The Dragon and the Fox
Chapter 88: No Living Man can Kill Me
Aragorn led his army across the Pelennor
eventually the battlefield and the city itself dwindled behind them
till it was hidden in a grey mist lying just above the horizon.
The army moved on in silence through the warm spring sunshine. Gandalf
rode behind Aragorn with Pippin on the saddle in front of him. The sun
beat down on the hobbit's ornate steel helmet making him uncomfortably
hot, and his chain-mail shirt weighed heavily on his narrow shoulders.
As the army passed out through the city gate, Pippin had wanted to turn
and look up, sure as he was that Merry would be out on the terrace of
the Houses of Healing, watching him leave.
But everyone else had their face set dourly to the front, and Pippin
dared not make a disgrace of himself by turning and waving, as if they
were setting out on a summer bathing expedition. Yet his heart ached to
leave Merry behind. He was painfully aware that he was the only hobbit
in this army of great warriors, men of Rohan and Gondor and their
allies, and even Elves, their own Legolas but also the sons of Elrond,
Elrohir and Elladan.
Along by the road there grew low trees and hedges, and they were all
bursting out in spring blossoms and fresh green leaves. Birds darted
among the branches and sang as if there was no such thing as war.
Pippin looked longingly at the snowy flowers of the whitethorn. More
than anything he yearned to take off his helmet and feel the cool
breeze in his curly hair, and run on the fresh new grass in his bare
feet. He thought of the Shire and what spring must be like there.
'The robins will be building their nests in the hawthorn, and the
blackbirds will be singing all through the long bright evenings!' he
thought with a sigh.
'They'll be a-ploughing the fields for the summer barley, and Bag End
will be all dusted out and spring cleaned! If Lobelia bothers to clean
it, that is.....' Pip added, with a frown. Lobelia would probably not
bother to take care of Frodo's old home once she had failed to find any
hidden treasure in it. But still, Pippin yearned to see it again.
'Oh I so wish I was in The Shire, and not here, riding to I know not
what awful fate!'
Just then Pip heard a bird cry, and it was not a blackbird or a thrush
or robin. It was a long keening cry that made the whole army look up in
alarm, remembering the Nazgul and their shrieking attacks during the
battle of the Pelennor.
But these were no Nazgul, only great white and grey seabirds. When the
wind was from the South, they often flew as far as Minas Tirith, riding
the upcurrents over the warm grasslands. Seeing that they were only
gulls, the men shrugged and looked down again.
But riding alongside Pippin, Legolas did not look down. Shading his
keen Elvish eyes with his hand he gazed long at the birds, and there
was dismay on his face.
'Alas for the crying of the gulls! Now I know I will never be at peace
in Middle Earth, even if the battle goes well for us....'
Gimli, seated behind Legolas, plucked at the Elf's sleeve.
'Don't say so, my friend! There is so much to do and see yet in Middle
Earth before you seek the Grey Havens! You would not break your promise
to your old Dwarf friend to come and visit the realms of his folk?'
Legolas dropped his hand then and looked down and sighed and shook his
'No, Gimli, I will keep my promise and not disappoint you....but in
my heart now there is a great longing for the sea, even though I never
saw it before. I will not be truly happy again in Middle Earth....'
Gimli and Legolas fell silent then, and Pippin rode on thinking
that even an Elf could yearn for a home, even one he had never seen.
As many of the men had lost their horses in the Battle of the
Pelennor, a large part of the army went afoot, and so progress was
slow. They skirted the ruined city of Osgiliath where teams laboured to
repair the defences against more attacks. Then Aragorn led the army
North, and they came to the Crossroads, where a statue of a King of
Gondor of old still stood headless by the roadside as he had when Frodo
and Sam passed this way led by Gollum.
