The Dragon and the Fox
Chapter 82: Some Other Sorcery
‘We meet at last, Marfach….’
The voice seemed to come from far away, and Marfach struggled through
the veils of a dark and disturbed sleep to open his eyes and look up
from the stone bench where he lay in a fever from his wounds.
Bending over him was a tall figure with long white hair and beard, clad
in a tunic and cloak of shimmering white material. The hem, however,
was sullied with dried mud, and the soft white doeskin boots that
peeped out from under the robes were also caked with dirt. But the eyes
in the lined and weatherbeaten face were blue as a summer sky, and
twinkled in a childlike manner as their owner said;
‘I believe it is time you and I had a talk….’
Marfach struggled to sit up. The cold stone had left him stiff, and
the wound in his side, lacking any treatment, ached with a deep,
gnawing pain. But every ache brought a kind of satisfaction to Marfach;
if this wound could carry him away into death, he would be freed from
pain of an even worse kind.
‘Well, do you wish to speak to me or not?’
‘What do you want of me, Gandalf the White?’ asked Marfach wearily.
Gandalf snorted and gathering his white robes around him he settled
down beside Marfach on the stone ledge, carefully placing his staff
against the wall. He also unbuckled his sword belt and laid it on the
ground beside him. Marfach raised an eyebrow.
‘Do you mean by this to show you know you do not need any weapon when
you are with me?’ Marfach asked with a bitter smile. Gandalf regarded
him with a hurt look.
‘Of course not!’ he replied. ‘and in any case, I am hardly likely to be
afraid of you now, am I?’
‘Oh yes….’ Said Marfach. ‘I forgot. You are Gandalf the White now, not
needing to fear anything a miserable creature of Sauron’s like me might
At these words, Gandalf suddenly was transformed from a kindly old man
in white to a towering pillar of anger.
‘Do not say anything like that to me again!’ he thundered, rising to
his feet and shaking a finger at Marfach.
‘You have been given gifts, great gifts, and you have used them
with courage and honour even when you had no hope of reward. Do not
demean your own worth and that of those who have trusted you by saying
such things! You are no more a creature of Sauron than I am!’
Gandalf subsided, sitting down again beside Marfach, grumbling into his
beard, snorting and grunting.
‘A fine mess this is!’ Marfach heard him say.
After a while, when he thought it safe to speak, Marfach said
‘It is nothing but the truth, Mithrandir. For any good I have done,
I have done far more ill. And my blood is itself poisoned. I should
have died from the wound Eomer gave me in battle, and yet I am still
alive. And it is not by the skill of the healers that I survive; they
will not pollute their hands by touching me and I don’t blame them.
This is an unholy life, Gandalf, and I only bear it because the will
and power of Sauron is strong in me still. I can never be free….’
‘Silence!’ said Gandalf, raising a hand to stop Marfach speaking.
But this time he did it not with wrath, but with sadness and regret.
‘I know what you say seems to be true' he said, nodding and speaking in
a gentler voice. '.....but more is at work here than is clear even to
my eyes, Marfach, or as you once were, Croga. Remember, Sauron is at
present far away, and busied with other, greater enterprises than
ensuring the continued slavery of an Elf…’
‘I know now that I am not an Elf, Mithrandir…’
Gandalf looked at him with astonishment. Marfach nodded.
‘I was leader of the company of Melian for a reason. Melian herself
exalted me because she knew I was something more than the Elves I led
Marfach looked at Gandalf. ‘if you asked it of me, I could tell you the
fate of the two lost Istari…’
Gandalf was now pale. Marfach smiled wryly.
‘You see, my wisdom brings only fear to those who learn of it. I
was created with the Elves, but am not of them. They honoured me once
and were happy to have me in their ranks, but I was made for another
purpose, and I was made to live among men. Why the Elves never told me
I do not know, except that perhaps it was a mystery to them as well…..’
Gandalf sat back, regarding Marfach thoughtfully.
‘How much do you know of your birth?’ he asked. Marfach shook his head.
