The Dragon and the Fox
Chapter 77: The Circle of Steel
Callanach stood up and looked around, but as far
as he could see there were only the dead warriors of Rohan; the battle
still raged, but in the distance. A wall of grey dust hid the White
City and marked where the fight still raged, but here, amid the
slaughtered of Théoden’s people, there was a strange silence, a weary
calm, with only crows calling as they circled the battlefield.
Callanach knelt down beside Líofa’s body and with no-one to see
his tears he wept, taking the Elf’s cold hand in his own.
‘I cannot believe we were brought together again only for this, for me
to see you die!’ he said aloud. As if in reply a glossy-winged crow
landed on the carcass of a dead horse and eyed Líofa hungrily.
Suddenly filled with helpless rage Callanach jumped up and ran over and
aimed a kick at the bird, which flapped lazily away with a mocking cry
just before he reached it. The sound echoed away into silence, and
Callanach looked and there was nothing alive but the crows; the ground
was covered with slain men, orcs and horses, and fallen Mumakil like
grey mountains bristling with arrows. A white horse banner planted in
the torn up grass flapped in the warm wind. What difference did one
dead Elf make to this slaughter?
‘You can’t sit here all day; come and practice weaponcraft….’
Callanach jumped up at the voice behind him and turned round. A
tall Elf stood there, clad in the grey tunic and green cloak of the
woodland Galadhrim. His long fair hair gleamed in the shadows under the
great trees, and his grey eyes were keen and his face stern. On his
brow he wore a circlet of mithril set with a diamond like a star and he
carried a great bow of red yew inlaid with a leaf pattern in gold. Two
Elves similarly clad and armed stood behind him, but even a boy like
Callanach could see this was a prince among Elves.
‘Are you Celeborn?’ he asked. The other two Elves laughed, but this
tall Elf did not smile. Instead he bowed as if to someone of great
importance and said;
‘I am Haldir, and among Elves I am of high rank, but I am not a
prince. You too are of a line of chieftains, your father was leader of
‘Rangers do not have chieftains’ replied Callanach quickly ‘They
are all equal, being descended of the Dúnedain. But my father was
indeed a leader of Rangers, his name was Feolchú, The Wolf…..but he is
Haldir stood with his head slightly on one side, listening
patiently to the boy, but his grey-green eyes were never still,
flickering from Callanach’s thin frame and shabby clothes to the eaves
of the great Mallorn trees that sighed and creaked in the winter
breeze. Although in Lothlórien it never seemed as winters did in the
North, more like some long, tranquil September.
‘Why do you sit here, looking out on the river?’ the Elf asked,
gesturing to the broad silver expanse of the Anduin, glimmering through
‘I can’t believe my friends left me behind…’ Callanach blurted out.
‘Do you think they will come back for you?’ Haldir said, frowning.
‘No’ replied Callanach ‘They have their duty to fulfil in the service
of Gondor. They cannot wait for one they believe will never wake up
again. They are far away by now…’
There was a silence, then Haldir said;
‘Do you wish to learn the arts of war as we practice them here in Lothlórien ?’
Callanach stared at the Elf. The Galadhrim guarded their forests
with skill and ferocity; few among the races of men or Elves could
match their archery or cunning in woodland warfare. Haldir put his head
on one side and said, as if amused;
‘Well, do you think we can teach you anything?’
‘Yes, yes!’ said Callanach ‘It is an honour, to be instructed by a prince of the Galadhrim…’
‘I was chosen because not many of the Galadhrim know your tongue’
said Haldir with a twinkle in his eye. ‘But rest easy; it is the wish
of the Lady Galadriel that you be taught our way of war. You are
Haldir stood in a sunlit space under the Mallorns, still and
unmoving for what seemed an age, staring into the woodland around him
as if listening to some music Callanach could not hear. Then he drew
his great curved sword, slowly swinging it in an arc. In the
sun-speckled glade the light flashed on the blue-white steel and
Callanach, watching open-mouthed, saw Elvish lettering on the blade. He
wondered what it meant and Haldir, reading his thoughts, said;
‘The letters make up the words; ‘The realm of Melian is fair beyond sorcery’.
Callanach nodded, not quite understanding the phrase.
‘Melian is ancestress and protectress of forests…’ Haldir added watching him closely.
‘You must know what it is you fight for…’
‘I fight for Arnor, and the King…’ replied Callanach with spirit. Haldir laughed;
‘Good! Now watch….’
And moving softly and silently Haldir stepped up to the boy and
wielding the great curved sword as easily as an ash wand he cut the air
round him, defending, attacking, circling, giving way, darting forward.