'Set that right!' ordered Aragorn, his face suddenly pale with anger
despite the heat. A detachment of soldiers ran to lift the
flower-wreathed head from the long grass and set it once again on the
statue. They did not disturb the flowers. The orc-head they threw down
and smashed, and cleaned off the slogans daubed on the king by the
Sitting on Brego in front of the statue, Aragorn looked up and thought
he saw the ghost of a smile on the stone face of the King. He bowed his
head slightly and smiled back.
'For a while, old King, you can rule again. Even if it is only for a
little while, till we fools are beaten once more....'
Four days after they passed the Crossroads, Aragorn and his host
reached the end of the living lands, and gazed out across the
desolation that lay before Cirith Ungol. In one direction lay the
marshes and in the other jagged ridge upon ridge of the Emyn Muil.
Nothing lived in those lands, and no bird flew over them. From deep
fissures in the rocks there issued fumes of gas and steam that poisoned
all life above the earth. Even to look on the place cowed the spirit.
At this moment, after days of marching with only a hopeless battle to
look forward to, many of the younger men of Rohan, from the Westfold,
and farmers from Lossarnach came to Aragorn and begged to be allowed to
go home. They said that they did not understand what this battle was
for, and they did not want to die for nothing.
The army had halted for a mid-day rest, and the horses had been led
aside to water at the bright rill of a little stream that was probably
the last fresh water they would find before the Black Gates. Gimli sat
on a fallen tree trunk and took out a whetstone and noisily sharpened
his axe, fixing the body of men who wanted to leave with a glare from
under his bushy eyebrows. Legolas leaned on his bow and gazed
thoughtfully at the men.
Aragorn counted the unwilling soldiers and sadly realised that their
departure would greatly diminish his army. But he let them go, urging
them only to try to retake the fortress of Cair Andros from the enemy
as they passed it.
As the host drew off down the road along which they had only just come,
Gandalf said to Aragorn;
'Isildur would not have been as forgiving!'
Aragorn shook his head.
'What else can I do, Gandalf?' he asked with a sigh. 'If I curse them
and brand them as cowards they and their descendents will be my foes,
and the war will never end. I do not want to make another Army of the
Dead!. Yet if I force them to fight they will let us down. They are
young, and they want to see their farms and their fields again, their
families and their land. I cannot find it in my heart to blame them!'
Watching from a distance, Pippin thought to himself;
'So I am not the only one who wants to go home! Well, at least this
Took did not turn round and go back to the Shire. I have that comfort;
at the last, I did not run away. But then....' and Pip knit his brows
and looked about at the army. '....of all here, only a few know about
Frodo and Sam and their errand to Mount Doom. If these men knew about
Frodo, they would not turn back!'
Then Pippin remembered how unwilling Frodo had been to let him come on
the journey. Pippin sighed.
'You were right, Frodo. It is too much for a little hobbit like me.
But how much worse would it have been if I had been left behind in the
Shire while you faced danger alone. I would have died from shame!'
Pippin smiled to himself. 'There must be something of the Old Took in
me after all.....'
Some distance from the main encampment of the army, taking their meagre
mid-day meal under some willows by the same stream, the Rangers of the
Black Company glumly watched the men of Rohan and Lossarnach marching
The took their rest gladly, because they were all footsore from
marching. During the muster of the army in Minas Tirith, the men of
Rohan had recognised the horses the Rangers had stolen from them, and
had demanded them back.
There had been some tense moments; hands had been laid on sword hilts.
But eventually Eomer had intervened.
'What is all this?' he had stormed. 'You are all on the same side, for
Then he said to the Black Company;
'We only take back what is ours because we have need of them. But keep
a dozen, if you have to, we would not make you all go afoot...'
The giant Ranger Teagar shook his head and said with a bow;
'Thank you for your offer, my lord Eomer, but we no longer need your
horses. We learned to walk a long time ago....'
The only horse they kept was Realt, the little black Haradrim pony
their leader Callanach rode, because no-one else could master him.
