The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda


Chapter 40: Worse than Orcs

The blade hovered above Dian and she closed her eyes. She remembered what the people of Minas Tirith said about the Haradrim.
'They are men like us but evil and cruel. They are worse than orcs!'

But the Haradrim's blade never descended. Instead it was whipped away and a voice, speaking in the Common Tongue but with a strange accent, hissed in her ear.
'Stay still and make no noise..' and flicking the hem of her Ranger cloak over her to conceal her Salanda straightened up and turned to meet the orcs charging up the street.

Dian trembled with relief; her cloak was rent and she cautiously turned her head and looking through the tear she could see what was happening. A dark pack of orcs swarmed up the ruined street and when they were almost upon the Haradrim one of them stopped and flung up a hand and shouted in the Black Speech;

'Haradrim!'

The others collided to a halt, gripping their weapons, a red blood lust in their eyes. Salanda stood still, staring coolly at them, then unwound his black scarf to show his face.
'I serve the Eye!' he shouted, also in the Black Speech. The orcs looked at each other, uncertain, and then their leader pushed to the front
'Let me through, what's the matter here?'

It was a short, heavily-built orc with grey scaly skin and a helm plundered from some warrior of Gondor and embellished with a crude daub of a great red eye. In his hand he bore a scimitar and Salanda could see human blood on the blade. The orc's small yellow eyes revealed cunning if not intelligence.

For some moments he studied Salanda, unable to see the red of his robe, only a dark grey, for orcs were blind to colour. Sauron had given them only those senses that would enable them to fight for him; perhaps if they could see the green of the forests and the blue of the sky they would sense in some dim way the beauty of the earth they were sent to destroy and hesitate to obey their master. So they saw it only in shades of grey, black and white.

This orc captain could not see the colour of Salanda's robe, nor the purple and gold of the sash wound about his waist indicating his royal clan. But he saw the insolent look in the Haradrim's dark eyes and snarled;
.
'Why are you here? Your army is still on the Eastern shore with orders not to cross until Osgiliath is taken. Perhaps you are a deserter?'

The orcs murmured and raised their weapons. They hated all Men, even those who were Sauron's subjects and the proud bearing of the Haradrim provoked them. They advanced menacingly towards Salanda and surrounded him, taking no notice of the dead Ranger lying nearby..

Salanda gazed at them with undisguised contempt; how had his people ever been persuaded to ally themselves with these beasts? In the Common Tongue he spat out;
'Stay away from me! I am Haradrim and I do not answer to scum like you..!'

At these words the orcs ran at Salanda and began to hit him with the flat of their swords and their clawed fists. Not lacking in some dull intelligence, they knew they would be punished for killing a Haradrim so they struck to hurt rather than to kill. Salanda hit back but he did not draw his sword. Quickly he was borne down by their numbers and fell under their mailed feet as they pushed each other aside to strike him.
Under her cloak Dian stifled a cry. Salanda felt a rib crack and was beginning to lose consciousness when the orc captain shouted.
'Back, back, you maggots! No killing Haradrim, that's the order. Quick, up and away, before he dies on us and you are all flayed for disobedience..'

At the mention of flaying the orcs sprang back and ran off up the street. As their retreating clatter died away Dian took a chance and raised her head to look at the Haradrim lying covered with dust and blood.

'Why did you provoke them?' she called to him.

Salanda sat up with difficulty, struggling to regain his breath, his arm clamped over his broken rib. He looked over at the Ranger.
'What?' he gasped.
'Why did you call them scum? You could have been killed..'
'They are scum ' shouted Salanda. 'They have destroyed my people!'
'It is Sauron who has destroyed your people' said Dian. 'They have destroyed themselves..'

Salanda shook his head then lay back with a groan.

Dian looked at the Haradrim. Crumpled in the dust, his robe torn and filthy, he was not so proud now.
'I'm sorry' she said 'You were trying to protect me..'
'If I had known.' he spoke with difficulty '..that I would be taken to task for the crimes of my people I would not have done it.'
Dian was silent. Salanda said to her;
'With that tongue you don't need a sword. They should send out the women of Gondor do the fighting and let the men stay at home. You could scold the orcs to death.'
'I said I am sorry' snapped Dian.

