The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda

Chapter 89: The Blood of Elves

Crionna drew his sword with his good arm and advanced on Marfach. Liofa stepped quickly out of the way, for his old friends did not appear to see or hear him at all. Marfach did not move, just stood with his own long shining blade drawn and held low, watching the Ranger approach, a wary half-smile on his face and the thin bitter wind out of the East snatching at his long red dreadlocks.

Crionna stopped at a distance from Marfach, and eyed his adversary. He took in the coat of mail, finely made with rings so small it seemed more like rippled grey silk than steel. It was stained with rust and there were gashes in the rings; an ancient hauberk of Elven make which was well scored by sword strokes. Crionna took a deep breath; this would be no easy fight.

Crionna glanced at Marfach's face. It was pale, and the deep-set eyes flickered with a red glow, staring intently at Crionna.

Suddenly the Ranger felt dizzy. There was a heavy buzzing in his ears, as if from a huge cloud of black and noisome flies. A great weariness spread through his limbs. He passed a hand over his eyes to clear the mist that suddenly obscured them, and the ground seemed to lurch.

The sword Crionna held had been given to him by Galadriel herself, when he and his company had lost their weapons in the Anduin. Now the Ranger felt the blade hum in his grip. Without knowing why, he lowered it till the tip touched the stony ground.

At once the buzzing stopped, and a cool silence filled Crionna's head. An energy seemed to pass up the sword from the earth, and his weakness passed. The Ranger glared at Marfach, who gave a shrug.
'I would rather put you to sleep than put you to death..' he thought. 'But if it is blood you want, Ranger, then it is blood you will have....'

Crionna walked towards Marfach. He knew his strength in battle was hampered by his crippled arm and he must try for a quick kill. When he had got to within six feet of the creature he darted forward and swung his long curved Elven sword, hoping that Marfach would take a wound to his leg or hip and lose his footing and fall; then Crionna could finish him off easily.

But Marfach evaded the stroke deftly, letting the blade whistle to within a few inches of his tattered mail coat, then moving backwards with a speed not of a mortal at all. Crionna found it hard to check his own attack, and as his flank was unprotected Marfach struck him full in the ribs with his armed vambrace, for his one hand yet held his sword, and he did not strike Crionna with the blade.

The Ranger stumbled forward, with great difficulty keeping his feet, and holding a hand to his side. He was winded, and thought that he might have a broken rib. Marfach stepped backwards, gazing coolly at him, the half-smile still on his face and his sword still held low.

'Why didn't he kill me?' thought Crionna to himself. 'He could have hit me with his sword and not his vambrace....'

Doubt now began to gnaw at Crionna, but he put it aside. He knew he was the weaker of them both, despite Marfach's missing hand, and he must finish this quickly or be finished himself....

'Well, well, Ranger....' said Marfach in a mocking voice. 'Is that the best you can do? I have not even had to stir. Try harder, do all you can. Come on!'

The last words were shouted at the Ranger, who took his hand away from his bruised side and stood up straight, breathing hard. He would not waste his breath replying to taunts. He shook his long fair hair out of his eyes, glared back at Marfach and took hold of the Lorien sword with both hands.

As he did so, he brushed the hilt of a dagger thrust into his belt, and an idea struck him. Marfach was standing still as Crionna circled him, only moving to keep facing the Ranger, his red eyes now glittering dangerously.

As quickly as he could, Crionna attacked Marfach again, this time not trying to strike him with his sword but knocking down the creature's own blade and charging into him with his shoulder.

The tall Ranger struck Marfach full in the chest with all his weight, driving the breath out of him and knocking him backwards to the ground. They fell in heap, raising a cloud of dust. Quick as a snake, Marfach slithered sideways and leaped to his feet. But as he deftly brought his sword back up and into play, Crionna dropped his own and with his one good hand he pulled his dagger out of his belt and struck at Marfach with it as he got up. The sharp point missed his chest, where Crionna was aiming, but fell with all the Ranger's strength on his leg, scoring his thigh to the bone.

Now for the first time in the fight, Marfach gave a cry of pain. Blood, which Crionna noted dumbly was not black but bright red, spurted from the wound and Marfach backed away pressing his hand to his leg. The blood ran out between his fingers. His pale face was now even paler, and his red eyes blazed with pain and anger.

Crionna went to rise, but before he had even got to his knees Marfach attacked him. He kicked his sword with such force that Crionna lost his grip and the weapon skittered away to land on the stony ground where its blade shattered into twenty pieces as if it was made of glass. Then Marfach brought the flat of his own sword down on Crionna's hand, and with a yell of pain the Ranger dropped the dagger. Marfach snatched it up and bent down and seized the Ranger by his cloak and shoved the blade to his throat.

All Marfach could see at that moment was fire; darkness and fire, and a familiar voice in his head, saying 'kill...kill them all, kill them for me, your Lord and master. I will repay you...' Rage, like poison seething in the blood, coursed through his whole body, and he only saw the knife, and the man waiting for death.

But something made Marfach hesitate. The fever in his blood began to recede and a chill like death itself took its place. The voice crying 'Kill!' receded swiftly and another voice reached his ears.

