The Dragon and the Fox
Chapter 69: King of the Living and the Dead
As the battle ebbed
away from them on the Fields of the Pelennor, Éomer dismounted
from Liath and walked over to Aragorn. The Ranger had paused for
breath, his great sword Anduril, stained with blood, gripped in his
hand. His chain mail was torn and scored and his face was grim but he
smiled with joy to see Éomer alive....
Behind Aragorn Éomer saw his comrades Gimli and Legolas. The
Dwarf's axe was notched and dyed with orc blood; the Elf held his bow
with an arrow ready to shoot...
‘Well met, well met, Aragorn! You come just in time...’ said
Éomer, his voice hoarse with shouting his commands to his men
over the din of battle. He saw Aragorn’s eyes resting on his stained
and battered chain mail and torn leather armour.
‘Well met, indeed’ said Aragorn quietly, embracing Éomer. When
the Lord of the Mark stood back, his face had a stricken look.
‘We have suffered grievous loss, Lord Aragorn….’
And Éomer’s voice trailed off; how could he tell Aragorn that
Éowyn was dead? That she had ridden to war in despair, perhaps
because of his departure on the Paths of the Dead? His voice failed
him, for all his courage, and he strove in vain to find words to tell
Aragorn of his sister and his uncle King Théoden’s deaths.
‘Do not speak of these things!’ Aragorn said suddenly, shaking his head
and resting his hand on Éomer’s arm. Then the Lord of the Mark
looked at Aragorn, and he saw in him a change; during the long dark
ride through the Paths of the Dead, at the head of the army of the
oathbreakers, the unburied wanderers of the half-world between life and
death, Aragorn had aged many winters.
Éomer looked closer; through Aragorn’s dark hair ran threads of
silver. On his face too, lines were etched deeply that had only been
shadows before. In the depths of his grey eyes was another shadow, a
haunted memory that from this time to his death would never leave
The Ranger guessed some great sorrow had befallen Éomer, but it
was more than his heart could bear to hear it at that moment. He raised
Anduril and spoke loudly to Éomer;
‘Let us avenge these things before we even speak of them!’
The Riders gathered round Éomer and Aragorn heard these words
and gave a loud shout, and with that their leader swung himself up onto
his warhorse again and seizing the White Horse standard he bore it
himself, alongside the black banner with the silver tree and stars
wrought by Arwen for Aragorn. And together they drove the hosts of
Mordor back towards the river….
At the ragged end of the army of Rohan Callanach struggled to keep up.
His horse Star, the little black Harad pony, went more and more slowly
until at last he started limping and Callanach reined him to a halt.
Sliding off he examined his mount, and found a deep cut, from sword or
lance, in his shoulder. Blood stained the glossy flanks and the brave
little horse hung its head down, blowing hard.
‘Good boy, rest, rest!’ said Callanach rubbing his neck gently. ‘You
have fought enough for one day, I will not urge you any further…’
The little horse ******** up his ears as if he understood. Callanach
wished he had water for the beast, but to ease the burden on the
wounded animal he undid the saddle and pulled it off. He tugged up a
handful of dry grass and fed the pony, and looked round.
Aragorn and Éomer had led the Riders in their last assault on
the enemy, and Callanach was left alone in a field of dead and dying. A
hot wind blew acrid smoke across the scene and all the lad could see
was the dead; of Rohan, of Harad and of Mordor. A field of death….
‘Líofa!’ thought Callanach suddenly. ‘where is he?’
Leaving Star he ran back through the debris of war, looking through the
fallen for the bright glint of Elven mail. The battlefield seemed
endless, but at last he saw a banner of Rohan stuck in the ground.
