The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda

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 Tirith.

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 Líofa…

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 Pelennor Fields…

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 closer….

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… 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 of Rohan….’
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 battle;
‘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 warrior….

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 slay him….

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 sword..

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…..’