The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda


Chapter 74: The King's Outlaw

Angry exclamations broke from the Rohirrim at Callanach’s words. The boy looked round at them, seeing the hatred in their faces. He went pale.Gamling said quietly;
‘This Marfach of yours is an enemy to the people of Rohan, Callanach. You have chosen a dark ally. No-one can have such a friend and be a King’s man…’
‘Then a king’s man I will be no longer!’ cried Callanach angrily. The men shifted in their saddles, and one or two set their mailed hands on their sword hilts. Gamling urged his horse forward from the ranks so he could talk unheard with the boy.

Callanach stood amongst the wrack of battle, his drawn sword ready in his hand, the Elvish mail given to him in Lórien glinting in the brassy sunlight. The cold March wind wind whipping his long black hair across his pale face he looked up at the lieutenant of Éomer with stubborn pride in his grey eyes.

‘If you leave the army of Rohan now, to bring aid this cursed enemy of our people’ said Gamling.
‘…you will risk being declared outlaw to Rohan for ever more, Callanach, and you will dishonour your oath to the King…’
‘My oath was to King Théoden’ replied Callanach stoutly. ‘..not to Éomer, with all respect to his royalty. Théoden is dead now and I am free, and I purpose to go to the aid of my friend, Marfach, whatever you and your men think of him.’ He looked at Íarnaí and said;
‘I have tasted something of the honour of Rohan…’

Gamling flushed red.
‘You go too far, boy..’ he snapped. Then he restrained himself and said in a milder voice;
‘You will find it not too easy to be an outlaw to our spears…’

A white fury seized Callanach. While these fools talked, Marfach might be dying. He stepped back and said to Gamling;
‘My service to you, Lord Gamling, and to King Éomer my respect, but not my duty. I pray you honour your promise to care for Líofa the Elf, and I hope Lady Éowyn is speedily healed of her hurts….’

And without waiting for an answer Callanach turned and walked blindly away from the Lord of the Mark.

But as he stumbled through the litter of the battlefield, a thought struck him and he faltered; how had he known Éowyn was wounded? No-one had told him, yet he knew the princess had fallen in the battle, wounded whilst slaying the Nazgul. He stopped and stood still.
‘I saw it….but where, and when?’ he said to himself. From the past, from that dark time when he had entered the land of death, a presence arose and hovered over his thoughts. Beating back a horrible fear, Callanach shook his head and walked on…
‘Not now, not now….’

Just then the whinny of a horse roused him and he looked back; the Rohirrim were watching him. He bent down and put an arm round Líofa and half carried the Elf to the line of horsemen. One dismounted and helped him lift Líofa into the saddle. The Elf had closed his eyes and his face was deathly pale. Callanach kissed his brow and whispered a farewell in Elvish in his ear, although he could not tell if Líofa heard him. Then he turned and walked away from the Rohirrim, his back rigid with anger and the blood roaring in his ears. Gamling, his heart pained at the sight of the slight figure walking into danger, called after him.
‘Storm, will you take a horse? It is the least I can give you…’

Callanach stopped and looked round. One of the Rohirrim, a younger warrior who had seen Callanach fight Íarnaí in the camp and beat the older, stronger man, dismounted and called to him;
‘Here, comrade. Do not go in anger, take my horse!’
And another also got down and held out his reins.
‘Take mine!’

Gamling sat in the saddle in silence, watching the slight, pale lad clad in fine Elvish armour looking from man to man, uncertainty in his face. Too young to understand, too proud to yield, yet these seasoned warriors loved him and would not have him ride off in anger. What had those Elves done to him anyway? As Callanach hesitated, there came a whinny and the boy turned and saw, trotting towards him through the wreckage of battle, his black Harad pony, Star.

Callanach walked towards the horse with relief; here at last was something familiar, something friendly. The horse cantered to a halt in front of him and dropped his nose to nuzzle the palm of Callanach’s hand. He stroked the horse’s glossy black neck, noticing the gash on his foreleg.
‘So, Réalt, Star, my friend, you too have been in battle..’ Then he turned to the Rohirrim.

‘Thank you for your kindness, my lords and comrades, but I already have a mount…’

‘He has courtesy such as a king might lack…’ thought Gamling grudgingly to himself. Callanach swung himself into the saddle and gathered up the reins. He said to Gamling;
‘Pronounce me outlawed or not as you wish, but carry my vow of obedience to Éomer, and my service to Lady Éowyn, now as on the march….’

As he knew they would, the men started to murmur at this; that Callanach had known Lady Éowyn was with the army when they did not….Gamling smiled to himself; this boy was full of tricks….

‘As you wish, Callanach’ he said. ‘You will not be proscribed on my word, but only on that of King Éomer. Your life is in the king’s hands, as that of the Elf is in the hands of fate…’

And Callanach bowed his head in assent, and Gamling bowed too, and the lad wheeled his fiery little black horse and galloped away as fast as he could, and was soon no more than a detail on the landscape of battle…

Callanach let the little horse have its head and run straight across the land, for in truth he did not know what way to go. Líofa had not told him where Marfach was, only that he was in danger of death.

