The Dragon and the Fox
Chapter 67: Look to the Black Ships
'For fortune had turned against
Éomer and his fury had betrayed him. The great wrath of his
onset had utterly overthrown the front of his enemies.....and now new
strength came streaming to the field from Osgiliath. There they had
been mustered for the sack of the city, waiting on the call of their
Captain. He was now destroyed, but Gothmog the lieutenant of Morgul had
flung them into the fray....'
-JRR Tolkien; The Battle of the Pelennor Fields
When the Lord of The Nine was slain on the field of the Pelennor, Gothmog knew at once.
The battle had started to go ill for the hosts of Mordor, pushed back
by the charge of the Rohirrim and forced to wait while the Mumakil
lumbered forward to clear the way once more to the walls of Minas
Then a long wailing cry from the field of battle struck utter silence
into the ranks of orcs, and Gothmog twisted his scarred, deformed face
into a ghastly smile; The Witch King was dead; now he was lord of the
hosts of Mordor….
It was said by some that this orc, lieutenant of the Nazgul, was
himself a Nazgul; but only Marfach, lying on the field no longer
heeding any battle, knew who Gothmog was; he was of the Quendi. Gothmog
was an Elf….
‘Form ranks! Archers, to the front! We advance again. The day will yet be ours….’
Never raising his voice, and commanding by fear alone, Gothmog roused
his battered squadrons and advanced at a trot through the dead of both
sides. Ahead of them the Mumakil pursued the last of the Rohirrim
across the plain…
Éomer turned from the bodies of his uncle King Théoden
and his sister Lady Éowyn and walked unseeing and unhearing to
his charger, held by one of his éored. He took the standard he
was handed by a standard-bearer, his uncle’s standard, the royal banner
of the white horse on a green silken field. The banner of the King, for
he was now King of The Mark….
He roused himself from his grief and looked about; men pressed round,
their smoke and blood-smeared faces dark and savage. Desire for revenge
burned in their eyes, and Éomer felt tears of rage and sorrow
burn his own. He glanced to the West and saw, coming closer slowly but
inexorably, a line of dark legions, their black and red banners flying
ragged in the smoky air; Mordor was attacking again.
Forgetting the weakened state of his army, forgetting the Mumakil still rampaging on the field, Éomer shouted.
‘Forth, Eorlings! For revenge, for blood! Ride to ruin and the word’s ending!
Death! Death! Death!’
And unleashing the last, desperate fury of his Riders Éomer set
spurs to Liath’s sides and the spirited steed reared and plunged
forward over the bodies and debris of the battlefield. After him
streamed the remains of many éoreds, including that of Grimbold.
The Red Boar standard was torn and Grimbold was lost on the field,
unhorsed or slain, but his son Tiarna bore the standard and beside him,
still together in the fray, was the lad Callanach and the Elf
So swift and sudden was the onslaught of the Rohirrim, all men feeling
in their hearts that this was their last great battle, that
Líofa was born up like a cork on a stream to gallop on the flank
of Éomer's’charger. Callanach could see his grey horse ahead of
him but his own steed, Star, was tiring and dropped back through the
ranks. Thus it was that Callanach and Líofa were parted on the
But Éomer did not care who was still with him, if anyone; he
would have fought alone if no other horseman had kept at his side. His
sword outstretched, his war cry on his lips, he galloped closer and
The orcs had not readied their bows and before they could the front
rank of horsemen struck them and bowled them over, spurring on through
the lines of black-clad warriors till Éomer saw in the corner of
his eye the sun glint on water; they could see the river!
Now Gothmog, smiling, raised his spiked mace and looking from side to side he unleashed his counter-attack….
From the ruins of Osgiliath, and from the banks of the river where they
had lain in wait during the battle, rank upon rank of orcs and Variags
and trolls started up. Looking back over his shoulder, Líofa saw
a solid line of Haradrim wheel across behind them, penning them in
against the ruins and the river, trapping them…..at once hs spurred
forward to be close to the leaders. Haradrim arrows, black and
stinging, whined in among the Rohan cavalry and horsemen shouted and
cursed and some fell. Líofa looked desperately for Callanach….
