grey wings circle above her then swoop. She did not even hear the other Rangers desperately calling her name. Not until it was too late did she realise something was wrong, and look up suddenly, just as a great sickle-shaped talon cut through the air to strike her. Then there was just silence......

Now the fog had lifted, and in the dank streets men and orcs clashed and fought at close quarters. The air was full of shouting and screaming, and the clatter of armed feet as more orcs poured off the landing craft and darted up the narrow ruined streets, swarming over the men like famished rats. Unable to use their bows the Rangers drew their swords but they were too lightly clad and armed for the heavily armoured orcs and were driven back up the streets towards the town square. Out of every ruined doorway and arch more orcs appeared, and soon the enemy were both in front and behind the men of Gondor….

Marfach kept close to Faramir with Salanda on their heels. The retreat up the Street of the Silversmiths became a rout and Faramir was separated from his men. He ran into a narrow alley and found himself facing a dead end. A glaive was thrust at his head and missed and splintered on the stone wall of an archway and Marfach put a hand on his shoulder and shouted in his ear;
‘This way….’

He pushed Faramir on ahead of him and the Ranger captain saw, high up in the side wall of the alley, a narrow window. Marfach helped him to climb and he caught the ledge and pulled himself up and through the broken shutters. Salanda scrambled after him. On the other side a long slope of overgrown stonework rose towards the Citadel; they were nearly at the limit of the city, the horses must be close by… Faramir looked back but Salanda stopped him;
‘Go on, Lord Faramir. Marfach says go on….’

Faramir let himself drop to the ground and ran on, looking from side to side for his men. Salanda leaned out of the window, reaching out his hand to pull Marfach up. But the tall red-haired elf looked up at him and did not take his hand.
‘What are you waiting for?’ shouted Salanda. Marfach smiled and said;
‘Go on, Salanda. Follow Faramir, and stay with him…’
‘What are you talking about?’ shrieked Salanda. ‘You cannot stay here! They will tear you apart….’
There was the rattle of shod feet slipping on the broken paving, orcs had found the alley……
‘Don’t leave me with the men of Gondor!’ pleaded Salanda, but Marfach only smiled.
‘Stay close to Faramir, and fight for him. I cannot protect you any more…farewell, Salanda’

The Haradrim’s wail echoed in his ears as Marfach turned and ran quickly back down the alley. When he turned the corner at the end a row of orcs met him, standing with levelled pikes. Marfach stopped and glanced over his shoulder to see the last of the Rangers fleeing up the rubble-strewn street. All about lay orcs dead, but Rangers lay dead among them, and some still lived but their comrades had been forced to leave them and flee….Marfach snatched up a small round targe with a spiked boss and pulled the handle tight on his maimed arm, and grasped the Elf-sword in his other hand. He shook the dust out of his long red dreadlocks and smiled at the orcs.

‘Let us buy some time for Faramir…’