The Dragon and the Fox
Chapter 63: The Lighting of the Stars
King Théoden led the charge against the Mumakil, his
household guard in their green and gold cloaks flying after him, the
banner of the white horse proud above him. Behind him and to his right
Éowyn desperately urged Windfola on, anxious not to let her
uncle out of her sight. Merry clasped a handful of the horse’s mane to
keep in the saddle and wide-eyed he saw the towering Oliphaunts come
closer and closer…
On the other side Marfach watched as the army of Rohan sped towards
him. The foremost mumak swayed and thundered under him, raising its
four tusks, bound with iron bands spiked and painted red, and bellowed.
‘Retreat, proud King!’ Marfach heard himself whisper. ‘These beasts will crush all your people and you as well…’
But still the army of Rohan came on, the Riders fighting their steeds
to master their fear of the mumakil, which although poor in sight could
scent the approaching cavalry and swung their great heads from side to
side, sweeping their tusks in a deadly scything action…..
The two armies met with a roar and a crash and a shattering of weapons
as the Mumakil splintered spears and swords raised against them. Then
they lifted horses and riders and tossed them as if they weighed no
more than thistledown, far to one side or another, to plunge to their
deaths on the hard dry ground, or bring further slaughter by falling
among their own comrades.
Behind him Marfach could hear the Haradrim archers shouting
triumphantly. He turned to see them raise their bows and fire, raining
arrows down on those Rohirrim who had eluded the tusks and trunks of
the Mumakil on the first attack.
Even from his lofty perch behind the Mumak’s head Marfach could see the
slaughter and mayhem below. He wanted to look away but could not. Once
he had fought against the Rohirrim and they had left him for dead, a
spear thrust in his back. But he had sworn an oath to himself never to
bear arms against the West, and to Aragorn to serve him as King. Now
all oaths had been broken, and Marfach looked on with a grim set face
as the Haradrim fired on his former enemies….
Arrows shot defiantly by the men of Rohan skipped and snapped on the
tough hides of the Mumakil and some glanced off Marfach’s orc-armour,
and once or twice a Harad archer was struck and with a flailing cry
fell from the wooden tower to his death. But the contest was uneven.
Looking down, Marfach realised the Rohirrim were being destroyed….
Éomer reined in Liath and looked round. He had galloped through
the ranks of the Mumakil twice, firing at their riders with his short
bow, for the second lord of the Mark was the finest archer in Rohan.
But the swaying of his quarry on the creatures’ backs and the hide
walls of the towers put off his aim, and all but a few of his arrows
missed their mark.
Now he heard the thunder of the creatures’ feet and looking up saw one
bearing down upon him. It was the greatest of all the Mumakil, its
tusks stained red with the blood of men and horses. It had twice
circled the trampled field, scything through the Rohirrim and now
attacked what was left of Éomer’s squadron. Above the beast’s
great head Éomer caught sight of its driver, his painted face
leering at the carnage below. And the driver in his turn saw
Éomer, the lord of the Mark’s red armour and tall helm with its
trailing white horse-tail marking him out. With a cry of savage joy he
hauled on the chains and steered the mumak towards the lone horseman…
Éomer watched it approach. He felt no fear, only cold fury at
the slaughter of his men. He fixed his gaze on the driver of the mumak
and hefted his great green and red lance in his hand. He used it only
for thrusting and never threw it, for fear of losing it. But the time
had come to cast it….
Drawing his arm back Éomer threw the spear with all his
strength. As if directed by some guiding power it flew upwards straight
and swift and struck the driver square in the chest, driving through
him to the haft.
Instantly the man plunged from the neck of the mumak, dead. But he
still clutched the chains that directed the beast. At once it veered
sharply to the left, feeling its tender ear flap torn by the weight on
the iron ring. Trumpeting wildly, it charged straight at the next mumak
in the line and plunged headlong into its flank. Its long curved tusks
gored the beast behind the front leg, piercing its heart. As it fell it
twisted the tusks of the first, bringing it down and breaking its
neck….a ragged cheer went up from the Rohirrim.
Mounted on the second mumak Marfach saw the first one stampeding
towards him but could not do anything to avoid it. It was like standing
on the deck of a ship watching another craft approach with no way of
preventing a collision. Around him the Haradrim were shouting in alarm,
then suddenly the mumak struck with such force that the tower was
tossed to one side and spilled the archers onto the ground. Marfach was
flung to the creature’s grey back and seized a trailing knotted rope.
He saw the earth rush up to meet him….