Now Callanach sat in the shade watching the retreating host. Over the
past few days he had thought of little else but Marfach and Liofa, and
how he had allowed them to be pursued, and perhaps killed. He kept
apart from the men at night, and did not speak to anyone. Now he saw
the leader of the Elves of the Black Company, Rosc, walking over to
him. The Elf handed him some barley bread and a hard piece of dried
beef. Callanach took a listless bite then looking up at Rosc he asked.
'Don't you and your Elves want to be with your own kind?'
And he nodded towards where Elladan and Elrohir sat together apart from
the rest of the army.
Rosc sighed and sat down beside Callanach.
'When will you understand, Ranger...' he said in a quiet voice;
'....that our place is with you. Firstly because we were sent to fight
with you by the Lady Galadriel. But then because you are our friends
and comrades, and we do not wish to leave you....'
Callanach sat in silence, ashamed of his question. Rosc said gently;
'The men want to know what you think about those who turned back and
left the army...'
Callanach traced a line in the dry earth with a twig. He knew his
friendship with Marfach made him tainted in the eyes of his men.
'I don't believe they care what I think' he replied. Rosc got to his
feet and said in a low voice;
'You are wrong; speak to your men, Storm....' and he walked away.
Callanach looked around. Rosc was right; the men were talking quietly
amongst themselves, but their eyes were on him. He threw away the hard
crust of bread he had only taken a bite from and standing up he said to
'Do any of you want to go as well? If you do, now is the time to
There was a moment's silence, then one of the men said;
'You are our leader, Callanach. Whatever you order us to do, we will
Callanach looked at the man and felt tears sting his eyes. For days he
had tormented himself with the thought that he had betrayed his
friends, and suspected that his friendship with Marfach had made him a
traitor in his own men's eyes. He could not understand at all why they
had insisted he should be leader of the Black Company. Now, all of a
sudden, the Rangers got to their feet, gathered round him and repeated
what their comrade had said;
'What you order us to do, Callanach son of Feolchu, we will do!'
Hastily brushing his sleeve across his eyes, Callanach faced his men
and waved a hand at the retreating soldiers.
'They are going back to their homes. But our home was the Kingdom
of Arnor, and the Enemy destroyed it many ages ago. Now, in Aragorn we
have hope that once again Arnor might rise from its ashes. Our place is
fighting at the side of Elessar the King, and we are not leaving!'
At this the men raised a cheer, and some drew their swords, held
them up and called out Callanach's name and that of King Elessar.
Unable to speak any more, Callanach acknowledged their cheers with a
raised hand and a smile. As the men turned away, Teager the giant
Ranger caught his eye and winked....
Barely a day before Aragorn and his army left the City, Marfach and
Liofa rested by the banks of the Anduin for a few hours after running
all night. Then they started off again, this time with Marfach setting
a fast pace that Liofa, still recovering from his wounds, found hard to
keep up with. But he did not complain; he guessed that Marfach was
hoping he would drop back and give up. Night came, and although Elves
do not sleep the two rested for a while in a thicket of birch trees
within sight of the Anduin.
They were now out in the open countryside of North Ithilien. The people
had long ago been driven from this land, and it had become overrun with
orcs, especially since Faramir and his Rangers were recalled to the
city. Not as lush as Southern Ithilien, this was a country of low
rolling hills with stands of birch and alder and ash growing in the
hollows. The river ran through great banks of reeds and herons flapped
lazily across the steel-coloured water. There was an unnatural quiet on
the land; most of the servants of the Enemy who had swarmed over this
area had been destroyed in the Battle of the Pelennor. But before the
conflict, hosts of orcs and Easterlings had flattened and smashed their
way through the little woods and fouled the tiny streams that fed into
the Anduin. Now, the land was silent and sad, as if it waited for the
final act in a sequence of tragic and cruel events..
Some time in the afternoon they came on a road, broken and overgrown in
places, but still recognisable as a great thoroughfare from the times
of Gondor’s former glory. It was in fact the ancient road that led from
the Tower of the Sun to the Tower of the Moon, Minas Ithil, now Minas
Morgul with its broken towers and stained walls.
