The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda

Chapter 62: Yellow Sky

It was Éomer who saw the Mumakil first. Galloping through his scattered men, trying to muster them for the last charge to the river, he glanced to one side and saw what appeared to be the horizon take life and advance towards him.

At once he reined in his great war horse Liath, Grey Shadow, and peered through the cloud of dust and smoke that obscured the battlefield. He shut out all noise of fighting and strained to make out what the approaching sound was….

Mumakil! Emerging from the yellow cloud of dust came first the swaying wooden towers on their massive grey backs, then the tusks, ivory spears as thick in girth as a young ash tree and as strong, bound with spiked iron and painted with red symbols of the Southmen; sun circles and ravens and snakes. Éomer felt the ground shudder and heard, rising in volume, the fierce war chants of the Haradrim archers and their following infantry. But above all sounds was that of the Mumakil, pounding the dry plain with feet broader than the stretch of a man’s arms and raising their trunks to trumpet out their rage for battle…

Éomer was a stranger to fear. No lord of the Mark had ever been so hardy in battle as he, save only Théoden himself in his youth. His men thought him invincible and no enemy could bide his attack. In the melée he wielded a long war spear, bound in the middle with red and green leather handgrips and tipped with a long leaf-blade pierced for lightness and wrought of gilded steel. Only the royalty of Rohan bore such a weapon for there were only three made. One Éomer carried. The second lay at the side of Théodred his cousin in his tomb at Edoras, and unknown to Éomer the third was borne by his sister in the battle only yards away from where he sat on Liath.

Now Éomer let the hand that held the spear drop to his side. The blood pounded in his ears, but not from battle lust. A coldness fell on his heart; for this foe outmatched him and all the army of the Mark and he knew it. Even as he watched the line of great beasts grow ever nearer he felt Liath start and whinny, for even the horses of the Mark fear the giants of the South…

Líofa sensed the Mumakil before he saw them, with that keen perception of living things that belongs to the Elves alone. He reined in Brand and looked towards the East. Gradually the mighty shapes emerged from the yellow smoke and Líofa’s face turned pale.

Under the low poisonous cloud pouring out of Mordor the plain was hot, baking now in an acid sunlight. For a moment Líofa thought of his home in Mirkwood, and the cool green depths of the Northern forests…but he shook his head; this was no time for memory. Mirkwood and the court of King Thrandúil was far away, and it was not now likely he would ever see it again….he looked wildly round for Callanach and when he saw the little black horse Réalt and his friend he spurred through the battle towards them, gripping his sword in his hand. If this really was the end, at least they would meet it together.

When the Haradrim saw the black and red banner borne towards them by the orc emissary they sent up a great roar, for they understood it was the signal to attack. Síota took it from Brocach and handed it to Marfach with a leer.
‘You are the commander of the Haradrim now’ he said to him. ‘Lead us into battle..’

Marfach looked over his shoulder. Ranged across the plain behind him were forty Mumakil, moving their massive heads impatiently from side to side and stamping the ground. Slowly and painfully they had inched across the pontoon bridges hastily thrown up by the orc sappers and now they were with difficulty being held in check by their drivers.
‘You must go to the front with the Mumakil!’ said Síota. ‘I will lead the army after you….’

Marfach looked uncertainly at Síota; he did not trust his old enemy and the thought of having him at his back was not encouraging. But the Haradrim’s dark, hawk-featured face gave little away. He flashed a fierce smile and said to Marfach;
‘This day will cancel all debts, Dragon….’

Marfach, wearing the leopard-skin cape of a Haradrim chieftain turned and walked slowly to the foremost Mumak. Out in front of the line stood four which were even taller and more savage than the others. Their tusks were bound with gold and upon their hides were painted symbols in red and black. The driver of one hooked his goad into the tender skin behind the massive sail-like ear and it raised a knee with an angry bellow and Marfach jumped onto it as one might leap onto a horse’s back. Then he reached up and caught hold of one of the trailing ropes and pulled himself onto the creature’s shoulder. The Haradrim archers in the wooden tower on the creature’s back reached down eagerly and pulled Marfach up; they believed he could not be slain, and that if he fought with them they would not be killed either….