‘To Éomer! Make a stand!’ shouted Tiarna, now leader of his
éored. But scarcely had he shouted the words than an orc arrow
struck him in the back below the left shoulder blade. He fell onto his
horse’s neck and the beast, taking fright, bounded forward and Tiarna
fell from the saddle under the hooves of his own riders.
‘Tiarna!’ cried Callanach, spurring forward to help him but at that
moment a squadron of Haradrim cavalry, their red robes flying in the
wind and their brass-bound bucklers glinting in the afternoon sun,
surged forward to cut off their éored. Callanach found himself
shouting the order Tiarna had been trying to give to his men;
‘To Éomer! To the King..!’
‘Let us dismount and fight on foot, Lord Éomer!’ cried Gamling
as the Hardrim cavalry swung towards them. ‘We cannot fight them off as
we are, the horses are too tired!’
Éomer looked towards the Haradrim; their black and grey desert
ponies were fresh and fast, their riders hunched forward pointing their
long lances with their black and red pennants fluttering. They could
make a shield wall and resist their attack…an arrow hit Gamling and he
fell from the saddle with a cry. The Elf Líofa snatched the
standard as it teetered and came round to protect Éomer’s flank.
From behind the orcs gave a roar of triumph and flew forward towards
them; they were encircled…
Éomer looked again towards the river, and he saw its shining
surface covered with ships. Black ships, with black sails. His heart
stood still; corsairs. The pirates of the South had come to the aid of
Sauron. Now they were indeed doomed ..
‘To me!’ shouted Éomer as the volleys of Haradrim arrows began
to patter on their shields. ‘To your King! For the Mark! Forth, Riders
And the last of the Rohirrim threw themselves on the Southron cavalry…
Gothmog watched the charge of the Riders with a smile fixed on his
grey-white face. A single tear crept down his ravaged cheek. He did not
see the colour of blood, his senses being stripped by Sauron who had
left him only such perception as would help him to conquer for Mordor.
But he was not beyond all feeling…..and suddenly his pasty, scarred
face twitched and he glanced around in irritation. One eye was
milky-blue and blind but one saw more clearly than any mortal. He gazed
at the wedge of green-cloaked horsemen almost buried now under the
black ranks of orcs and the black and vermillion cloaks of the
Haradrim. But Gothmog sensed another kind of being; an Elf….he extended
his good arm, with its mace outstretched.
‘Kill the Elf!’ he shouted. ‘Find the Elf and kill him!
Once, he had been an Elf….’Kill all Elves!’ he shrieked, the tear falling from his face….
An orc rushed through the Rohirrim and unerringly thrust a black
pike-spear at Éomer. Líofa parried the blow and the
spearhead snapped off. He swung the blade and the creature’s head
sprang from its shoulders….Éomer shouted at him over the din of
‘My thanks, harpist! You are good with more than a harp….’
Líofa smiled but had no time to reply; looking up he saw,
spurring through the ranks of Rohirrim, not heeding the swords or
lances of the Riders, a red-cloaked champion of Harad mounted on a
great black horse….
For a moment time seemed to stand still for Líofa. He knew at
once that the warrior was sent to slay him, and to keep the hazard away
from Éomer the King he turned his horse’s head, planted the
standard of Rohan in the hard ground and spurred to meet the oncoming
The Haradrim captain did not slacken his pace and the two mounts
crashed into each other, shoulder to shoulder. Líofa was almost
thrown from the saddle but with the agility of the Elves he clung to
the cantle and deftly resumed his seat when his mount had recovered
from the shock of impact. Then looking up Líofa saw a flash of a
descending blade and brought his own up and the two swords locked with
sparks and the Haradrim’s stroke was deflected.
