The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda


Chapter 55: The Death of Madril

‘Tear that bright mail shirt off him’ ordered Gothmog, pointing to Marfach's tunic of ancient Numenorean chain mail.
‘Lest our own side take him for a knight of Gondor and slay him.’

As the orcs began to pull off the armour once made in Minas Tirith Gothmog said to Marfach;
‘I do not want you to be killed by mistake, brother…’

Marfach would have resisted the filthy claws of the orcs but he found to his dismay his strength had begun to ebb, and knew that once again he had fallen under the power of Sauron. His spirit quailed; he thought he had won free of evil. But the meeting with Gothmog had reawakened the power of the spells laid on him by Sauron in his years of captivity…

The orcs clad Marfach in the armour of one of their own which he had slain. He was taller than any orc but more slender and the black leaf mail hung loose upon his thin, wiry frame. The orcs laughed and jeered as they armed him, thinking he was no longer a threat to them.

When they were finished they stood back and Gothmog gestured to something lying on the ground nearby;
‘Put that on, so I can keep you in view during the battle’ he commanded.

Marfach looking round saw a red sash which had been left behind by the retreating garrison of Osgiliath. It might have marked out the leader of a squadron. Marfach picked it and wound it about his waist. The orcs stopped laughing. Even beaten he inspired fear, his long red dreadlocks hanging down over the blue-black armour, the bright sash pulling the ill-fitting mail tight to his tall thin frame, and his grey eyes flickering red as he gazed round at them in hatred and contempt.

At Gothmog’s side there was a stunted, weasel-faced orc with a shaven head and a topknot. This was his lackey Brocach, named for his grey-white mottled skin. He bared his long yellow teeth at Marfach, who itched to seize his scrawny neck and throttle him. Brocach spoke in orcish to Gothmog and said;

‘We have found one of their captains alive, Lord….’

The ruins of Osgiliath were strewn with the corpses of both orcs and men. Smoke billowed through the broken arches and fire crackled as the last buildings which still retained their roofs burned. At Brocach’s words Marfach looked round at the bodies, and saw many of Faramir’s Rangers as well as armoured soldiers of the garrison. A dull feeling of dread came on him.

‘Alive?’ said Gothmog, ‘take me to him….’ And he smiled at Marfach and added;
‘Come, Cróga. It might be one of your old comrades….’

The orcs had slain all in their path as they overran Osgiliath but had missed this wounded man half hidden in the doorway of a ruined palace. He lay gasping, near to death, while the orcs stood around staring curiously at him. Marfach was pushed forward to stand beside Gothmog. He wished he had the strength to resist them, but when he tried to step back the orcs shoved him forward again with the butts of their pikes and he was forced to look…

With a shock Marfach realised he knew the wounded man; it was one of Faramir’s Rangers, called Madril. He was a captain, grey-haired and weatherbeaten from years of fighting in the vales of Ithilien. He wore the Ranger’s habit of a leather tunic and green woollen cloak clasped with a steel star-shaped brooch. He must have become separated from his men, and had been wounded then clubbed to the ground. Blood trickled down his face and welled from his torn tunic. He could not rise, but looked up at the sound of the approaching orcs. His eyes met Marfach’s and despite his pain and weakness he recognised him, a familiar face in the hostile rabble gathered round him.
‘Look at me, Ranger’ willed Marfach who knew what was about to happen.
‘And do not look away…’

‘Do you not remember the first lesson you learned when you were in the keeping of Sauron?’ Gothmog asked Marfach, who did not reply, but kept his eyes fixed on Madril’s face. Gothmog lowered his voice.
‘Free your mind from pity and you will be strong, even as Sauron is strong. All that matters is the power he gives you…’

Then Gothmog walked over to Madril and raised his face to the smoky sky. His features were for a moment contorted, whether he was smiling in triumph or grimacing in pain Marfach could not tell, but with a snarl he suddenly seized a spear from Brocach, crouching at his side, and plunged it into the heart of the defenceless Ranger.

Rage restored Marfach’s strength and he sprang forward and would have landed on Gothmog like a leopard on a hind had not the orcs seized him and held him back. As he struggled in their grip Madril’s eyes sought his one last time and then with a sigh the Ranger breathed his last, his gaze still fixed on Marfach.

Marfach was stronger than an orc, stronger even than a man, for he was an Elf. But his strength was bound up with the life Sauron had given him, and waned when he opposed the dark lord’s will. Had Gothmog been a mere orc, he could have slain him. But Gothmog was what Marfach had made him and he could not kill him. He bowed his head and bid a silent farewell to the departing spirit of the Ranger...