At last he took a white silken swatch from his tunic and threw it in
the air. It unfolded as it fell, spreading out in the cool air like a
white bird. Haldir raised the sword and brought it down swiftly,
cutting the scarf in two. Callanach stared. Haldir, still unsmiling,
held out the long polished handle to the boy.
‘Now you try. Aim at me…’
‘But I might hurt you….’ Haldir smiled.
No matter how quickly Callanach moved, no matter what swordtrick he
used that he had learned from his father, he could not as much as touch
the elf’s long grey tunic. Haldir seemed to flit away from under the
blade like a ghost. After an hour, Callanach had to stop, sweating and
winded. Haldir smiled and calmly claimed back his sword.
‘Till tomorrow, then….’ He said, retreating with a bow and a smile…
So every day just before noon Haldir came quietly through the trees,
carrying his great Elven sword. On the third day he handed Callanach a
sword of his own in a scabbard of fine red leather embossed with Elven
lettering. When Haldir gave a nod of permission, he drew the sword.
It was a smaller version of Haldir’s great sword, somewhat lighter for
Callanach’s slender frame and shorter reach. But it glimmered in the
mottled light of the glade and he saw that the steel was as fine, and
as true and as keen as the Elf’s own.
‘It is a gift of the Lady herself. Indeed you are favoured…’
There was lettering on the blade.
‘What does it say?’ asked Callanach. Haldir replied;
‘I serve the Lady Galadriel’
‘And so I do!’ exclaimed Callanach, delighted with the gift. ‘I will honour it and try to bear it with courage….’
Haldir did not reply for a moment. He stepped away and drew his own
sword and swung it in a wide arc as he often did at the beginning of
their practice. He said;
‘Within this circle bring no hatred or anger….’
Callanach looked at Haldir and replied;
‘But the enemy that killed my father, and drove my people to roam the North like wolves, how can I not hate them?’
Haldir merely replied;
‘If you bring anger or hate within the circle, you will die.’
Every day of his training, Callanach grew stronger and quicker. He
was given a green and grey Elven tunic in place of his ragged clothes,
and he felt a part of the forest when he put it on. But still he could
not as much as touch the Elf. Then, one day, not even thinking of what
he was doing, Callanach clipped Haldir with the tip of his sword. He
dropped it at once.
‘Did I cut you?’ he asked. Haldir did not reply for a long time, gazing
down at the boy as if seeing him for the first time. Then he bowed and
‘Callanach, no mortal being can defeat me in swordplay. None even
among the Elves has ever struck me, even in practice. Yet you have.
When you passed the gates of death, you brought something back with
you. You are no longer a mortal as other mortals are. You will never
find a home among men again….’
Callanach stared at the Elf in dismay. Haldir said;
‘I can teach you no more, Storm…..’
‘What did Haldir know of death anyway!’ Callanach thought bitterly ‘They are not human, not even mortal. What do they know….’
He knelt on the muddied ground, holding Líofa in his arms and
gazing into the still white face searching for some sign of life.
‘What do they know….’
The sound of hoofbeats interrupted his thoughts and he looked up. A
rider of Rohan was galloping across the battlefield, spurring his tired
horse on, his gold-embroidered green cloak flying out behind him.
‘One of Théoden’s bodyguard!’ thought Callanach with relief. He jumped to his feet and hailed the Rider.
‘Here! Over here! Help us….’
The man looked over at the sound, checking his horse’s gallop. He
wheeled his mount and trotted over to Callanach, who walked towards
As the man came closer Callanach realised that he knew him. A cold
feeling came over him; it was Íarnaí, the warrior Callanach had fought
and beaten. When the man in turn recognised Callanach, he drew his
horse up, and stared down at him, hostility in his face….
‘The Dunlending’s little friend!’ he said with a sneer. ‘Your
wolfs-head is not here to look after you now, is he, whelp? No elves to
save you this time….’ And he drew his sword and spurred towards the
Callanach stood still as the horse galloped at him. He hated to run
away, and anyway the mounted man would soon overtake him. He fingered
his own sword hilts, but knew he could not fight against a warrior of
his own side.
‘I am King Théoden’s man, a Rider of Rohan. I cannot draw against one of ours, whatever he does…’
When the charger was almost on him, Callanach closed his eyes.
‘Tiarna is dead, Líofa is dead. We swore an oath, we would not be parted again…’
There was a snort and the sound of hooves tearing up the hard ground. Callanach opened his eyes.
‘Draw, or run, curse you!’ shouted the man, leaning over in the
saddle and glaring at Callanach. He could kill in hot blood, in battle,
but to ride down a boy who stood still and would not defend himself,
even Íarnaí could not do it….he dismounted and strode over to him.
‘Who are you?’ he said. ‘And why did you call to me?’