Marfach was not sure about following an open road.
‘We will be easily seen…’ he said half to himself.
‘Seen by whom?’ asked Liofa.. Marfach glanced back over his shoulder.
‘By those who are following us’ he replied.
Liofa stood in front of Marfach to block his path.
‘We are being followed?’ he demanded.
‘Since we left the city. Two hunters, I think. And one of them is an
Liofa’s heart gave a painful leap.
‘An Elf?’ He repeated as if unable to understand. Marfach shrugged.
‘If you travel with me, expect to be treated as an enemy, and hunted….’
And Marfach walked on, keeping his swift pace, his eyes on the road and
the land around, now and then checking the sky and the woods in the
distance that marked the course of the river.
Liofa ran after him, unwilling to pester Marfach with more
questions. After some thought, he realised that he could answer them
himself; his absence from the Houses of Healing had been noticed and
someone had set out to follow him, perhaps thinking that he had been
stolen away. Liofa shook his head. This was getting worse, and it would
end in killing, even without the enemy being involved.
‘Marfach!’ he said running to catch up with his companion. ‘Let us wait
for those who are following us. We can explain our errand…’
Marfach stopped and looked at Liofa in disbelief.
‘Liofa, think what you are saying. If they know I am going to
Mordor to speak to Sauron, they will kill us for sure. Or try to…’ he
‘Our best hope is to keep ahead of them till we find some servants of
Sauron, or enter Mordor. But it will not be easy; one of our pursuers
is an Elf, and Elves track swiftly. You must make better time, Liofa….’
And so despite his misgivings, and now afraid of both friend and
foe, Liofa had to struggle to keep up with Marfach, who had taken to
loping along the road like a wolf, never tiring, and always vigilant.
By early evening they reached the crossroads of the ancient highway.
Here, the road that led to the North, to the Morannon, intersected that
which led to Minas Morghul. A strong, clean wind from the West had
cleared the sky and a pale March sun lit up the birch woods and filled
the land with a fair golden light. But towards the East the long broken
slopes of the Ephel Duath, the Mountains of Shadow, loomed like a
threat and in the sky beyond them there ever lingered a glow of red and
a column of black smoke, marking the unseen Mountain of Doom.
Set close to the crossroads was a seated statue, broken and despoiled
by orcs. Once, it had been a king of Gondor, guarding the two roads.
But the enemy had knocked the head off and replaced it with a grinning
orc face. In the long grass by the roadside the old king’s head, still
with its stone crown, lay half-embedded in the ground. Moss had
softened the stern, warlike features and delicate white spring flowers
had clambered over the crown, making it seem more a part of the
surrounding woodland than something made by the hand of man.
For once, Marfach stopped his swift run to look at the statue and the
crowned head lying in the grass. Liofa panted to a halt beside him.
‘Do you think there will ever be a king in Gondor again?’ he asked..
‘If I have any part in it, there will' Marfach replied grimly.
They turned then and took the road North. They had hoped to find some
servants of the Dark Lord in these lands, and give themselves up to
them. But there was no-one left in this place, and there was nothing to
do now but follow the road to the Morannan, and enter Mordor by the
Black Gates. Liofa turned his face Northward with a heavy heart, and
settled into a swift run alongside Marfach when suddenly his companion
stopped and raised his head as if smelling some scent of danger on the
‘What is it?’ asked Liofa. ‘Is it our pursuers?’
‘Hush!’ snapped Marfach, raising his hand. Liofa fell silent, also
looking around. Then, suddenly, Marfach threw himself flat on the stone
road. Just a heartbeat after he did so, a javelin, gleaming black and
silver, sailed over his head and embedded its long narrow point in the
hard earth beside the roadway.