'Marfach! Marfach! Don't kill him! Listen to me! It is is your friend!'

Marfach looked up like a blind man who sees the sun for the first time. Bending over him, restraining the arm that held the dagger, although Marfach could have brushed him aside like a mosquito, was Liofa, his face pale and frightened. He spoke again, his voice lower this time.
'Please, Marfach, don't kill the Ranger. You will break your oath to Aragorn...'

Marfach looked down at Crionna. The blade of the knife had nicked the man's throat and a thin trickle of blood was staining his grey Elven cloak. But Crionna glared defiantly at him, determined to show no fear. Not letting go of the knife, Marfach said to Crionna;
'Who do you think I am, Ranger?'

Crionna swallowed but his mouth was dry. The tip of the knife stung his throat. He had thought he was about to die, but suddenly he realised that Marfach, whatever he was, did not intend to kill him, or he would already have done so. He thought of the blood flowing from Marfach's wound, not black but red.
'Whatever you are....' Crionna said in a hoarse voice. ' are not what I thought you were....'

Marfach gazed into the man's eyes for a long time. Once, in a far age when Crionna's ancestors had not even been born, the men of Numenor had been allies of the Elves who were Marfach's kin. Crionna could never imagine it, but to Marfach it was as clear as a spring sky after rain. He remembered the men of Numenor in their bright armour, as fair as Elves and as brave, waiting for battle in the spring field where the scent of bluebells and meadowsweet rose from grass that was soon to be stained with their blood. Tears came into Marfach's eyes.

'I am an old friend that you have forgotten....' he said in a voice of mild reproach, and taking the knife away from Crionna's throat he let the Ranger go and throwing the weapon to the ground he walked away rubbing the tears from his eyes. He tore a strip from his cloak and knelt down to bind up his wounded leg, paying no more attention to Crionna.

The Ranger got to his feet, and stood looking at Liofa. His knife was at his feet, and Marfach's back was turned; he could kill him easily. But Crionna knew he would not do it, nor should it be done. Marfach bent down and picked up his sword and turned to face them. He attempted to smile.
'I don't blame you for trying to kill me, Ranger. It is nothing but your duty. But now, do a duty that is of some good....'

And Marfach pointed to Liofa.
'This Elf I took brought with me from Minas Tirith. It was at his request, but I should not have taken him from his people and his King. If you really want to do some good, take him back to the Black Company. That is where he belongs. You can't kill me and you can't stop me, so take him and be on your way....'
'No!' shouted Liofa, walking over to stand before Marfach. 'How can you say this? You told me I could come with you to.....'

Here Liofa's voice failed. He did not want Crionna to know that they planned to go into Mordor. All of a sudden, the folly of his plan was laid bare to Liofa. Marfach was smiling.
'You see, Liofa my friend, this was never possible. You would die, or perhaps betray your friends. Fate has given you the chance to turn back, and I won't let you miss that chance...'

'But Marfach!' said Liofa in dismay. 'What will happen to me if Sauron is defeated? You said you healed me by his help. I have that poison in me...when he dies will I die along with his orcs? I would rather perish in battle alongside you...'

'My dear Liofa' said Marfach putting his hands on the Elf's slight shoulders.
'You will have plenty of chances to die in battle before Sauron falls! As for your healing, it is true you owe Sauron something for that, through me. But Liofa, there is in you a great goodness which is your birthright as an Elf. And there is your love and loyalty to your friends, all of which even the power of Mordor cannot corrupt or destroy. Bide the future bravely and with hope, and I do not doubt that it will be better than your wildest imaginings!'

A tear crept down Liofa's face.
'But I would not be parted from you, Marfach...' he said at last.

Marfach did not reply. He gazed a long time at Liofa, as if he wished to imprint the Elf's face on his memory. Then he embraced him and placed a kiss on his brow. He went to turn away but Liofa said in a low voice;
'I will report your story aright, Marfach. If any man speak ill of you, I will tell him the truth about your life....'
But Marfach shook his head.
'Don't do that, little harpist....' he said. 'You might as well tell my story to the wind....'

Then Marfach turned to Crionna and he was not smiling any more. He said sternly;
'I hold you responsible, Ranger, for bringing this Elf back to his people. As you owe your life to me for sparing you in battle, I command this duty of you.'

Crionna stared at Marfach, and for a moment his pride struggled with the idea that he should perform any task for an enemy such as this. But in truth, to bring Liofa back to the Black Company did not seem to him an imposition, but a joy. He bowed his head.
'Marfach, or whoever you are, I swear I will perform what you command....'

Marfach in turn acknowledged his words with a solemn bow. Then he held out his sword to Crionna..
'Your sword is broken, Ranger. Take mine...' he said.

Crionna cautiously reached out his hand and took the long sword in its worn scabbard. Marfach said;
'What does it say on the blade?'

Crionna drew the sword and looked at the steel. He read out the words engraved there;
'Arnor Rinne Me'.
'Arnor made me' he repeated in wonder. Marfach nodded.
'Yes, this sword was made in Arnor, so it belongs to you, as a Ranger of Arnor. Bear it in the service of your king....'

Then Marfach looked at Liofa and said with a grim smile;
'Where I am going, weapons will be of no use....'