The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda

Chapter 75: The Last People of Arnor

'Get down from your horse, little one…’ said Gothmog to Callanach in a voice that was almost kind.
‘Meet me face to face, with the courage of the men of Arnor….’

The remark stung the boy, and he reached down and patted Realt’s neck, soothing the agitated beast. It ceased to roll its eyes and lowered its head with a snort. Callanach ran his palm over the glossy black coat and slid from the saddle, lifting the reins over the animal’s head. Then he turned to face his foe.

As he did Gothmog bared his crooked yellow tusks in a mirthless grin and hissed at the little Haradrim pony. At once Realt shied violently, wrenching the bridle from Callanach’s grip. The boy watched as his mount galloped away from him across the battlefied. Now he had no escape….

‘I have been told, Lord Haldir…’ said Callanach as the tall Galadhrim Elf paused in their sword practice. ‘..that some of the orcs are really Elves, taken by Sauron and twisted to his own uses. Is that true, my lord?’

The tall Elf-lord fixed his grey eyes, luminous and calm like all the Elves but now lit with something akin to anger, on the boy.
‘I’ve offended him…’ thought Callanach in dismay, but he waited in silence for a reply.

None came, though. Haldir lifted his sword to the salute, then to the position of rest, the blade shining in the green gloom of the forest clearing which Haldir had chosen for their sword practice.

Callanach looked up at the noble Elf, always surprised that someone so slender could be so swift and powerful in movement, as he had found to his cost in their sword bouts. Haldir’s long golden hair was bound back with a mithril circlet set with a single emerald and he wore a long grey-green robe caught in a corslet of black steel engraved with silver leaves, designed to protect the body from any stray blows.

Callanach, however, was beginning to despair of ever landing any blows at all on the armour, such was the Elf’s skill in foiling all his attacks. But now, from the look of pain in his grey eyes, Cal saw he had indeed landed a blow, but not in the manner he would have liked….Haldir said in a calm voice;
‘That is enough practice for today….’
‘We’re finished?’ cried Cal in disbelief as Haldir turned to go. ‘But my lord, we’ve only just started….’

Haldir stopped and turned back. There was a glint of humour in his eyes.
‘A soldier must learn to take orders…’
‘Well….yes, of course my lord….but…’ Callanach stammered, aware of Haldir’s amused gaze. But he was Storm, the son of Wolf. He came of Arnor and was not afraid of any man, or Elf. He said boldly;
‘Only a stupid soldier does what he is told without asking questions. What if I meet one of these Elf-orcs? What swordcraft would avail me then, Lord Haldir? Can I not know how they came to serve Sauron? Does the world have to be made of secrets never to be told?’

Haldir looked surprised, then turned and walked away from Callanach, to a moss-grown stone in the middle of the grove. This Callanach knew was some sacred place to the Galadhrim, remains of some older habitations of Elves or even some other magical beings who lived here before Galadriel and her people came to Lorien. Haldir sat down on it and sighed, looking at the ground.

‘Secrets? Not so, my young friend. Just truths so horrible for us to remember that we have buried them deep. Known but never spoken of…..’ then he looked at Callanach and said;
‘But you are right, little one. As you often are. Perhaps your time beyond the gates of death made you see more clearly than we who are blinded by the many cares of life. I know that is what the Lady Galadriel thinks…’

Callanach went pale; he often wondered why Galadriel had shown him such favour.

Then Haldir said briskly;
‘You have a right to know. They are the Lost Elves. Once they were of our kin, even great ones among us. But when Sauron took them, and wrought changes in them beyond our guessing far less our knowledge, they entered a place of silence for Elves. They can never go to the Grey Havens, nor be cleared of their shame, nor even die the death men taste. They are doomed, and lost….’
‘But that is terrible!’ cried Callanach. ‘Is there nothing to be done for them? No way they can be rescued?