When his head cleared Marfach found himself lying on the ground amid
the wreckage of the Mumak’s wooden tower. Around him stood the
surviving Haradrim, their long red and green robes and black
headscarves sullied with dust. Their faces were covered but their dark
eyes betrayed fear as they looked round then gathered about Marfach,
for he was their leader.
Marfach shook the mist from his eyes. In front of him lay the two slain
Mumakil and beyond them the others were pursuing the Rohirrim, who
fought them off bravely. The battle stood on a knife’s edge. Marfach
said to the Haradrim;
‘You have fought enough for today. Leave now and take no further part
in this war. Make for the river, turn South when you reach it and do
not look back till you see your Southland home again. Fight no more for
The Haradrim paused, looking at each other. The battle was not going
well; great as they were the Mumakil were being brought down by many
arrows or by single lucky shots. This was not the easy victory Sauron
had promised them. And the Haradrim feared Marfach and thought he was
some sacred being who knew the future. They spoke between each other
and decided to obey him. With a hasty nod to him they gathered up their
bows and scimitars and turned and ran from the field, and were not seen
or heard of in the land of Gondor ever again.
Marfach watched them go with a sigh.
‘A life saved is still a life saved’ he thought to himself ‘even if it is the life of an enemy….’
Just then he heard the drumming of hooves and turning saw a Rider
approaching at the gallop. With his sharp Elvish sight he made out the
red and gold embossed leather armour of a lord of the Mark. He saw the
gilded helm with its crest of a white horse tail and the fine war horse…
‘Éomer!’ thought Marfach.
The first lord of the Mark galloped to where the dead mumak driver lay
and leaning over in the saddle he retrieved his red and green lance,
hefting it with a grim nod of satisfaction. Then as if feeling
Marfach’s gaze upon him he turned and saw him standing beside the dead
mumak. At once he spurred Liath at the solitary warrior, setting the
lance in rest and shouting his war cry.
Marfach stood motionless, awaiting the rider’s attack. At the last
moment, guessing the horse’s path, he stood back and the spear thrust
jabbed harmlessly into empty air. Éomer hauled on the reins and
wheeled round and with an angry yell he rode back at Marfach, who again
waited till the horse was almost upon him then dodged to the side on
nimble feet, letting rider and mount career past harmlessly.
Éomer pulled Liath up, panting for breath, and stared at
Marfach. There was something familiar about the tall red-haired warrior
clad in black mail. He was not an orc, nor a Haradrim, nor an
Easterling….but Éomer, incensed by the loss of so many men, was
in no mood to spare any foe. Standing up in his stirrups he reached
back and threw his spear straight at Marfach.
The flight of the lance lasted only a heartbeat, but even in that time
Marfach read its trajectory and waiting till the very last moment he
stood still then not even moving his feet he swayed to the side and the
spear glided harmlessly over his shoulder. It fell on the hard ground
with a hollow clatter and Marfach looked back at it then turned and
walking slowly over to it he picked it up, hefted it in his hand and
said to Éomer in a taunting voice;
‘Anyone would think you are trying to kill me!’
Éomer sat still on his horse, fury in his heart. But he curbed
his anger, for this creature held his lance, and he knew what a
fearsome weapon it was. He demanded sharply;
‘Who are you?’
Marfach walked slowly towards him and when he was close enough for Éomer to see his face he stopped and asked quietly;
‘Don’t you know?’
Éomer gasped and said;
‘Marfach! The Red Dragon! Is this how you keep your oath to King Théoden never to bear arms against the Mark again?’
Marfach smiled grimly and answered;
‘There are other oaths, to other lords….’But Éomer interrupted him angrily
‘What do you know of oaths? What do you know of honour? You are just a
slave of Mordor and a traitor to everything. You deserve nothing but
Marfach did not reply, but his grey eyes flashed red. Then he smiled and said in a low voice;
‘I may be only a slave, but I hold the spear of the royal house of Eorl..’
‘Give it back to me!’ snapped Éomer. Marfach’s smile broadened.
He took a few paces backwards and smote the spear into the dry stony
soil then said to Éomer;
‘Come and take it back for yourself if you can, Éomer, Keeper of Oaths. Fight me for it!’
Éomer stared at Marfach, gathering his thoughts. The battle
receded and he could see only a hated enemy who had betrayed his
uncle’s trust. His gaze rested on Marfach’s tall lean frame and black
armour and his warrior’s instinct told him this would be no easy
victory. But his blood was roused and he determined to fight.
The lord of the Mark dismounted and took off his white-maned helmet,
which would have restricted his vision and movement in combat. He
walked slowly towards Marfach, drawing his sword and sizing him up.
