The Dragon and the Fox
Chapter 89: The Blood of Elves
Crionna drew his sword with his good arm
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
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
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 Liofa....it is
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
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. '..you 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
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
'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
'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
'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
'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
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
'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....'