The Dragon and the Fox
Chapter 9: The Red Hand
In practice with the bow Dian never missed. But this was different. Her
adversary loomed up black against the light from the burning hillside
and she could not see clearly if it was a man or an orc, but it was
taller than both. She drew her bow quickly and seeing the movement the
creature sprang out of the light and Dian saw in that moment long red
hair twisted into braids and thought she saw also eyes gleaming red and
a great long blade catching the light of the flames. Not an orc, far
taller than an orc....
Unnerved, Dian let her arrow fly. The bow sang and the creature leaped
aside but the tip caught it on the shoulder and tore into the ancient
chain mail. With a hiss of anger it sprang towards her, covering the
six or eight strides between them in a heartbeat. She had no time to
notch another arrow, and throwing her bow down she snatched up Aonta's
long sword from where she had laid it on the bracken and with both
hands swung it in a great arc before her just as the red-eyed creature
shot out a long arm to seize her. The sharp tip flew past its face with
only inches to spare, but before she could recover her weapon her enemy
brought his own sword down on hers and sparks flew as the keen edges
grated on each other and the Scorpion was pushed down into the brush,
the point digging into the soft ground.
His grip on the sword was strong as iron, forcing her hand down and
down. They were very close now, she could feel his breath on her face.
He pulled back and threw his shoulder against hers to knock her down
but she saw the move and let go the sword and stepped back and he lost
his balance and as he stumbled she snatched the dagger from her belt
and thrust it into his side.
The ancient chain mail turned the tip of the dagger but the blow drove
the breath out of her attacker and he jumped away from her, raising his
sword again. In the few moments it took him to recover Dian scrabbled
in the bracken and regained her sword as well.
They stood face to face, panting with the effort of the fight, staring
at each other. On the hill the flames were rapidly dying down, but in
their fading light Dian saw what seemed to be a tall, red-haired man
with a pale gaunt face and grey eyes. The hand grasping the sword was
tattooed with a red dragon, but to her astonishment his face, now she
could see it, wore a look of entreaty. He bent down, laid his sword on
the ground, and held up his hands palm outward and said,
"Hold, Ranger. I am not an enemy!"
"Then what are you?" shouted Dian, gripping her sword tighter.
Marfach paused, then a cold smile spread over his face. "An Elf."
Dian stared at him. She had never seen an Elf, but this did not look like what the songs and tales told of the Fair Folk... .
"That is not true!" she said sharply and pointed at his hand. "That is
a mark of the Dark Lord's servants. No Elf would carry such a sign. And
anyway, the Elves are fair and noble...."
Marfach began to laugh. "I am sorry I am not fair enough for you, Lady.
But it is true, for all that. I am an Elf." He pointed to the sword
lying on the ground between them. "That is an Elven blade. Take a close
look at it."
Dian looked and indeed the sword, shining now in the faint starlight,
had on its hilts and on the broad of its blade symbols and characters
that, although she could not read them, Dian knew to be Elvish. For she
had seen a sword which was its twin, in Críonna's hand in the
Council Chamber during the Army council, and that was a blade of
Lórien. She gazed at Marfach, torn now by indecision.
"Why did you attack me?" she demanded.
Marfach still held his hands up palm outwards. He said. "I feared you
would slay me, I was trying to disarm you." He smiled wryly. "It seems
that a Ranger is not so easily disarmed."
When Dian did not answer, Marfach slowly lowered his hands and asked
quietly, "Will you not trust me, Lady?" He gestured to the glowing
fires on the hillside. "It was I who set those fires, to draw the orcs
away from you." He pointed to the orc lying dead with an arrow
bristling from its neck. "I slew that orc, and others on the trail, to
divert them from you."
He fell silent. Dian stared at him, hesitating. He was fierce in
aspect, but the grey eyes were kind, even mischievous. A trickle of
blood worked its way down the links of the chain mail from the wound in
his shoulder. Dian lowered her sword and said,
"Then I owe you my life, but I still don't know who you are. No-one now
journeys in this land but the servants of the Dark Tower or the White.
Which are you, and where do you come from?"