To anyone watching the two warriors seemed well matched, but
Éomer, although as tall as Marfach, was broader and of more
powerful build. He wore heavy leather armour embossed with gold in the
emblems of the royal house of Rohan, but he was quick and agile on his
feet despite the weight of his armour and in Rohan he was without equal
in single combat..
Marfach wore the black orc armour Gothmog had given him, its mail,
gleaming with tarnished gilt, reaching to his knees. Wound tight about
his lean waist was the red sash of a Haradrim chief overwritten with
their outlandish black script and he walked with a slight stoop. The
hot breeze stirred the long red dreadlocks on his shoulders and despite
his smile his pale face was tense and watchful.
Éomer saw Marfach bore a Ranger’s sword and his anger rose; what
soldier of Gondor had this creature slain to steal his sword? But then
the Lord of the Mark noticed that Marfach’s left hand was missing and
could not repress a satisfied smile. Marfach without taking his eyes
from Éomer’s face bent down and picked up a small round buckler
of black hide such as the Haradrim carry. It was made of layers of skin
cured with bull’s blood and bound with brass, and on its boss was a
spike like a dagger. Marfach pushed his arm through the loops then took
hold of the loose strap and pulled it tight with a violent tug, so the
buckler was fast on his arm. He smiled grimly at Éomer and said;
‘What are you waiting for, Forgoil?’
Goaded by the insulting name given to the Rohirrim by the Dunlendings
and eager to punish Marfach for his treachery Éomer rushed to
Marfach feinted to the right then to the left in a swift and agile dance, and Éomer charged past harmlessly.
‘This is no good’ he thought ‘he can dodge me all day and wear me out. I must get to grips with him….’
‘Fight me you devil's lackey’ he taunted Marfach, who did not answer
but his face grew even paler. Éomer ran at him again and Marfach
raised his shield and Éomer’s sword glanced off it and Marfach
hit back and their blades struck sparks. As Marfach drew back to strike
again Éomer suddenly planted his feet and threw himself forward,
knocking down the small shield and driving his mailed shoulder into
Marfach’s chest, throwing him backwards onto the ground with a jarring
Marfach’s sword was pinned under Éomer, who struggled to free
his own blade and stab him. Their faces only inches apart they grappled
furiously for an endless moment, then Marfach freed the buckler as
Éomer pushed himself back and raised his sword and before he
could bring it down Marfach slammed the spiked boss of the shield into
Éomer’s leg, piercing his greave and stabbing him behind the
Éomer gave a cry of pain and anger and for a second his sword
arm was halted in its descent. In that moment Marfach rolled aside with
a kick and Éomer’s blow hit the sand.
Marfach leaped to his feet and grasping the Ranger’s sword tightly he
gave Éomer no chance to recover but threw himself on the Lord of
the Mark, hewing and cleaving, knocking chips from his fine steel
sword, forcing him back as he struggled to get to his feet and fight
off his attacker.
Back, back, Éomer was forced, weakened by his wound. He could
feel the blood trickling down his leg under his armour and felt dizzy.
He knew with a warrior’s canniness that even a little graze could give
the victory away in a contest as savage as this. But his courage was
not injured and he gave blow for blow, even though he was beginning to
wonder if it was a man or a demon he fought….
For as Éomer weakened Marfach seemed to get stronger. His eyes
blazed red with rage and he threw back every attempt by the warrior of
Rohan to defend himself. Far in the distance a greater battle raged,
but it might have been in another realm so locked were these two in
At last, answering a gallant thrust by Éomer, Marfach drove his
spiked shield against the man’s chest and stepping back Éomer’s
foot struck a discarded orc weapon and he tripped and staggered and
almost fell. At once Marfach threw himself upon him but as he closed
Éomer dug his hand into his belt and desperately pulled out a
small silver-handled dagger, its hilt fashioned like a wolf's head with
red garnet chips for eyes, and with all his strength he plunged it into
Marfach’s body under his ribs.
Marfach gave a gasp, and for a moment he ceased his attack and a spark
of wild hope lit Éomer’s heart. But then Marfach, with almost
superhuman strength, dropped his sword and clamping his hand on
Éomer’s wrist he tightened it till the man was forced, with a
cry of pain, to let go his sword. Then Marfach snatched up his again
and held the blade to the man’s throat.
‘Yield!’ he shouted. Éomer stared at him in astonishment; orcs
and other servants of Mordor never took captives. Even the warriors of
Rohan never gave an enemy pardon. Now Marfach offered Éomer
quarter in the ancient language of chivalry of Gondor. But Éomer
was too proud…
‘Submit to you?’ he cried ‘Submit to Sauron? Never!’