There was a silence into which came sounds of fighting from the upper streets of the town. Salanda got to his feet and limped over to Dian and said;
'Those orcs have gone but more will come, this city will be full of them, every building will be searched. You must get up..'
Dian shook her head and said.
'No, I am hurt.You should leave me, get away while they are chasing Faramir and his men. ..save yourself, Haradrim.'

Salanda smiled. His nose was bleeding and his face was covered with dust.
Dian noticed he had a gold earring in one ear and his dark eyes twinkled when he smiled.
'I did not take a beating to leave you for the orcs, Lady Ranger. You must get up, we are going from this place together.'

Dian looked up at Salanda and asked;
'Why are you doing this?'

The Haradrim did not reply, just stood with his hand outstretched to help her up. But she waited, and after a moment he shrugged and said;
'All you need to know is I serve your Lord Faramir.'
'Faramir!' said Dian in surprise.
'See? I knew you would not believe me.'
'No, I believe you, it is just that..'
'That I am a Haradrim, and an enemy' Salanda finished in a bitter voice.
Dian looked directly at him and answered;
'Yes'

For a moment neither spoke, then the Haradrim said;
'Come on, Ranger. Get up..
'I can't walk.' said Dian.
'Well let's try..'
'No'
'Yes.'

And Salanda put his arm round Dian and as gently as he could he pulled her to her feet. She bit back a cry of pain but although she tried she could not stand.
'My leg is broken!' she gasped.

Salanda looked down and saw that Dian's Ranger tunic was torn where the winged beast had gripped her with its talons. Blood seeped from the rents, and something else, the material was smeared with some dark venom..the claws of the fell beasts that the Nazgul rode were full of poison. Already Dian's face had taken on a yellow hue..Salanda knew her wounds must be cared for as soon as possible.

He let her back down onto the stony ground and reached into his belt and took out a tiny glass and gold phial.
'This won't mend your leg, but you won't feel the pain so much.' he said casually.

The Men of Harad were skilled leeches, for in their warm lands grew many spices and curative herbs. Their apothecaries distilled them to make medicines and their warriors carried small phials in case they were wounded. Now Salanda helped Dian to drink from the tiny flask. Almost immediately a warm numbness spread through her limbs and she became drowsy. Salanda once again tried to get her to rise, and this time she balanced on her good leg without murmur.

Then Salanda took off his turban and wound it round Dian's head covering her face. He took off her Ranger cloak and threw it away and put his own black Haradrim cloak over her shoulders and tied it round her. She stared at him. Without his scarf his long black hair fell over his shoulders, gathered into braids and adorned with tiny rings of fine gold wire. His skin was dark and his long sharp nose and fierce dark eyes gave him a wolfish look. On his forehead was a small tattoo of an arrowhead and around his neck he wore the golden circlet of a prince of the Haradrim.

He hesitated for a moment then downed what was left of the liquid in the phial. Then he smiled at her and said;
'Now we are just two wounded Haradrim scouts helping each other to return to the boats..'

Slowly and painfully they made their way down towards the river. Several times orcs charged past but they ignored the two Haradrim. The forces of Mordor were engaged in constructing pontoon bridges to bring their invasion force across the Anduin and amid the confusion Dian and Salanda passed without notice to the waterside.

All along the quays of the ruined city landing craft had been abandoned.
Rafts, boats and barges drifted downstream or rose and fell partly drawn up out of the water. Salanda half lifted and half dragged Dian, by now unconscious, onto one of the crafts and laid her in it. He glanced cautiously about, then covered her with his black Haradrim cloak. The river was obscured by a pall of smoke which hid them from the orc army crossing the hastily thrown-up bridges. Salanda leaned over and kissed Dian's cheek then pushed the boat with all his might out into the stream. The current caught it and turned it round then drove it southward. Salanda watched as it grew smaller on the bright water then whispered to himself;

'Farewell, Lady. May you find landfall among friends...'