Haldir looked uncomfortable. He glanced up at the patch of sky visible through the leaves of the Mallorns. Then he looked at Callanach and said in a low voice.
‘This is for your hearing only, my young mortal companion….’ He paused then, and Callanach held his breath, and listened…..
‘Friends I had among those lost to Sauron. Even friends I loved greatly….’
And the Elf lord stared before him, as if remembering a time unimaginable to Callanach. He went on;
‘I believe that there is a road back for them, but the Elves themselves do not allow it. From pride, or fear, they will not let their lost brothers return to our peace. For that, I weep, and for that, I am ashamed…’

Callanach gazed at Haldir, seeing the sadness in his face. The next moment, Haldir shook his head, and his keen, proud gaze returned. It was as if he had never spoken of the matter. He turned to Callanach and said;
‘Just know this, Storm. If you find you must fight one of the Lost Ones, use all I have taught you, but then use your mortal heart. For if the Lost Elves will ever find their way to forgivness and new life, it will be through the deeds of Men, not Elves. We have abandoned them….’

Gothmog smiled as he watched Callanach approach. Even from a distance his one good eye could pick out the fine detail on the lad’s Elven mail, the gift of Galadriel herself. He could see the roundel set into the boy’s gilded corslet as it caught the pale afternoon sun. But he saw too that Callanach was no Elf, just a slender half-grown mortal who bore a long curved shining Elven sword in front of him in his bony hands as he flicked a stray lock of black hair out of his eyes.

‘How can I defeat one of these Elf-orcs, should I meet one in battle?’ Callanach asked Haldir. The Elf looked down at him and said quietly.
‘Storm, you cannot defeat them…’

‘Well…’ thought Callanach grimly as he walked steadily towards Gothmog.
‘I had other teachers besides Haldir of Lorien. I am a Ranger of the North, of Arnor. I am the son of Feolchu, the Wolf, bound hand and heart to Lord Aragorn, the Dunedain…..’

The North had made him, hardened him on long campaigns across snowy moors and through wet forests beyond the mists of the Shire. He had travelled all day on a bowl of gritty porridge given to him by a cottager.
‘Eat whatever they put before you…’ his father Feolchu had said to him in a low voice when the lad grimaced at the unappetising grey mess. ‘…and thank them for it. They will not forget, and will welcome you again when you come back. Remember, they are the last people of Arnor, and they are our charges…’

Now as he walked across the withered grass of Gondor, Callanach remembered the peat smoke in the hovel and the half-starved children watching him in awe. He remembered the frost on the bog and the Northern stars….

Gothmog waited, standing between Callanach and Marfach. As tall as Haldir but hunched and twisted, the sun glinting on his black armour, Gothmog raised his deformed face to the light and Storm knew that it was as warm and welcome to this ruined creature as it was to himself. Then Gothmog fixed Callanach with his one yellow eye and said quietly;
‘Come closer, little one…’

A chill ran down Callanach’s spine; that was what Haldir had called him. He glanced aside and saw that Marfach had laid his head down in the dust and no longer moved or showed any sign of life. Callanach wondered was he at last dead, or was he feigning, hoping Callanach would give up his defence and flee, saving at least one life….

‘No dreaming, now, little one..’ Gothmog interrupted his thoughts. ‘that is your weakness, isn’t it? Of what do you dream? Of the river that claimed you? Or perhaps of your father, slain in Rhovanion. Would you like to see him again?’
Callanach was staring at him in horror. Gothmog laughed softly;
‘Do you think I am jesting? Yield to me, little one, and this day you will see your father…’

Callanach’s heart turned to ice as he realised what Gothmog meant. He cried;
‘I will never yield to such as you! My oath to Arnor….’
‘Your oath to Arnor means nothing here’ sneered Gothmog. ‘..and neither do you. I will send you to your father now, whether you will or no. You cheated death once in the Anduin; you will not cheat it a second time…’

Callanach felt horror rise in him; how did Gothmog know about his drowning in the river, and his rescue and healing by the Galadhrim? The beaded pearl and ivory handle of the Elven sword suddenly felt heavy and slick in his hand. The whole day now seemed like some terrible nightmare. First he had deserted the service of the King of Rohan, and now this creature seemed to know his dead father. How could he, unless he was one of these orc-Elves Haldir had spoken of….

‘How do I fight one such as those?’ he asked the Elf-lord. Haldir smiled grimly;
‘You cannot fight them..' he replied. 'If you do you will lose. If you do you will die...'

Callanach raised his arm and wiped away the sweat from his eyes and walked slowly forward towards Gothmog. Lame and half-blind, agility was not Gothmog’s strength. He let Callanach advance, nodding slowly, and only when the boy was almost upon him did he raise his scimitar on guard.

