The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda

Chapter 91: The Testing of Marfach

When he was out of sight of Liofa and Crionna, Marfach stopped and sat down to bandage his wounded leg. He tore a long piece of material from his Elven cloak and wrapped it tightly around the deep gash in his thigh. Blood seeped through the silvery grey cloth, and Marfach knew that this wound would not heal with the uncanny speed which the power of Sauron once permitted his hurts to mend.

‘If that was the only price to pay for shaking Sauron off, I would be happy indeed…’ thought Marfach grimly.

Despite his wound, Marfach drew strength from his determination not to fail in his promise to Aragorn. He got to his feet and gingerly put his weight on the injured leg. He winced; no more would Sauron grant him immunity from pain. He took a deep breath and set out on his journey East.

But before he went, Marfach paused and looked back the way Liofa had gone, in the direction the army of King Elessar was approaching. For a few moments, Marfach’s lips moved as he silently repeated to himself a benediction in a tongue so ancient even the Elves had forgotten it. Then in the speech of men he added;
‘Go with honour and safety my friends, and may victory bless your swords, Liofa and Callanach and all in your Company….’

Marfach gazed West for a few moments, then turned and with a face cold and hard as flint he set off towards the East.
‘Now, my late Captain Sauron…’ he said to himself as he walked. ‘Let us see who is the master now….’

Between the Black Gates, where Frodo and Sam had once listened to the poisonous advice of Gollum to enter Mordor by the path of Cirith Ungol, and the empty land of North Ithilien, was a broad wasted swathe of countryside that marked the path of Sauron’s army as it had advanced to the Pelennor. The ground was fouled and churned up by countless mailed feet of orcs and men, and every tree and bush was uprooted or burnt. A smell as of some great midden hung over the place, and Marfach, even though he was accustomed to the fetid company of Sauron’s creatures, found it hard to breathe. He wrapped his cloak around his face and hurried on.

It was Marfach’s intention to join the army of Mordor, and pretend to betray his former masters, the Captains of the West. He wanted to make Sauron even more eager and unsuspecting as he threw his forces against Aragorn’s meagre army, emptying his realm and clearing the path for Frodo and Sam to reach Mount Doom, if they were still alive and capable of achieving their quest.

But to achieve his own quest, Marfach had to find a way to rejoin the army of Mordor without arousing suspicion. After spending most of a day loping along the blasted and withered path of the doomed orc legions, Marfach had still not encountered a single servant of Mordor. He heaved a sighed;
‘Why is there never an orc when you want one?’ he thought to himself.

Just then Marfach saw a thin smear of grey smoke against the late afternoon sky. It hung below the yellow fumes exhaled by Mount Doom, and Marfach guessed it might come from a camp fire, although who would be making camp in this land he could not guess. Cautiously he made his way towards the source of the smoke.

Deep rocky ravines split the land, once the green valleys of little rivers and streams. Looking cautiously over the cliff of a steep crevasse, Marfach saw an orc camp spread out below him beside the dried up river. He heaved a sigh of relief, and looked for a way down in order to once more enter the service of Sauron, if only in pretence.

The great Uruk-hai Uafas had command of a battalion of orcs of Mordor. Under the Red Eye he had absolute power of life and death over thousands of Sauron’s most fierce and loyal creatures, great mountain orcs clad in black armour and armed with club, glaive and crossbow.

But Uafas had erred seriously in the sight of his dread master; on the eve of the great battle for Minas Tirith, he had arrived too late for the muster at Minas Morghul, and when he got there, the mighty army had already departed. Uafas and his battalion missed the Battle of the Pelennor.

Great was Sauron’s anger at Uafas and his underlings. They feared death, or at least demotion to slavery in the mines and pits of Mordor. But fate spared them; the great army that fought at the Pelennor was destroyed. Sauron was faced with the prospect of raising another force. From being despised laggards, Uafas’s force was raised overnight to become the nucleus of a new army of Mordor.

But Sauron was a hard taskmaster, and The Eye was never still; he ordered Uafas and his orcs out into the empty lands, to scour it and slaughter any of the men of the West who should be so hardy as to venture back there after their victory. Sauron wanted to teach Men that their triumph at the Pelennor was just a temporary reprieve.
‘Kill anything you find!’ ordered the Eye. ‘And this time don’t eat it, bring it back to me! I want to know if even a mouse stirs in Ithilien!’