Ignoring Marfach, Gothmog pulled the spear from Madril’s body and cast it aside. Brocach bared his teeth in a ghastly mockery of a smile and Gothmog said to the crowd of orcs;
‘The Age of men is over; the age of the orc has begun…’

The orcs bayed in triumph, shaking their weapons. They let Marfach go, and he staggered to one side, dismay for a moment overcoming him. Then he noticed something gleaming at his feet and bent down and picked it up. It was a sword, a Ranger’s sword. It must have belonged to Madril, for it was lying by his side close to his hand, as if he had dropped it.

Marfach raised the sword and looked at the blade. Madril must have been of noble lineage, for this was an exquisite weapon for a mere Ranger to bear in the field. The hilts were wrought with twisted bands of steel and silver and the blade was inlaid with gold lettering and a row of tiny stars down the raised fuller. The letters said;
‘Mise maor achrainn déanta I Minas Tirith’
‘I am lord of the fray and Minas Tirith made me’

Marfach closed his fingers on the handle and felt a power run through him. He sensed the life of the man who had owned the sword and wielded it for so many years. He sensed his courage and honour. Marfach drew on it, and felt himself grow calm and his grief grow less as if a rushing wind was blowing it away….

With a start he came back to the present. The orcs were staring at him. Gothmog saw the sword in Marfach’s hand and said;
‘You are right to arm yourself, Marfach, for soon the battle begins in earnest and you will fight by my side. Not for a few ruins by the river, but for Gondor….’

A cold chill ran down Marfach’s spine at his words, but before he could reply and before Gothmog could say anything else, an orc came bounding along the rubble-filled street and gabbling in haste and fear, he threw out an arm towards the city of Minas Tirith and said;

‘The Black Robes, and the horse lords, they are coming….’

Panic broke out among the orcs; they could not see in colour, only in shades of black and white, so they saw green as black. They called the Rangers ‘Black Robes’ for their green cloaks. The horse lords were the Rohirrim, but Gothmog barked at them;
‘Stay your chatter, you cowardly rabble! There are no horselords in the land of Gondor….let me see….’

With Marfach following reluctantly, Gothmog limped through the broken streets towards the outer walls of Osgiliath. There he climbed up on the ruined defences and stopped, and looked out across the fields of the Pelennor.

Marfach came up behind him and followed his gaze. It was now late morning, and even in March a heat haze hung over the wide grassy plain. Wavering in the harsh light Minas Tirith seemed like a dream, grey and white and peaceful, banners flying from its highest towers. It was a city on a painted tapestry billowing in a summer breeze.

But what drew Marfach’s gaze was not the city, but the plain below it. There, stretching from one side to the other, was a line of armoured knights of Gondor arrayed for attack, their helms and horses’ breastplates glinting fiercely in the sun, their long lances tipped with pennants bearing the white tree and stars on black velvet....

Marfach felt suddenly cold. The blood thumped in his ears and he could not hear anything else. No, he thought, it was not possible….

A tumult had broken out among the orcs, but Marfach paid no attention to them. His gaze, keener than any for it was the gaze of an Elf, was fixed on the approaching line of horsemen. As they drew closer, at a swift trot, Marfach could see there was a second line of cavalry behind the first, composed of men clad in leather tunics and green cloaks. Faramir’s Rangers! So was Faramir with them….?

Marfach swept the line with his gaze, and there, in the centre of his men, out front in full view of the enemy, was Faramir. Marfach’s heart plunged. How it had happened, what madness had possessed the Lord of the City to send his men and his only living son out to certain death, Marfach could not guess. All he knew was that Faramir was leading them, clad in armour and wearing the Raven helm of the Steward’s Son, and Marfach's promise to Boromir to guard his brother was blown away on a bitter wind. And now the line of mounted warriors had broken into a gallop and was bearing down on Osgiliath with no possibility of turning back….

The orcs might have panicked but Gothmog was in control of them and at his command they ranged through the fallen columns and broken archways and disposed themselves on every high point and stair top, crooked black bows at the ready. Even at this distance they could feel the ground shaken by the cavalry of Gondor, but Gothmog steadied them;
'Stay at your posts. Take aim, wait for my command....'

Then he turned and stared at the galloping warriors as if he could not believe his luck. He said to Marfach;
‘Sauron makes mad those he wishes to destroy. The Steward of Gondor sends us his warriors and even his son as a sacrifice!’

The line of horsemen filled their sight now, dust from the horses’ hooves rising into the air and giving them the only cover they could hope for. They were galloping at full speed but the orcs were waiting for them, drawing their bows and gauging the distance, taking aim. Marfach could do nothing but watch in horror. On they came, their spear tips flashing in the sun, their burnished armour reflecting the light.

Gothmog raised his hand, and the orc archers sighted along their black arrows and waited for the command. Marfach could not breathe. If only there were something he could do, but he knew all he would achieve was his own death, and now as before, he knew he did not want to die…..

‘Fire!’