"I serve neither the Dark Tower not the White," replied Marfach. "Yet I
am a friend to Minas Tirith. I have sworn an oath to serve the King."
"The King?" asked Dian, baffled. "What king? Théoden?"
Marfach shook his head. "Not the king of Rohan, but of Gondor...."
They were interrupted by a moan from Altán. Dian cursed herself
and turning hurried over to him, followed by Marfach. During the
fighting Altán, thinking he would soon be slain, dragged himself
across to a tree and lay with his back against it and with a great
effort drew his sword. Now he lay slumped with the blade still in his
hand. Dian pulled him over and saw that a great stain had spread across
his tunic around the splintered arrow shaft.
Marfach said urgently in her ear, "We do not have much time. The orcs will return."
"I am not leaving him!" Dian whispered fiercely.
Marfach smiled. "I do not ask you to," he said. "Rangers never leave their wounded...let me see his wound...."
When Marfach probed the wound Altán, wavering in and out of
dream, was dragged back to wakefulness by the pain. He looked up and
seeing Marfach he started and tried to push him away, thinking the
enemy had taken him.
Marfach laid a hand gently on his shoulder and said, "Ciúnas."
The Ranger seemed to relax and Dian remembered that Elves were
accounted great healers.
Marfach said to her in a whisper, "Give me your dagger, mine is fouled with orc blood."
Hesitating for a moment Dian handed over her long Ranger's knife. There
was very little light left now from the fires, but Marfach seemed
hardly to need it, having the Elves' night-vision. He cut away the
cloth from the wound and then nicked the skin around the arrow head,
and gripping the shattered stump with a sudden movement he pulled the
arrow out. He had done this many times before, when his Dunlendings had
been worsted by the Rohirrim. Now he gently pressed down on the wound
with a fold of Altán's cloak. The Ranger had cried out then
slipped back into unconsciousness. He needed to rest and keep still,
but Marfach knew that the orcs would recover from their fright soon,
and then they would return....
He looked up at Dian. "We have to go," he said to her. "The enemy will
soon be back, and this time they will not be fooled by fire."
Dian looked up at him in the starlight, her face anxious. "But what about Altán?"
Marfach knelt down and lifted the lightly built Ranger up as gently as
he could and put him across his shoulder. "We will take him too...."
* * *
The dawn mist had turned to rain, falling with a faint thunder through
the trees along the river. The willows bent lower to the dark water and
the hillside was lost to view in a grey curtain of rain. Faramir
watched as his tracker, Fiontar, bent over a trail of crushed grass and
broken reeds at the water's edge. Moving lightly so as to leave
undisturbed the signs on the ground, this small dark-haired Ranger was
named "Chance" for his ability to take risks and still escape. Like his
captain, he seemed to live a charmed life....
Orcs often travelled along the Andúin in the shallows to avoid
ambush, but these had been bold enough to venture inland. Faramir
looked up and down the river uneasily. His sense of danger had never
deserted him, and now he felt something amiss with these raiders from
At last Fiontar raised his head and said, "I count about thirty, and
the tracks are only an hour, perhaps two hours old. They passed here at
a run, and have headed south."
Faramir nodded. It could be a trap, to lure them into the treeless
marshy land beside the river. But if the Rangers were to follow them,
they must do so quickly. Fiontar broke into his thoughts.
"There are other tracks too, mostly trampled over. The orcs were pursuing something."
Faramir raised an eyebrow, "What?"
"Well," Fiontar said doubtfully. "It looks like Ranger's tracks, and
another, some tall man, or someone carrying a heavy burden, the marks
are sunk into the ground. The orcs rushed over them, but in places I
can still read them," Fiontar indicated, and Faramir bent to look where
the tracker pointed. Behind him his Rangers stood hooded and unmoving
amidst the trees, watching the forest, almost indistinguishable from
it, holding bows as tall as themselves. Fiontar pressed his hand on the
wet ground and showed his palm to Faramir. It was smeared with red.
"Blood?" asked Faramir.
Fiontar nodded. "It is not orc blood, it must be the orcs' quarry. If we want to find them alive we must hurry...."