The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda

Chapter 57: City of the Stars

‘Is she alive?’ asked Gimli.

Legolas bent over Dian and gently touched her hand and her brow and placing a knife blade before her face he watched for the faint misting to form on the shining steel.
‘Yes’ he said at length. ‘But she is sore hurt, and has been given some draught to deaden her pain and make her sleep. Her leg is broken, and her arm as well.’

He looked up at Aragorn, gazing down in silence at the injured Ranger.
‘She might have been wounded in the fighting for some outpost of Gondor upriver, for I think she fell from some height, as her injuries indicate. But how she came to be an in orc craft I cannot tell. Some friend must have placed her in it, and covered her with the cloak to conceal her from the enemy…’

Aragorn nodded thoughtfully, then looked Northward as if he could see the city of Minas Tirith, even though they were too many leagues south to catch sight of it yet. He sighed and said to Legolas;
‘Can you give her your healing, my Elven friend?’

Legolas did not answer, but turned to the master of the ship, another freed slave but formerly a captain of Pelargir, and asked;
‘Do you have any wine on board?’ The man went off, returning quickly with a goatskin full of a thin bitter wine that was all the drink they could find on board apart from the contents of the waterbutts. Gimli knelt and with great care raised Dian up and wet her lips with the sour wine.

At once Dian opened her eyes and threw up her unbroken arm as if to fend off an attack, striking Gimli on the nose. He dropped the wineskin and said;
‘Hold, Lady! It is poor wine I grant you, but that is no reason to break the innkeeper’s nose!’

Legolas laughed, and Dian stared at him, and at Gimli and the men gathered round her. She moved to get up but she was too badly injured. Legolas put out a hand to stop her.
‘Be still, Ranger, your hurts will not let you stand yet. But you have nothing to fear, your enemies are far away now…’
‘Who are you?’ gasped Dian. ‘And where am I?’

Aragorn stepped forward then and kneeling down beside Dian he took her hand and said;
‘I am Aragorn son of Arathorn of the line of Isildur and I have come out of the North to bring help to Minas Tirith, your city. These are my companions, Legolas the Elf, and Gimli the Dwarf.’ Then Aragorn smiled and said;
‘The question, Lady Ranger is rather, who are you, and how did you come to be set adrift on the Anduin in the midst of a great war?’

Dian remembered the flight of Faramir and the garrison from Osgiliath, and her own wounding. Then she remembered her rescue by the Haradrim Salanda, and wondered would this Aragorn believe her if she told him about it. But what did it matter with Minas Tirith beseiged and perhaps destroyed? What did anything matter at the ending of the world….

Reaching over as far as her injuries would permit, she took hold of Aragorn’s Elven cloak, rent and muddied as it was, and bowing her head over the hem she said;
‘If you are of the line of Isildur I owe you my allegiance. Here I vow to serve you, and fight for your cause, Lord Aragorn, heir to the throne of Gondor…….’

Aragorn gazed at the Ranger for some moments in silence, but in his eyes was a strange look, fierce and faraway. He had received oaths of allegiance since entering the Paths of the Dead, but still his heart ached to hear these words. He took Dian’s hand in both of his and said in a gentle voice;
‘I accept your allegiance, Ranger, but command you to first rest and let your wounds heal’

Then Aragorn looked round and seeing the men move away to their duties, he said in a low voice, audible only to Dian, Gimli and Legolas;
‘But I beg you also to tell us what you know of the state of Minas Tirith and the defence of the city….’

Dian met Aragorn’s gaze and said in a voice that shook slightly;
‘Osgiliath is taken! Many of the garrison were slain, and the others fled, Faramir among them. Whether or not they gained the safety of Minas Tirith I cannot tell, for it was then that I was wounded, and knew no more; but Osgiliath, the Rammas Echor and the Pelennor are held by Mordor now..….’

She stopped talking then, for Aragorn had stood up suddenly and turned away to look upriver, hiding the tears in his eyes.

Osgiliath taken! Memory surged back to Aragorn; the Council of Elrond, and Boromir speaking….
‘Much praise and little help does my city get from your people. We spend our blood while your lands sleep safe….’ And he pointed at them, arm outstretched, and Aragorn had felt remorse, and wondered if he had done right all these years to tarry in the North.

But none there knew Boromir had been the captain of Gondor who had retaken Osgiliath from Sauron’s forces; had beaten them back in a great victory, regaining the Dome of the Stars once more, held by orcs for so many years….