From the Mumak’s back Marfach could see the whole battlefield of the Pelennor, and the burning city of Minas Tirith beyond it. He gasped; spread out across the plain, their green cloaks streaming out behind them, were the Rohirrim cavalry, cleaving through the orc squadrons and already almost to the river. Marfach clutched the frame of the wooden tower; however fearsome they were in battle, the Rohirrim would be crushed by the Mumakil. And Marfach knew that Théoden was with the army of Rohan, and Callanach too…

The great creatures were gaining speed. They did not gallop but moved at a shambling run that was faster than the swiftest horse. Each was guided and goaded by a driver, a shaman who also trained the beasts and knew the commands to rule them. He stood on the platform before the archers, steering the mumak by chains attached to the thin sensitive skin of the beast’s ears. The driver also bore a horn to communicate with the other drivers and now they all sounded these horns and a mournful, tuneless bellowing rolled out across the plain towards the Rohirrim.

Marfach felt the mumak swaying under him like a ship on a dangerous sea. The ground sped past far below littered with the dead of battle and Marfach, as Elves are able to do, withdrew from the present, attempting to remove himself from what was passing around him and was too painful to bear. The noise and the heat and the smell faded away and he felt only a calm brightness. But at the edge of the brightness was a presence, and it was not bright, but dark and scattered with red fire. It was the mind of Sauron!

Marfach struggled to return to the present but Sauron held him in his power, in thrall, as he had held him for so long once before. Marfach heard a voice in his head;
‘They may win in the morning; they may even win in the noontide. But victory will be mine in the end, in the night. For you there will be no escape, not even into death….’

Marfach came to himself with a start; someone was shouting his name; it was the Mumakil driver;
‘Dragon!’ Marfach turned to him. The man had a tattooed face and when he smiled he revealed teeth filed to points.
‘They say you are immortal!’ he shouted over the pounding of the mumak’s great feet. Then he shook his gold and ivory goad and shouted;
‘Today, we are immortal too…..!’

The fighting had ceased suddenly, and Merry looked round in bewilderment. The Riders were staring towards the East, their swords dropped to their sides. Behind him Éowyn suddenly grasped his shoulder so tightly he felt her fingers through his leather armour. He craned round Windfola’s head and saw what had stopped the Rohirrim in their slaughter of the orcs….

‘Oliphaunts!’ Merry breathed to himself. ‘Well I never….so they are real!’
Merry grinned with delight. ‘Wait till I tell them back in the Shire….’

But then Merry realised that there was a whole host of Oliphaunts, and they were trumpeting with rage and thundering towards the Riders of Rohan. These were war beasts, bent on their destruction….Merry felt suddenly cold; he grasped his sword, numb and unable to speak. Éowyn bent and whispered in his ear.
‘Do not lose heart now, brave hobbit! To the King!’

‘Secure the city!’ shouted King Théoden, and a rush of fierce pride filled his heart; to have ridden to the aid of Gondor! This day would outrank all the feats in arms of his forefathers….but then Théoden saw Éomer riding towards him across the battlefield.

A chill fell on Théoden’s heart; he had ordered Éomer to advance to the river. Only under some great threat would his sister-son have disobeyed him. Théoden looked away, past his éored, past the fleeing rabble of orcs, to the line of the distant river, and saw the host of Mumakil bearing down on his Rohirrim at speed.

Théoden for a moment sat motionless on Snowmane. All round him his Riders milled about, unsure what to do next but under his visor Théoden’s face wore a bitter smile.
‘Honour..’ he thought ‘is not so easily regained. The battle until this has been but a trial. Now comes my greatest test….’

Turning to his scattered éored the King shouted;
‘Reform the line, reform the line!’

The Riders spurred to obey, jostling and wheeling and hauling their unwilling horses’ heads round to face the Mumakil. Then King Théoden shouted at Gamling who was staring as if bewitched;

‘Sound the charge, Gamling! Forward, Eorlingas!’’