The black horse cantered on to a halt and its rider hauled on his
tasselled reins and brought its head round and with a snort the animal
leaped forward again in a charge at Líofa and Brand.
Líofa looked at the face of his attacker but he wore a black
headcovering with a veil that hid all but his eyes. These were dark and
burned with rage and desire for the Elf’s blood. In that moment
Líofa felt singled out, hunted. Someone had sent this warrior to
But he had no time for reflection as the Haradrim was upon him and
again he raised his sword to ward off the blow. The Southron this time
reined his steed to a halt and brought his sword back up and round and
for an endless time both horsemen traded deadly blows, seeking to find
an opening in the other’s guard. The Haradrim was taller and a powerful
warrior and his strokes sent sparks flying from their blades.
‘You will never reach the West….’ In his mind Líofa with horror
heard once again the voice of Saruman, pronouncing his doom. ‘…you will
die in Middle Earth, like any mortal. You are cast out from the destiny
of the Elves. Now, or later, but some day you will die…..’
What brought the voice into his head at that moment Líofa did
not know; perhaps a last sorcery of Gothmog, seeking through the
battlefield for the Elf he had sensed there. Perhaps Gothmog mistook
him for Marfach. Whichever it was, he was distracted and under his veil
the Haradrim smiled grimly to himself and putting all his strength
behind the blow he thrust his sword at Líofa and pierced the
golden leaf-mail that Galadriel had given him. The tip scored his
breast bone and Líofa felt a crushing pain in his chest and
dropping his sword he tumbled backwards off Brand onto the ground .
The Haradrim chieftain wheeled his horse and trotted back to finish
Líofa off. He pulled off his veil; it was Síota, now
commander of the Haradrim with Marfach gone. He wore a leathern
breastplate with a Golden Salamander emblazoned on it and a golden
belt, a gift of Sauron. He bent over in the saddle and raised his
Suddenly a horn blew, then another. Éomer, in the midst of the
melée, looked up. So did Gothmog, amongst his captains. He
squinted against the sun, westering over the wide river. The black
hulls of the corsairs had reached harbour, crowding the narrow quay. A
rabble was descending from the first ship, and Éomer let his
sword arm fall; now was the ending of all their hopes, all their
courage . But he would make such an ending as lays would tell of till
there was no-one in the Mark with breath to recount it…..
‘To me!’ he shouted to his grim, courageous remnant. ‘To me! This is our last fight, let it be our most glorious….’
A ragged cheer went up from men almost overrun, and Éomer raised his sword but then a voice shouted;
‘My Lord! Look at the banners unfurled! They are not the banners of the corsairs….’
And Éomer looked towards the river and saw a banner landed upon
the shore and it was instantly unbound and a great black flag was
shaken out and blew in the hot smoky breeze.
Éomer gazed in astonishment, for upon the flag was no symbol of
pirate or of orc but a white tree and stars, and over them all a tall
crown. And it all glittered and shone in the sunshine for it was
wrought of diamonds and precious gems by Arwen for her lord Aragorn.
‘Help has come!’ breathed Éomer to himself, and the cry was
taken up by his men. ‘Aragorn, Aragorn is here! We are saved!’
And with their courage and strength renewed the Rohirrim gripped their
swords and threw themselves upon their attackers, who, seeing foes on
both sides began to give way and then turned and fled. Soon the
counter-attack became a rout and orcs and Haradrim were flying away
from the Rohirrim across the battlefield, being cut down as they went….
Éomer looked at the black banner of Gondor flying in the wind
and he began to laugh with relief. Tears ran down his face and he
brushed them away with the back of his hand. Then his eye fell on the
body of the Elf Líofa, lying among the slain.
‘Would that you had taken King Théoden’s counsel and remained in
The Golden Hall of Edoras, little harpist…’ said Éomer. Then
another tear ran down his cheek and he added;
‘…would that my sister Éowyn had stayed there too…..’