‘Do you know how, at dawn, you remember a dream, Gandalf? How it
fills your head, vivid as life itself? And yet, when you try to make
sense of it, to set it in order, it vanishes away like the night itself
put to flight by grey dawn. So it is with me. I remember a time before
time, and I remember being with the Elves and honoured by them for a
special inheritance. But after that….’ He shook his head ‘… the torture
of Sauron has warped my memory, so that sometimes I recall with
brightness and wonder, and then it is all sucked back into terrible
He looked at Gandalf and his pale face and strange red eyes were sad.
‘I know, Mithrandir, that the day I remember it all will be the day I
They sat in silence for some time. Then Gandalf cleared his throat and
‘There is something else I wanted to ask you….’
Marfach shrugged listlessly. ‘Go on then, ask it….’ he said.
‘That time on the mountain, in Rohan….’ Gandalf said ‘….the time you
saved those two children….’
‘I never saved any children…’ said Marfach stonily. But Gandalf
‘…the time you saved the two children of Rohan from the Dunlendings…’
Marfach was silent, but a flicker of memory lit up his thin pale face.
‘…that time you saved the children, Marfach…’ repeated Gandalf.
‘..I was puzzled, and would very much like to know, what did you say to
By now, Marfach was smiling. Gandalf went on;
‘..even from where I was standing, quite far away, I could hear you
send out a hissing noise, like a snake. But there were words in that
hiss. As one wizard to another I would greatly love to know, Marfach,
what spell did you use to disperse that dim-witted but dangerous
Marfach looked at Gandalf and laughed, shaking his long red dreadlocks.
‘You don't want the secrets of my sorcery, Mithrandir. You want to
remind me of some good I once did and thereby make me do more,
The smile vanished from Gandalf’s face. He took Marfach’s arm in a grip
‘There is something in you that is found in no other man or Elf on
earth, Marfach, and it is not just sorcery. It is against all reason
that such a thing should slip from the world unvalued. Or unused.
Defeat these injuries and live, Marfach! You have a destiny, and it
lies with the king….’
‘The King?’ repeated Marfach, his face clouding with doubt.
‘Yes, with Aragorn’ said Gandalf. ‘I look to you to render him some
service, a great task, one which you alone can accomplish..’
‘What is it?’ asked Marfach.
‘I want you to go into the lands before Mordor to find what lies in
wait there, so that there will be safe passage for his armies, as they
advance on the Gates of Mordor….’
Forgetting his wound, Marfach leaped to his feet. Pain made him sink
back down with a groan.
‘Do what?’ he gasped. ‘He is going to do what?’
‘Advance on Mordor’ said Gandalf again. ‘I will entrust you with
our plans, the last desperate throw of the dice for Gondor; we aim to
attack Mordor, and draw out the armies of Sauron….’
‘You are all mad!’ interrupted Marfach. ‘You will never succeed….’
Then Marfach stopped. There was a wry smile on the wizard’s face,
and he sat back looking down at his scuffed doeskin boots. Marfach
laughed bitterly and sank his head into his hands.
‘It is a trap, isn’t it? And you are the bait?’
Gandalf did not reply for a while, then he said evenly;
‘Aragorn has need of men. But even the greatest armies will falter
before the Black Gates, and I foresee that many will turn back. Aragorn
has dire need of those who will not shatter with fear before the sight
of the Black Land. I know you are such a being, for you once escaped
that very place. Now, it is time to render to Aragorn that service you
owe him for sparing you. This is the hour of your testing, Marfach, and
perhaps the hour of your final freedom, for life or for death…..’
At the gate of Minas Tirith, Callanach had become caught up in a
jostling crush of soldiers and Riders of Rohan as they hurried into the
city. Before he could protest, Marfach was pulled from his side and put
in a wagon with the rest of the wounded.
‘But he is my charge!’ the lad protested.
‘He will be well cared for in the Houses of Healing!’ replied a
Captain, slamming shut the tailboard of the cart. ‘Move on!’ he shouted
at the driver.