Liofa threw himself down beside Marfach, but his companion, raising
himself on his hands, looked towards a thicket of dead and blasted
thorn bushes, then calmly got to his feet and called out;
‘You have thrown your spear; now you only have your sword. Why not
come out and see if we are really the enemy before you waste any more
strength, and maybe your blood….’
For some moments there was silence, then a tall figure, clad in a
grey-green cloak of shimmering material and a shirt of fine silver
mail, stood out from behind an ash tree and began to walk towards them,
bearing in his head a long, shining sword.
Although he moved with a limp, the man was tall and carried himself
with a proud, fearless demeanour. His long hair, light gold in colour,
streamed out behind him in the wind and his fair, pale face with its
grey eyes was stern and wary. As soon as he came into view, Liofa
‘Crionna?’ he called out, then got to his feet and ran towards the man.
‘Crionna! It is you!’
The figure stopped in astonishment, and waited as Liofa ran up to him.
Then the Elf stopped too, as if unsure what to do or say. Crionna
looked him up and down then shook his head and said with a laugh of
‘Liofa! We gave you up for dead….’
Liofa laughed too.‘Well I am not dead, or at least not yet. It is so
good to see you again!’
And Liofa embraced Crionna. This Ranger, once the leader of the Black
Company, was known to them as An Siofra or The Elf, because he so
closely resembled their Numenorean ancestors in looks and bearing. Now,
however, Liofa noticed that Crionna's left arm hung uselessly at his
side, and there was a half-healed scar on his cheekbone. His smile
‘What happened to you, Crionna?’
The Ranger looked at Liofa, wondering how he could tell him of his
wounding at the Battle of the Ford, and his rescue and healing by the
Ents Elmfoot and Ashwing, on Gandalf's orders. How could he describe an
ent, even to an Elf...? But then he saw that Liofa wore the green and
gold cloak of the King of Rohan's guard, and he replied;
‘Much has happened to me, Liofa. And I see that much has happened to
you too. But perhaps now is not the time to speak of it….’
Then he nodded at Marfach.
‘…first, you must tell me who this is, and why you are with him….’
Liofa's face fell. He knew that to anyone they might meet, Marfach
looked like a servant of Sauron. And Crionna had been leader of the
Black Company when Marfach had snatched him from their camp.
‘It is a long tale, Crionna…’ replied Liofa. ‘…and not all of it is for
this place. Enough is it to say that we are both on an errand of the
‘Aragorn?’ asked Crionna, remembering what he had learned during his
time in Minas Tirith. Liofa nodded.
Crionna drew a deep breath and thought for a moment. Once, he would
simply have taken Liofa’s word. But he had spent too long in a Minas
Tirith darkened by the suspicion and despair of Denethor. He no longer
felt he could trust anyone, even Liofa. He put a hand on his hilt and
drew his sword.
‘I think, Liofa…’ he said. ‘…that I must make my own mind up about this
friend of yours…’
Liofa’s face registered dismay, but Marfach just smiled and also drew
‘Whatever you want, Ranger.’ He said. ‘I am on an errand of the King
that can brook no delay. If I have to kill you to get on with my task,
Liofa stepped between them, shaking his head.
'Don't do this, I beg you both! It is madness, we are on the same
'The same side as this wolf's-head?' growled Crionna. 'That will be the
Then he looked at Liofa and said;
'Do not hinder me, old friend. I don't want to shed your blood too...'
Liofa backed away, his face pale and his fists clenched with
'You are making a mistake, Crionna...!'
'Not for the first time....' thought the Ranger under his breath.
Marfach was standing with his sword drawn and a slight smile on his
thin face. A bitter, ragged wind out of the North tugged at his long
'If I were you, Ranger...' he said quietly. '....I would listen to your
friend. You are making a mistake. Not only am I on your side, but you
Crionna raised his eyebrows.
'Is that so?' he asked. 'And may I ask why I can't win?'
The smile vanished suddenly from Marfach's face and his eyes glowed
'Because, Ranger...' he said in a voice little more than a whisper;
'...no living man can kill me!'