It was to this commander that Marfach now made his way, stepping lightly past the guards who did not see him until he stood right in the middle of their camp.

‘Great power to the all-seeing Eye, and may Uafas enjoy great victory, now and for ever!’

Uafas had been sitting on a rock beside the dry river bed, chewing a rancid piece of dried meat and studying a crude map of North Ithilien picked out on a piece of skin from some creature that Marfach preferred not to think about. At the voice, Uafas leaped as if struck and jumped up to face the tall, cloaked stranger, glaring at him in outraged surprise.

At the sound of Marfach’s voice the whole camp of orcs came alive like some ghastly hive of insects. With howls of anger they flew at Marfach and tried to beat him down with their weapons. Marfach dodged the blows but stood his ground. The orcs struck each other in their eagerness to hit him, but when at last one hideous creature drew his black sword to finish off the intruder, Marfach, without drawing his own weapon, shot out a long lean hand and gripped the orc’s wrist.

The creature dropped his sword with a cry of pain. The other orcs backed off, watching curiously to see who won the test of strength. Their great hulking comrade tried to twist his arm up and out of Marfach’s grip, but the tall slender stranger with the long red hair kept his hold. The orc let out a yelp and fell to his knees. Into the silence came a sharp crack as the creature’s wrist snapped.

Marfach released the orc as it gave a bellow of pain and his fellows charged forward with a shout of rage, their swords now all drawn. But suddenly a voice even louder than theirs roared over the din;

‘Stop! Back, you scum! Leave this to me!’

And Uafas strode forward and aimed a kick at the fallen orc.
‘Get out of here you lump of slime! Call yourself a soldier....’

The injured orc cringed back and scuttled away to safety among the ranks of his comrades. They were all glowering sullenly at Marfach.
‘What are you looking at, you maggots?’ shouted Uafas. ‘Get busy packing up! We march at sunset!’

When his subordinates had shuffled unwillingly away, Uafas turned to look at Marfach, who in turn was studying the orc commander.

Uafas was tall and stood straight, not bowed with long arms almost reaching the ground, like so many orcs. He had a strange, coarse, greenish-white skin, like that of a fish or a drowned man, but his face and features were that of a human, some captured and warped being, not an orc bred by orcs knowing only the life of orcs. His eyes were amber with a black slit for a pupil, like a beast, but his hands were not scaly and webbed, and his fingers were long and fine like those of men. His coarse black hair was held back with a fillet of iron, and another ring of iron was worn around his neck. He was clad in black armour inlaid with gold, rifled from the body of a warrior of the West after a battle. At his side he carried a long curved scimitar with a blade speckled with rust but razor-sharp, and emblazoned on his breastplate was a great red eye.

‘Who are you?’ Uafas asked. Marfach stood still before him, a half-smile on his face. ‘How did get into my camp?’

Uafas’s narrow yellow eyes were darting about as he spoke, taking in every detail of the stranger before him. He noted the tall angular frame, lean and muscular, and though the stranger only had one hand, Uafas had just witnessed the strength of that hand. Only an Elf, or men such as no longer walked Middle Earth, had such strength.

The stranger also had the bearing of an Elf, graceful and dignified, with fine features. But his skin was deathly pale and his eyes were red, and glowed with a fierce light that was nothing like the Elves. His hair was not long and fine like spun gold but dark red and twisted into dreadlocks that hung down his back bound with red silk. His Elven armour was rusted and stained and dented; no Elf would ever deign to wear such battered harness. He had only one hand, and Elves were rarely maimed, being usually slain rather than wounded or taken in battle. Certainly he wore an Elven cloak, but it was so torn and soiled that it might be an old trophy rather than the creature’s own garb. That Marfach was a man never occurred to Uafas; so strange a being could not be human, whatever else he was…. at last Marfach spoke;
‘Do not be afraid, Uafas; I am here to help you. I can help you a great deal…I can make sure you win the favour of Sauron himself….’

Uafas was not sure where the words came from. Certainly the stranger’s lips moved, but the voice seemed to come from inside his own head, and used the Black Speech better than any man or Elf would be capable of doing.

In the vile mix that was Uafas’s blood, a hot current of alarm sprang up. Narrowing his yellow eyes, he snarled;
‘Tell me who you are, and how did you get past our patrols?’