And before Callanach could do anything to stop it, the cart shot
forward, heaving over the piles of slain orcs and abandoned weapons and
disappearing under the great gate of Minas Tirith. Before the city took
him, Callanach caught a last glimpse of Marfach, shaking his head as if
to reassure his friend, and the lad thought he also gave him a wink.
And then Callanach was alone on the battlefield. On his right the sun,
a blood-red ball surrounded by a poisonous yellow wrack of cloud,
hastened to sink behind the mountains, as if tired of looking on
slaughter. Already the field of battle was falling into shadow, the
dead of both sides becoming indistinguishable in a still, icy mist that
crept up from the river.
But on the road to the city nothing was still; Callanach was pushed and
jostled by the great host of Rohan and the remnants of the City
garrison who had survived their sortie out into the battle. Exhausted,
bloody and spent, they trudged up the wide beaten way to the great
gate, and would have trampled the slight warrior in Elven armour
underfoot if he had not stepped aside to let them pass…..
But Callanach was unwilling to enter Minas Tirith. He wondered
where Liofa was, and turning back he walked for an hour across the
battlefield until he found the place where he had left the wounded Elf.
But there was no sign of Liofa. Callanach stood alone and forlorn, the
blue-grey dusk invading the plain of death, a chilly wind snatching at
the ragged banners planted here and there among the slain. Then, stiff
and sad, wondering if his friend was even alive, Callanach made his way
to the gate of Minas Tirith.
The great flood of men and horses retreating into the safety of the
city had dwindled now to a trickle, and those mostly men who had
rescued comrades and were now bearing them in, on carts or borne before
them on their weary horses. None of them spared a word or a glance for
the solitary young warrior standing before the great gate of Minas
In his home in Arnor far in the North, Callanach had grown up with the
myth of Minas Tirith as a wondrous place of shining white walls and
splendid palaces. Now that he actually saw it, Callanach’s could only
feel appalled. The white walls were stained with fire and smoke, and
riven to their base in many places by the bombardment of the orc
catapults. Wooden towers and siege engines lay splintered and burning
along the battlements.
‘Is this what victory looks like?’ wondered Callanach sadly. But he
drew a deep breath and walked on towards the gate, determined to find
Liofa if he was inside the city.
The remnants of the army had passed in through the great gates and
cleared of crowds this wide approach road now revealed itself as a
place of horror. Huge mounds of slain orcs had been pushed off it into
pits on either side, ditches which the orc sappers themselves had
gouged out to house their catapults and other siege machines. Now in
the twilight they lay by hundreds in death, their limbs entwined, their
yellow tusks bared in a last rage against the men whom they could not
The pits held not only orcs. Cast aside once it had done its task, in
one deep trench beside the Gate itself lay Grond, the mighty siege
engine used to ram the doors of Minas Tirith and wrenching them from
their hinges bring them crashing to the ground. Callanach peered down
with wonder and horror at the huge iron drum of the ram, and its
fearsome wolf-shaped head. The fires that had blazed in its iron maw
were now just glowing cinders, and the great engine’s iron back had
been shattered by its fall into the pit. The hideous beasts that had
pulled Grond, hybrids of Mordor the like of which Callanach had never
seen before, lay crushed and dead under the very machine they had drawn
to battle. And on top of it lay the orcs that had ridden Grond to war,
raining arrows on the defenders of the city. In the dusk, Callanach
thought he would never see a vision of such horror…..
‘Tear your eyes from all this….’ he at last told himself with an
effort. ‘..you must go into the city and look for Liofa and Marfach….’
Turning his back on the pit, Callanach walked up to the ruined
gates of Minas Tirith. Although they barely hung on their hinges, still
the carvings of Kings and Queens of Gondor were clear on their great
Callanach stepped closer to the doors, wondering at the calm noble
faces of these princes and princesses of long ago. He felt close to
tears, with pride and sorrow. Even after the hammering of Grond’s
wolfish iron snout, still these ancient lords of his people retained in
their fine faces beauty and authority. Alone in the dark gateway
Callanach bowed and said to himself;
‘At last I enter the city of the kings of my people of old, of Gondor
‘Hey, boy!’ shouted a sentry from the wall above.