‘I am Storm’ replied Callanach ‘and I want you to help me with my wounded friend….’
Íarnaí looked down at Líofa and shook his head.
‘He is dead, not wounded….’
‘No!’ said Callanach. ‘He is only hurt. Elves ofttimes seem dead to our
eyes, but they are only wounded. Please, he has the favour of King
Théoden….help me bear him from the field…’
Íarnaí looked round; there was no sign of his éored, or his
chieftain. The battle still raged, but far away. He looked at the
anxious face of the boy and said;
‘King Théoden is dead….’
‘You, Lord Elf, and no other will make our victory song when we get
home!’ said King Théoden to Líofa. The feast table fell silent,
thinking of the long ride that lay ahead to bring them to Gondor, and
the desperate battle they would have before its walls….but then Gamling
seized his horn of ale and rising to his feet he shouted;
And the feast-table roared back the name, and hammered on the wooden boards with the hilts of their daggers…
Íarnaí dismounted and bent down to help Callanach lift Líofa up.
‘We can put him on the horse and you can ride behind him. I will lead him….’
Callanach nodded and gave the man a grateful look. But as Íarnaí
led his mount over to where Líofa lay Callanach suddenly looked up. He
gazed at the grey mist that had risen when the Army of the Dead had
passed by. His heart began to pound in his chest and the blood began to
roar in his ears….
‘You have something brought back from beyond the gates of death….’ Haldir had said….
‘Someone is coming….’ Callanach said to Íarnaí. The man looked round.
‘I don’t see anything’ he muttered impatiently. ‘Come on and help me before I change my mind….’
Íarnaí raised his head and strained to hear, then snorted and went
to mount his horse. At that moment a tall, ragged figure broke from the
mist, running swiftly across the battlefield. Seen against the
grey-yellow smoke it seemed taller than a man, but Callanach looked
hard at him and made out the winged brass helmet, the interleaved
gilded armour and the long torn red cloak, the tall pike with the
‘Haradrim!’ shouted Íarnaí in alarm.
‘No, not Haradrim’ said Callanach, half to himself. ‘Easterlings….’
One after another they came into view, running for their lives away
from the army of Aragorn and the King of the Dead. Perhaps they knew
already that there was no escape, that the Anduin bank was taken and
all the river quays and harbour alleyways. But they still fled towards
the waterside. They had thrown away their tall rectangular brass
shields in order to run faster, but they still had their long wickedly
curved pikes and their swords. They numbered about twenty, and were led
by a captain, his gilded helm marked in red with a vulture emblem. And
it was this Easterling who saw Callanach and Íarnaí.
The man checked and shouted, pointing at them with his spear. The
Easterlings, beaten and mauled by the Rohirrim, had yet some fight in
them, and saw the chance to butcher two of their tormentors. They
changed direction, and charged howling at the two men….
‘Let’s get out of here!’ cried Íarnaí.’On my horse, quick!’
‘No! shouted Callanach ‘I cannot leave Líofa!’
‘He’s dead’ wailed the man. ‘Can’t you see that? Come with me, or die here…’
Callanach had been left for dead, in Lothlórien. He would not leave Líofa as he had been left…..
‘No!’ he said again. Íarnaí looked at the Easterlings, running swiftly towards them.
‘Stay, then, but stay on your own. Throw your life away, I want no part of it. ….’
And setting spurs to his horse, Íarnaí galloped away and was quickly hidden in the smoke of battle.
Callanach did not watch him go. He was looking at the Easterlings
as they ran to the attack, like jackals on a wounded deer. He put a
hand on his Elven sword and drew it from its scabbard. The dull smoky
light glinted on the blade, and for a heartbeat his enemies slowed
their charge, given thought, perhaps, by the sight of the Elven steel.
Then they encouraged each other with war cries in their Easterling
tongue, and levelled their pikes as they came up on Callanach.
As Haldir had taught him in Lothlórien, Callanach swung the blade in an
arc, wide and level and complete. He felt more than heard the keen edge
cut the air with a noise like a song. His feet seemed to move of their
own accord and he followed the blade and an armoured body broke into
the shining circle and Callanach lifted his hand and flicked his wrist,
and the Easterling’s head sprang from his shoulders and thumped onto
the ground and rolled away…
‘I can’t teach you any more, Callanach….’ said Haldir…
‘Fall back and use your bows!’ shouted the Easterling captain, and his
warriors scrambled away from the deadly arc of the Elven blade and
unslung their short curved horn bows and took aim at the solitary
Callanach pointed the tip of the Elven sword to the ground and stared
at them, looking from one to the other, the faces hidden by vizors
which revealed only the eyes, bright with hatred and the thirst for
‘Wait for me, Líofa…’