Here, he was riding through the rearguard of Sauron’s great army of invasion. The ground was littered with discarded stores and carts, their wheels broken or bogged down, their loads smouldering where the Rohirrim had thrown torches into them to destroy all aid to their enemy.

Mumakil there were too, lying dead where they had dragged themselves out of the fierce arrow-storm of battle. And everywhere, dead men of Harad and Easterlings among their orcish allies.

Leaning out of the saddle to look at their faces, Callanach thought;
‘How could men fight side by side with these animals? These are not bad men, just fools…’
And looking at the slain, Callanach felt pity….

Haldir parried the blow with a long, almost leisurely sweep of his great Elvish blade. The steel caught the amber light of the westering sun and glinted in Callanach’s eyes, but the boy pressed on, trading blow upon blow, panting and stumbling, but never quite able to catch the tall Elf off guard. At last, however, making his lesser height an advantage he darted under Haldir’s protective undercut and the keen edge of his sword ripped a thread from the Elf’s silver-embroidered tunic.

Haldir stood back, raising his sword to signify the end of the bout, then fingered the torn silk. He looked up at Callanach with a strange expression on his face.
‘You are ready’ he said quietly, and turned to go.
‘Wait!’ said Callanach. ‘Lord Haldir! I am truly sorry I tore your shirt…’

Haldir turned with a smile as Callanach ran up to him out of breath. The Elf said;
‘The tunic does not matter; you are ready, and my task is done…’
‘What task?’ asked Callanach.
‘My lady and Queen, Galadriel, ordered me to teach you the art of the sword, as known to us here in Lórien. I have done so and you can learn no more from me…’
‘But..’ protested Callanach as Haldir turned to go ‘..I don’t feel ready!’

Haldir turned back then, and gazed down at the slight black-haired boy for some moments. His grey eyes were luminous in the shade of the great trees. He raised his hand and rapped lightly on Callanach’s chest with the back of his forefinger.
‘All the skill I have taught you will be undone by what is in here…’
Callanach looked up at him in dismay.
‘What do you mean?’ he asked. Haldir said to him then;
‘Let not your heart rule your stroke in battle, or you will die, or worse, choose a road of dishonour. Remember this, and remember me, Storm….’

Callanach stood still, looking unhappily up at the great Elf lord. And Haldir at last took pity on him and laid a gentle hand on his shoulder.
‘Go in peace, Storm. For your heart may be hasty, but it was never made to do evil…’

As Callanach rode on he wondered if he had done right to leave the service of the King of Rohan.
‘It’s done now…’ he thought grimly. 'Too hasty, Lord Haldir would have said…’

Just then Star checked his pace and swerved. Callanach did well to stay in the saddle. He looked round to see what had startled the horse, and saw lying in their path a mountainous dead Mumak. Horses hated and feared these great beasts, and shied away from them even when they were dead. Callanach turned Star’s head to skirt the massive corpse, when he saw a round, yellow, misshapen face staring malevolently at him over the beast’s great grey shoulder.

Callanach started violently and Star began to tremble under him. As the horse bore him round the carcass, Callanach saw the face belonged to a tall, hunched figure in close-fitting black armour made of overlapping leaves of steel. The creature, neither man nor orc, stood with legs wide apart, a long sword of black in one hand and the other thrust into his mail shirt, as if it was wounded or crippled. But Callanach saw something else as he rode round the creature; lying at his feet, almost touching the dead mumak, the ground under him stained with his own blood, was Marfach.

‘Marfach!’ shouted Callanach, urging his horse forward. At the name, the figure on the ground raised his head and looked round. Seeing the boy Marfach called out;
‘Storm! Get away from here. Go, get away…!’

Callanach stopped, confused. He could see Marfach was wounded, perhaps to death, as Líofa had discovered in his dream. Yet he did not want Storm to approach him….
‘No, come on, little warrior!’ the tall misshapen figure standing beside Marfach called out.
‘Comfort your friend here, for he does not have long to live. At least, not without a head…’
And Gothmog hefted the long black sword in his hand and cackled with laughter. He raised his face to the spring sky, a grin twisting his features; life was never without joy when one could still kill…

Marfach summoned his remaining strength and called again;
‘Get away, Storm. You are no match for this beast…’

Gothmog shot out a mailed foot and kicked Marfach in the ribs.
‘Manners, Críoga, manners. Of all people you should not forget the rules of courtesy…’
The wounded Elf lay back coughing and gasping for breath. Callanach drew his sword and urged Star forward, shouting;
‘Do him no further harm, for whatever you are, you will die here….!’

But when the little black horse got close to Gothmog and caught his scent, it shied violently away, almost unseating Callanach. The boy wheeled the animal and attacked again, but once again when it drew close to Gothmog it shied and reared, showing the whites of its eyes in terror. Gothmog chuckled and tapped the sand with the tip of his long black sword.
‘You must get down, boy, and fight me on foot…’ he said. Marfach shook his head, but he could no longer speak. Callanach swung himself out of the saddle and landed lightly on the ground, sword in hand, and advanced on Gothmog.

The lieutenant of Sauron raised his misshapen face and sniffed as if seeking the boy’s scent. Then he raised his black sword on guard and said with a ghastly smile;

‘Come on, little warrior.

I have killed children before….’