‘Pass in or stay outside, we must bar the gateway lest some enemy gain
access in the night….’
Callanach sighed and walked on into the square within the gate,
giving the guard an acknowledging wave. Soon there was the rumble and
clatter of loaded carts being rolled into position in the gateway, to
block it till morning.
Callanach stood in the great square, looking around with dismay.
Once this had been a noble space, its pavement made of white marble and
its walls arcaded with elegant pillars. In the middle stood a statue of
Elendil on horseback, sword held aloft in his hand.
But this square had been the scene of the fiercest fighting, as the
defenders strove to prevent the attacking orcs and trolls from
advancing further into the city. The dead of the city had been
reverently borne away, but the slain orcs still lay in piles, and the
arcades were smeared with blood and soot. Huge dead trolls, their
mottled flesh sickly white in the dusk, still lay about the square and
the statue of Elendil was chipped and dirty, and had lost its sword.
The fine white pavement was covered with black blood…..
On the towers that flanked the great gate, orc standards had been
planted as the army of Mordor streamed into the city. Now men of the
city were hewing them down and erecting again the banners of Gondor.
Looking up Callanach saw the White Tree and Stars unfurled against a
dark blue sky where real stars had just begun to twinkle, and his eyes
again grew dim with tears. Then he bent his head with a sigh and turned
to make his way into the city…
The wooden buildings on the lower levels of the city had been
almost all destroyed by fire. Here had been merchant houses and
stables, and the acrid smell of burning was almost stifling in the
narrow dark streets. But bearing flaming torches men worked ceaselessly
to damp down the few remaining fires and save any grain or oil or other
stores from the wreckage.
The door to the second level lay smashed and burned on the cobbled
street, and Callanach passed through to find that level of the city
also destroyed, along with its homes and barracks. In the tiny squares
the once beautiful fountains were dry of water and clogged with dead
orcs, but few of the city’s inhabitants had perished here, as the
defenders had fallen back to the higher levels. By the time Callanach
had reached the fifth level the gate, although scorched and splintered,
was sound, and barred against him.
‘Who goes there?’ called a voice from the battlements above. ‘What is
Callanach stood baffled for a moment. He was late indeed into the city,
and now the defenders feared Sauron’s spies. What could the password
be, he wondered…..
‘Isildur!’ he shouted back, almost without thinking.
‘Pass through, friend!’ called back the sentry, and the gate swung
open with a loud creak. Callanach walked on to the next level,
wondering again at the special sense that he had of such things, making
it possible for him to read the thought of another…a skill that he had
brought back from beyond the gates of death, because before his
drowning in Lorien he had not possessed such a power.
At last Callanach walked through the gate of the sixth level, and
here the armies of Gondor were quartered, with great bustle and chaos.
The boy pushed through a press of Riders of Rohan and armoured guards
of the city, Rangers in their green cloaks and mail-clad levies from
the rich lands below the Pelennor, who had flocked to the city’s
defence in the last days before the siege. No-one paid any attention to
the young man in the bright Elven mail, but whenever Callanach met any
of the King’s Guard of Rohan, in their gold-embroidered green cloaks,
they shunned him and brushed past him roughly, as if he was unclean.
Callanach heaved a weary sigh and made his way through the throng along
a cobbled street with on one side the vertiginous wall of the Citadel
and its palaces and on the other a walkway along the lower curtain wall
that gave a breathtaking view over the Pelennor, where red fires glowed
in the dark. Callanach wanted to ask where Marfach was, but he was
afraid of receiving only a rebuff, so greatly was the Red Dragon hated.
Then he realised he had only to enquire where the wounded had been
taken, and he would find not only Marfach but perhaps Liofa as well. He
caught the sleeve of a squire hurrying past.
‘Excuse me…could you tell me where the wounded have been quartered?’
The man, a thin-faced fellow with sharp black eyes, stepped backwards
and regarded Callanach’s golden leaf mail with curiosity.
‘From your armour I see you are a soldier of rank…’ he said ‘…so you
should know that we do not leave our wounded to linger and die but take
them to be healed in the Houses of Healing, where the Sisters have
great store of leechcraft and herbcraft….’