Callanach tried to put out of his head everything except what he had been taught in combat with Haldir. He went on the attack, rushing on Gothmog with his Elven blade held high. He feinted to the right as he came within range of the black scimitar then when Gothmog moved to parry he brought his Galadhrim sword up in an undercut aimed at the creature’s unprotected throat.

But Gothmog seemed to read the boy’s mind and effortlessly he turned his sword to block Storm’s blade. He moved almost languidly, but the clash of steel when it came jarred Callanach’s arm to the shoulder and almost lost him his grip on the handle.

Using the agility that was his only real advantage over Gothmog, Callanach skipped back out of reach of his opponent’s scimitar. But in that moment as he recovered his stroke, Gothmog pounced. Leaping forward like some monstrous toad he brought his crooked scimitar down squarely on Callanach’s bright Elven blade. The fine steel shattered with a ringing sound and the shards flew in all directions. Callanach was left staring dumbly at the broken sword in his hand…

The boy recovered and stepped back out of range but not quickly enough; Gothmog shot out a mailed hand and seized him by the throat. His one good hand was bigger than the hand of a man, more like the hand of an Uruk-hai and easly encircled the lad’s slender neck. The gnarled fingers closed fast on Callanach’s throat and began to tighten….

Unable to breathe, Callanach fell to his knees. Gothmog snarled and tightened his grip even further. The boy put his hands on the orc’s arms but they were encased in black armour like adamant. Deprived of air, Callanach’s sight began to darken. Dimly he heard Gothmog chuckle deep in his throat. Not able to think of any other trick, Callanach bit the creature’s scaly hand, sinking his teeth into the tough hide with all his strength.

As fortune would have it, Gothmog had a tender unprotected area between his webbed fingers and it was into this that Callanach sank his teeth. Pain shot up the creature’s arm. Gothmog did not flinch; pain meant nothing to him, either his own or that of another. But he felt insulted; he could not now merely kill this wretched wolf cub. He must make him suffer for his audacity.

He released his grip on Callanach’s throat and flung him to the ground, placing his mailed foot on the boy's back. He picked up his scimitar again; he would cut the insolent little dog into pieces. He raised his arm to strike and Callanach, lying trapped under his foot saw the shadow of the crooked sword on the withered grass and closed his eyes. There came the whistling of the keen crescent of black steel as Gothmog’s sword descended, then a sickening crunch and a dull thump, and Callanach realised with a thrill of relief that he was still alive; the foot was lifted from his back and something rolled past his face. It was Gothmog’s head…

Callanach sat up and looked around. Standing beside him, a great broadsword gleaming in his hand, stained with Gothmog’s black blood, was Aragorn, his lord and the lord of Arnor.

‘And this is my son, Callanach, Lord Aragorn…’ said Feolchu.
Cal stepped forward and bowed. His heart was in his mouth; what if Aragorn said he was too young and too small to be a Ranger and fight in his service? But Aragorn bowed solemly and said;
'Your name means Storm, Callanach. May you be a storm upon our enemies…’

Now Callanach scrambled to his feet but before he could speak Aragorn said;
‘Do you always pick an enemy twice your size, Storm?’

Cal stared at Aragorn, wondering at the change in his lord. The raven’s wing black of his hair was threaded with more grey than when Callanach had seen him before. There were more lines in his face, from worry and weather. But it was in his eyes that Callanach saw the real change; it was as if Aragorn had seen every sorrow, and was now resolved to break the world in two before he would yield to Sauron who had caused it.

‘My lord…’ stammered Callanach but Aragorn put a finger to his lips as it to forbid him to speak. He reached out and took Cal’s hand to raise him up and the boy noticed that Aragorn was cold as ice. And then he noticed too that there clung to his garments a pale thready mist, shot through with green. It had the luminescence of carrion, and Callanach almost drew back. Looking beyond Aragorn then he saw a grey phantom warrior, his harness bleached to white and his spear dull with rust, pass across the battlefield, not touching the ground and moving with great speed.

Callanach started in horror and would have backed away, but then came another, and another and he realised the battlefield was slowly being covered by wraiths, shrouded in wisps of grey mist and marching all as one. They swept across the Pelennor, driving the last of the enemy before them….Callanach turned to Aragorn and asked in a whisper;
‘Am I too one of the dead, Lord Aragorn?’

Aragorn smiled at the boy and said;
‘You belong to the living, Callanach, and to the service of the King of Arnor....'