The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda

Chapter 35: The Red and the Green

After he left Marfach to the orcs, Salanda ran blindly through the maze of streets towards the Citadel of Osgiliath. He wept, although whether for Marfach or for himself he did not know.

‘Stay close to Faramir…’ Marfach had said. But where was the Captain of Gondor? Salanda could hear fighting as the Rangers tried to break out of the city, now overrun by orcs, but in the ruined streets he could see nothing. And he knew when the Men of Gondor saw his Haradrim clothes, his long blood-red robe and black turban, they would take him for an enemy and try to kill him…

‘I should have stayed with Marfach, to fight or die as the fates decree…’ he said to himself. He felt betrayed; Marfach had promised to stay with him…but Salanda knew in his heart Marfach had other oaths to fulfil….

Just then a great shadow passed overhead and Salanda looked up; the end of a long leathery wing passed across the blue morning sky.
‘Nazgul!’ he thought.

Fighting in the Haradrim armies Salanda was accustomed to seeing the winged steeds of the Nine flying above him. He knew how they terrorised and demoralised their prey and how they attacked. At once he pulled his black scarf across his face and stood motionless in a broken doorway. Faces looking upward were like beacons to these monsters, guiding them in to the attack. Even from this distance he could smell them; whether from the foul meat they fed on or from their own putrefying flesh they sent out a stench that made even the orcs gag. Salanda pressed his scarf over his mouth and prayed the creature and its rider would pass away without seeing him….

But soon the monsters and the doomed kings that rode them found the fleeing Rangers and attacked, swooping down with outstretched talons and ear-splitting cries. Salanda saw men and even horses picked up like puppets and flung from great heights to their death on the broken stones of Osgiliath. He waited for his chance, then when the winged demons were engaged elsewhere he broke cover and darted up the empty street. He felt horribly vulnerable, watched by the impassive face of a statue of a king of Gondor, chipped and stained but still riding in lonely triumph across a ruined square at the top of the Citadel hill…

He had just reached the summit when one of the Nazgul flew through the ruins in front of him, screaming with rage at the arrows skipping on its armoured hide and gripping a struggling figure in its claws. More arrows struck it, not enough to kill or even to maim it, but sufficient to sting and distract it from its prey. With a final screech it let go its burden, and another defender of Gondor fell from its talons, smashing through a broken roof into the courtyard of one of the desolate palaces of Osgiliath.

For a moment there was a silence, and Salanda could hear fighting in the street below him; it was Marfach, perhaps. From the hill he heard men shouting and horses whinnying as they abandoned Osgiliath. Salanda broke cover and was running across the courtyard when he saw lying in his path the Ranger dropped by the Nazgul.

The Haradrim knew he could not delay but despite himself he was drawn to look. The figure, covered by the broken wood of the collapsed roof, moved and moaned. Salanda sprang back; he was alive. Glancing up and down the deserted street, his every instinct telling him to hurry away he moved closer and pulled back the green cloak that was tangled about the body. He let it go hastily; it was a woman, dressed in a Ranger’s clothes. She raised her head and seeing his Haradrim robes she tried feebly to reach a dagger in her belt. Salanda raised his hands and shook his head and said;
‘No, no! I am not an enemy…’

Dian looked at the Haradrim, making out his face with difficulty. She did not have the strength to draw her knife anyway. In the distance she could hear the clatter of orcs pouring through the narrow streets. Salanda looked round in fright; they were coming…

‘Can you move?’ he asked her.
‘No…I can’t feel anything.’ she said to him. Salanda took her arm to lift her but she gave a cry of pain; she was too badly hurt to rise. An orc careered into the street, and seeing them gave a cry that brought more running. Salanda said hurriedly to Dian.
‘I can’t help you! I have got to go…..’
‘No!’ gasped Dian ‘Don’t leave me for the orcs! Finish me!’

Salanda looked at her in horror and shook his head. He tried to pull away but she gripped his red robe with what strength she had left.
’Please…’ she begged him.

The clatter of armoured feet in the narrow street had become a thunder. Salanda leaned over Dian and drew a curved Haradrim dagger from his belt with a shaking hand …