‘I apologise for my ignorance…’ said Callanach with a bow, a wry
smile on his face. The squire missed his sarcasm, and bowed in return
with a smug look on his face.
‘The Houses are on the highest level of the city, in the Citadel
itself. You need special permission to enter there, unless you are
‘I am looking for my friends, who are hurt’ said Callanach simply.
The squire gazed thoughtfully at Callanach. Then he took his arm and
looked up and down the street and said;
‘The city is grown wary; they fear the Enemy will try to spy on our
leaders and learn their counsels. So it is almost impossible for anyone
to enter the Citadel. But if you only want to see your wounded friends,
I will gain you entrance. Come with me…’
The squire turned then and with Callanach in tow he forced a way
through the crowd of soldiers and townspeople till they came to a
narrow alley between two high buildings. Glancing up and down the
street, the Squire ducked into this dark opening, pulling Callanach
The alley wended between the buildings till it was barred with a rusty
iron gate. The gate however was unlocked, and the squire opened it with
a grating creak. Peering through, Callanach was surprised to see before
him a steep narrow stone staircase. The squire said to him;
‘This is a secret walkway ascending up to the Citadel. It is
called the Cat’s Ladder. It will bring you out on the stair up to the
Courtyard of the Tree. You can reach the Houses from there….’
As Callanach went to enter it, the squire clutched his arm.
‘Only, if you are asked, do not say I led you here….’
Then the man winked at Callanach, and vanished back down the narrow
‘A strange servant, indeed..’ thought the lad, looking after him.
‘To trust me without knowing anything of me. Yet I am glad he did…’
The Ladder was lit in peacetime by torches in iron sconces set in
the walls of the buildings on either side. But now the torches were
unlit, and Callanach had to feel his way upwards along the stair. The
steps, worn by generations taking this secret route to the Citadel,
were shiny and smooth, and once or twice Callanach slipped. Taking a
deep breath, he regained his footing and went on upwards.
At last the staircase was barred with another rusty iron gate, but
again it was unlocked, and Callanach just pushed it open and stepped
through. By now day had died from the sky completely, and it was by
starlight that Callanach saw a narrow, steep courtyard with doors, like
stables, leading off it. At the end a wide flight of stone steps led
upwards. Long banners fixed into the battlements overhead trailed
almost to the ground. They brushed Callanach’s face as he made his way
upward to the broad patch of starlit sky that opened up at the top of
At last Callanach reached the head of the stairway, and stepped off
into a wide stone square surrounded by a low wall on one side and a
tall white palace on the other. He caught his breath. In the middle of
the square was a withered tree, silver-white in the starlight.
'The court of the Tree of the Kings..' Callanach said to himself.
Behind the palace rose the forbidding heights of the mountains
themselves, grey and riven with dark chasms. On the other side
stretched the plain of the Pelennor, glittering with red fires and
veiled with black smoke. And beyond that, glowing with fires of even
greater menace, lay the land of Mordor.
Callanach was drawn almost against his will to the low wall to look out
across the battle plain. He wondered that, from this great height, it
all looked so small and insignificant, yet there so many brave captains
had perished, and less famous men too who would be mourned with just as
‘How far I am from the lands of the North, where I belong…!’ he said
‘Where we all belong!’ roared a mighty voice behind him. Callanach,
startled, went to draw his sword but before he could two massive arms
were flung around him, pinning his own arms to his side and almost
squeezing the breath out of him. Then he was lifted off his feet and
swung around. He looked down at a broad, laughing face smudged with
soot and the grime of battle. Clear grey eyes gazed into his, and just
below the giant’s chin Callanach saw a seven pointed silver star, a
brooch fastening a grey-green cloak…..
‘Teagar!’ cried Callanach with what breath he could manage. ‘What are
you doing here?’