Aragorn bent his head in dismay; all Boromir had won had been lost now. And perhaps his brother Faramir too. This was bitter news, and yet Aragorn had expected even worse, before he could come to the city….someone placed a hand on his shoulder. He looked round to see Legolas standing beside him, a questioning look in his eyes.
‘How fare you, Aragorn my friend?’ he said with a smile. ‘Have you heard the gulls cry in your heart too?’
Gimli stood at his elbow.
‘I think the lassie speaks the truth..’ he said in his low rumbling voice.
‘..and yet that is no reason to lose hope…’
‘Nay!’ said Aragorn sternly. ‘I do not lose hope’
And he looked back upstream with a grim pale face and said;
‘I lose patience…’

On the day the last orc was driven from Osgiliath, Boromir climbed up to the highest point in the city, the ruins of the Dome of The Stars. Above him the late winter sky was jade and amber, the westering sun striking through wide arches of the once proud palace. Yet even in the ruins Boromir’s heart lifted; never had he felt such joy. Osgiliath regained for Gondor! He raised the banner he carried in his hand, the white tree and stars on a silken flag, and thrust it into the flag socket on the Dome; a great cheer went up and Boromir looked around at the streets and squares surrounding the Dome. They were full of men, soldiers of Gondor, knights of the city and Rangers from nearby Ithilien. Fresh from battle, borne along on the tide of victory, they clashed their spears and cheered. Boromir searched among them for his brother, wanting to share this victory with him. Then he shouted;
‘I claim this city for Gondor…’

The flag bearing the stars and the tree was long torn down and in its place flew an orcish banner of black with the Red Eye emblazoned upon it. The clear sky was replaced by a deep dark blanket of cloud under which endless columns of orcs streamed across the bridges over the Anduin. In the place where Boromir, proud and defiant, had raised the flag, the black-clad figure of Gothmog the lieutenant of Sauron stood hunched and watchful as his army flowed past towards Minas Tirith.

All morning they had passed, first orcs, then Easterling men, Variags, trolls straining to push great seige towers, and now at the rear, the Haradrim, the grey backs of their mumakil looming up out of the sullen light on the Eastern shore.

Gothmog turned his one good eye and his blue-white, blinded eye and surveyed the black and red and gold ranks of the Southmen. Then he descended into the vast echoing space which had been the central hall of the Dome of the Stars in the days of Osgiliath’s greatness. A wide marble floor, cracked but still shining and inlaid with precious stones in a pattern of ships and seabirds, was crowded with Haradrim captains, awaiting their orders.

Gothmog shuffled along the line of Southron chieftains, looking closely at each. They wore black veils over their faces but their eyes followed him, showing white as he fixed them with his cold gaze; Gothmog was the most feared of Sauron’s generals. Behind him walked Marfach and Brochach, and Gothmog did not miss the flash of recognition in the eyes of the Haradrim when they saw Marfach. He smiled to himself; this would be amusing….

At the end a tall Haradrim dressed in black and green stood forward and removed his veil, revealing a thin, cadaverous face and piercing black eyes. On his chest he bore the sign of a golden leopard. He bowed low and as he straightened up he saw Marfach and he started and his hand went to the hilt of his curved scimitar.

‘I see Marfach is known to you, Síota, the Leopard.’ Gothmog said in a calm, silky voice.
‘My Lord!’ said Síota. ‘This creature…he is not a man… he is a traitor! He bewitched many of my warriors and persuaded them to return home to Harad and desert the cause of the Eye…’

Gothmog laughed softly. Síota stopped, uneasy. Gothmog said in his smooth voice;
‘You are quite right, Síota; he is not a man…..’
Then Gothmog turned on the Haradrim and shouted;
‘And I am not a man either! You stupid traitor! You lose half your army then you blame this demon! You will both perish in the front line, I will see to it! But you are chieftain of the army of Harad no more, command is given to Marfach, may he lead you well!’
There was a murmur of astonishment from the Haradrim. Síota shook his head and shouted back.
‘Never! I will never bow to this accursed fiend!’

Gothmog did not answer, merely stepped forward and in a movement so swift even the Haradrim could not follow it, he struck Síota across the face with his misshapen fist. The tall Southman staggered back and a trickle of blood ran down his cheek and fell onto the white marble floor. Gothmog rasped;
‘Are my orders understood?’ There was a long pause. Síota wiped away the blood, then said in a low voice;

Then Síota turned and led his chieftains from the Dome of the Stars to the battle. Marfach, who had stood beside Gothmog without speaking the whole time, watched him go. Their gaze met as Síota passed him and the Haradrim saw in the Elf's grey eyes not triumph or gladness but a great sorrow and a questioning; how can a mortal man like you ever obey Sauron? Síota's face was pale and as he passed Marfach he said to him under his breath;

'You were right all along, Dragon...'