Callanach’s blood ran cold; he hurried to the spot and found what
seemed to be a whole éored of slain warriors of Rohan; perhaps
they had made a stand by the flag and been overrun, fighting to the
last man. Callanach recognised many of them, and with a heavy heart he
pulled their cloaks over their faces. Then he was roused by a whinny
Half afraid of what he would see, he rose to his feet and turned round;
there, behind him, stood Brand, Líofa’s tall grey horse. As he
stared at the animal it dropped its head and nosed at a body lying on
the ground; Callanach looked and saw it was Líofa…
The sky was lightening towards dawn, grey-blue over a plain white with
frost. Elves do not suffer from cold, but Líofa felt chilled to
his very bones. Ahead of him King Théoden led a great body of
Riders to the edge of a long grassy escarpment and halted, looking out
over the Mark. Behind the distant line of mountains, jagged black
against the stars, rose the moon, a bright shard casting shadows on the
The tips of the Riders’ spears glinted in the ghostly light and the
jingle of bits and thump of hooves on the hard ground was all that
broke the frosty stillness. The King beckoned Líofa to his side
and when the Elf had come up to him he smiled and said;
‘You have borne yourself bravely in my service, Harpist and Elf of the North. Now it is time for you to leave us…’
Líofa looked at Théoden as if to protest but the King held up his hand and prevented him.
‘We are of the earth, the people of the Mark and of Gondor. But you Elves are of the Stars. Where we go you cannot follow.’
Líofa said nothing, but looked at the other Riders. Beside
Théoden a young warrior in richly decorated armour sat on a
white horse, looking at Líofa with an expression of
indifference. Líofa wondered how he had not noticed such a noble
young Rider before…then the King spoke again.
‘When in summer the cloud-shadows race each other across the plains of
the Mark, there will we be, our hearts beating like the hooves of
swift-running steeds. In winter when every blade of grass is imprisoned
by snow, we will feel the keen wind blowing as if spring will never
come. Under the green grass of the Riddermark, our hearts will be
stilled at last, we who fought for her today.’
Líofa looked again at Théoden, realising at last the
meaning of his words. And he knew then that the young warrior by the
King’s side was his son, Théodred…
Líofa looked over his shoulder. All the host sat silent and
motionless on their horses like men carved from stone. The tips of
their spears glittered like diamonds and the gilded helms shone with a
dull fire. But the gold was tarnished and the silver of the harnesses
corroded. Over their heads the banners of green seemed black in the
moonlight, hanging like ragged graveclothes. In the eyes of the host
burned a pale cold fire, but that was their only sign of life….
Líofa turned back to Théoden and went to speak but found
he could not. Then the King gathered his reins in his hand and said;
‘When you take up your harp again, Elf, do not sing my lament. Make for
me a song of rejoicing, of victory. Tell those who may live to hear
song again how the earth shook to the sound of our horses’ hooves; how
our swords shone in the sun like silver, and our helms like gold. Say
to those who do not yet know how this day Théoden King earned
his place among his fathers, the Eorlingas….’
And the King looked towards the West and said in a voice that wounded Líofa to the heart;
‘..tell them how fair the springtime will be on the plains of the Mark. And tell my sister-daughter Éowyn…..farewell….’
And without looking at Líofa again King Théoden urged
Snowmane forward and his men followed and his last words were lost amid
the sound of hoofbeats on the iron-hard ground.
They rode down the slope into a hollow between two hills. A mist lay on
the low ground and it hid them for a while. Líofa, straining his
Elvish sight to follow them, at last saw them emerge from the sea of
silver-white and surge out onto the plain. But now they were not a body
of armed and mounted men but a great herd of wild horses, black and
grey and dun, their manes glistening with frost and their eyes bright
in the moonlight. With a thunder of hooves they broke into a gallop,
tossing their heads and, led by a great, grey stallion they headed
towards the West and were lost to Líofa’s sight…
When they were gone a great weakness came over the Elf. He was forced
to lie down on the cold ground with his cloak wrapped round him. He
wondered if he too was dead.
‘Sooner or later, by war or by slow decay, you will die in Middle Earth like any mortal!’
The words of Saruman echoed in his mind, but Líofa no longer cared. He wanted only to sleep..….