‘Callanach, Storm of the North, what are YOU doing here?’ echoed
the giant. He gave the lad one last rib-cracking hug and swung him in
another complete circle, then deposited him, swaying and dizzy, on the
The giant stepped back, and as Callanach regained his balance and his
breath, he saw others standing behind Teagar, also clad in the
grey-green cloaks and silver star brooches of Rangers. He stood upright
at once, and spoke breathlessly;
‘I don’t believe it….you must be a dream…it cannot be the Black
Teagar the giant threw back his head and laughed, his hands on his
hips. Eagerly Callanach’s gaze roved over the company behind him,
seeking familiar faces. His joy abated when he realised that many were
missing. But Callanach was astonished to see their places had been
taken by Elves, tall proud Elves with long cloaks of shimmering blue or
blood red. At their head stood an Elf with a fair, kindly face who
cradled a hand wrapped in white bandages. He smiled at Callanach, but
beside him stood a taller Elf with a sterner bearing and long black
hair who looked at the lad with a proud, disdainful expression. He
raised an eyebrow and said to a Ranger standing beside him;
‘Is this another of the Black Company you lost along the way…?’
Teagar replied quietly;
‘You could say that, Dearfa…’
‘That is not true!’ burst out Callanach, angry and hurt. ‘You left me
behind in Lorien, you pack of dogs!’
Some of Rangers received this remark with nervous laughter, but
others looked down as if ashamed. The tall stern Elf frowned, and
flicked a speck of ash from his gilded armour. But one of the Rangers
stepped forward and put a hand on Callanach’s shoulder. He was not as
tall as Cal, a wary, lean man with a dour face, shaggy black hair and
piercing blue eyes. The young man remembered him as Seolta, the one
they called the Gracious, because he was so awkward and devoid of all
‘Where is Crionna?’ Callanach asked him. Seolta shook his head.
‘Much has happened since we left you in the keeping of the Lady
Galadriel, Storm.’ He said. ‘Crionna was lost at the battle of the
Ford, and now I am leader of the Black Company…’
He paused then, looking searchingly at Callanach. He studied the
gilded armour that the Galadhrim had given him, and his Elvish sword.
He saw too the streaks of silver in Cal’s black hair, and the strangely
distant look in his grey eyes….
‘But I can see much has happened to you too, Storm.’ he said
gently. ‘I would have expected no less, for when we left Lothlorien you
were dead, drowned in the Anduin….’
Seolta paused, allowing the words to sink in among the host. After some
moments, he went on;
‘…it was only because we thought you were never to wake from that
sleep of death that we reluctantly went on our way. I see that somehow
Queen Galadriel wrought some mighty healing that called you back from
At this the tall dark-haired Elf, Dearfa, interrupted the leader of the
‘Not even Galadriel would call the dead back to life, Seolta!’ he cried
‘….although it is believed she has the power to do so. Some other
sorcery perhaps was involved….’
He stopped, and there was an awkward silence. Then Seolta said;
‘I care not how it happened, I am just glad you have returned to
us…and yet, I do not know that we could have done anything else at the
time but leave you behind….’
Callanach felt all eyes were now upon him, waiting for his reply,
Waiting, perhaps, for his forgiveness. Callanach took a deep breath and
said at last;
‘I understand, Seolta. I do not hold it against you my friends, the
There was a sigh of relief from the crowd of Rangers, and a few
cheers. Seolta embraced Callanach and for a while no-one spoke. Then
Seolta said cautiously;
‘… if no other captain has claimed your allegiance, you are welcome to
return to the ranks of the Black Company…..’
Callanach looked past Seolta at the host of armed men and Elves. A
sharp pang struck his heart as he remembered those who were missing and
remembered above all his father, Feolchu, the Wolf, who had been leader
of the Black Company when they set off from the North.
Then Callanach remembered with shame and anger how the Rohirrim had
rejected him, and wondered if he would ever find Liofa or Marfach
again, or if he even should try. Perhaps their paths and his were not
meant to run together....
At last he smiled at Seolta.
‘As your ranks have been greatly enhanced by the presence of
Elves…’ he said with mock solemnity, to the accompaniment of laughs and
groans from the men and a puzzled frown from Dearfa;
‘…I will be very glad to rejoin the Black Company….’