The blade edge grazed the skin of Éomer’s throat and he closed
his eyes and into his mind came a vision of Éowyn’s face and he
wished with all his heart that he could see his sister one last time….
Marfach stared down at his enemy and felt his own blood running away
from his wounded side. Suddenly he was aware of a lightening of the
Eastern sky and he looked up in the direction of the city. The Nazgul!
he thought. The Nazgul were gone!
For the sky above the plain was clear, and Marfach, with his far sight,
suddenly realised that the Lord of the Nine was no more; he was slain.
But he had not perished alone…
Waiting for the last blow, Éomer opened his eyes and looked up
at Marfach. The creature met his eyes then suddenly withdrew his sword
from his throat and stood up unsteadily. Éomer scrambled to his
feet as well, and they faced each other. Slowly, Marfach took his sword
and turning it round he offered the hilt to Éomer and said;
‘It is I who submit to you, the first ever to acclaim you King of
Rohan. Take my sword and my allegiance, and judge me as you see fit,
for you are King of the Mark now….’
Éomer stared at Marfach in astonishment, then looked away to the
East. The Mumakil were scattered and fleeing. A great host was
streaming across the Pelennor, some strange army of night and the
forces of Mordor were fleeing before them. But nowhere did Éomer
see the white horse of King Théoden’s banner, and an awful fear
fell on his heart. He snatched the sword out of Marfach’s hand and said;
‘How do you know this? It is not given to men to see into the unknown….’
‘That is true’ said Marfach wearily then smiled. ‘But I am not a man…..’
And with those words Marfach closed his eyes and fell forward into the dust at the feet of King Éomer of Rohan.
The path through the forest seemed endless. Marfach was aware of
growing weary, even though Elves never tire. A chill settled on his
limbs, and he could not see in the darkness, even though Elves can see
well in night-time. At last, to his relief, the great beeches and oaks
thinned and he come out on a grassy slope looking over wide plains to
distant snow-capped mountains.
‘Where am I?’ he wondered.
The plains were similar to those of the Mark, so this must be the edge
of Fangorn Forest. The sky was clear, but looking up Marfach could not
see a single star; there was no sky, only a black void. Marfach began
to be afraid….
Suddenly he heard hoofbeats, and saw, approaching across the frost-grey
plain, a cloaked rider mounted on a black horse. He led a second mount,
a white horse such as the Rohirrim ride. The figure rode straight up to
Marfach and reined to a halt. There was a silence, and Marfach asked;
‘Who are you, and what is this place?’
The rider made a sound that could have been a laugh, and replied;
‘It is not for you, Cróga, to ask questions. Your time here is over. Mount this horse and come with me…’
‘Where?’ asked Marfach, but the figure did not answer, only sat on his horse, waiting. Marfach spoke again.
‘Tell me where you are taking me, or I will not go..’
‘Very well’ said the rider, his voice neither impatient or angry. ‘Into the West…’
Marfach shook his head and said;
‘That cannot be; I gave my passage to the Elf Realms to a man, Boromir of Gondor. I cannot take ship into the West…’
‘Another Elf has given his place to you’ said the figure.
‘How can that be?’ asked Marfach, but a cold feeling crept over his heart. The rider replied, in the same even tone;
‘His Elven spirit has been marred by the sorcery of Saruman; he cannot
go to the West; but he can give you the chance to go in his place.’
‘Who is this Elf?’ asked Marfach fearfully.
‘Líofa the Harpist’ said the rider in a calm voice.
‘Líofa!’ said Marfach in anguish. ‘But he lives….’ The figure shook his hooded head.
‘No more; he fell in the same battle as you yourself. This is his gift to you, and I am commanded to bring it to you…’
Marfach hung his head; Líofa in the Pelennor! Had he known, he
might have saved him. But it was useless to bewail what had already
happened. He raised his head and said to the figure;
‘I am not going.’
The figure did not speak for some time, then said;
‘Why?’. Marfach tried to see the face under the hood and replied;
‘It is not true that Líofa’s spirit is marred by evil; he may
yet be healed and reach the West. But if I take his place he will never
‘If you refuse, neither of you will reach it’ said the figure.
’You will both be left to perish in the world of Men…’
After a long pause Marfach replied;
‘So be it.’
The Rider seemed to study Marfach’s face for some time, then gave a bow
and turning led the white horse away, down the slope and off towards
the distant mountains.
After he was gone Marfach felt himself begin to grow cold. His heart
was sick and he felt a great weariness on his limbs. He looked up and
saw that the sky, so empty of light before, was scattered with
countless stars bright against the deep blue void.
'The stars are kindled, Líofa...' he said.