Marfach did not reply at once. He studied Uafas, taking in the human features and the cunning in the yellow eyes. This was not going to be as easy as he thought. Summoning up all his persuasive powers he said;
‘I am a servant of Mordor, as are you, Uafas. I have just escaped from the forces of the West, and have learned a great secret that Lord Sauron, our master, would be grateful to receive, if you will only take me to him..’

Uafas hesitated, his head on one side, the black slits of his pupils even narrower.
‘Tell me who you are first’ he said.
Marfach inclined his head.
‘I am Marfach, a servant of Sauron’

Marfach, Marfach…Uafas turned the name over and over in his head. He knew it, he had heard it somewhere before, and in connection with the realm of Mordor. But what it meant he could not recall.
‘So…Marfach..’ he said. ‘It is timely that you possess something of value to Sauron. Give it to me, and I will give it to Sauron.’

Marfach smiled again.
‘No, my lord Uafas. Take me to Sauron, and I will deliver it in person.’

Uafas snarled suddenly;
‘First, Marfach or whoever you are, there is no reason why I should not slay you as a spy and a servant of the West, for no-one but the allies of Mordor or the spies of Men roam these lands, and I am not sure you are a servant of Sauron, whatever you call yourself....’
Marfach stood listening with his head on one side, the slight smile still on his face.

Uafas went on;
‘Secondly, if you indeed have something of value for Sauron, why not hand it over to me, his lieutenant, right away? If you really want to be of use to me, why not tell me so I can gain the credit? In any case, if you do not tell me I will roast you till you sing it loud enough to be heard on the shores of the Western Sea…’

Marfach’s face did not register any change of emotion at these words. He kept still that slight smile, but his red eyes flashed. Uafas gripped his sword hilt but the stranger made no attempt to draw his own long Elven blade. Marfach was not about to resort to any physical weapon; he concentrated as hard as he could on Uafas, and into his next words he poured all the powers of manipulation that he possessed;

‘My lord Uafas, of course you are right, on every count. It is only fair that you know the secret, only fair that it should be you who passes it on to Mordor, only fair that you yourself reap the rewards it will bring.

‘But there is a problem; so dangerous is this secret that whoever possesses it is in deadly peril. Better by far is it that you escort me to the presence of Sauron’s highest commanders, so I can divulge it without bringing you into mortal danger….’

Marfach stopped speaking. Sweat gleamed on his face. Putting all his strength into his words had almost drained him.

On his side, Uafas was struggling with his thoughts. Some urge pushed him to trust this stranger, and do as he said. But another instinct pressed him to kill him, recognising a great danger in the red eyed creature, something beyond appearances.

The Uruk thought carefully. If this secret was a bluff, and he himself delivered it to Sauron, he would pay with his life. But if the so-called secret was real, he would gain a reward too, even if he was just the jailor who brought the prisoner to Sauron. But how could he be sure.......?

Suddenly relief flooded over Uafas. Of course! Why did he not think of it before? There was a sure and easy way to test Marfach.....

‘Very well….’ said Uafas with an abrupt smile that revealed a startling row of uneven yellow tusks.
‘Very well, Marfach. I will let you keep your secret, for the moment. I believe you...’

Uafas was lying now, and he averted his eyes from Marfach, not sure the red-eyed creature could not read his mind. Then he added almost as an afterthought;
‘But if you are indeed loyal to the Eye, you will not say no to taking a little test...?’

Involuntarily Marfach grew tense. His nerves went as taut as bowstrings and a tingling ran through his muscles. At Uafas’s words a feeling of doom seized him. He tried to calm his fears by reassuring himself that he could pass any test set by an orc, but alarm ran through his mind like a fire running through dry grass. He gripped the hilt of his sword.
‘Be still...’ he said to himself.

Uafas was watching him closely, and Marfach struggled to hide his fear.
‘Please..’ said the Uruk leader with false courtesy. ‘Follow me....’

Around them the camp was bustling with activity as the orcs strapped on their armour and weapons and rolled up their gear to strike camp and start their night march. They bent to their tasks with even greater enthusiasm as Uafas passed, but shot glances of pure hatred at Marfach walking behind him. He took no notice.

Uafas led Marfach through the camp and on to a place which had been a little waterfall when the stream was running. Now it was a rocky slope and the pool at the bottom was a stony crater lined with dead alders. Tied to the dry blackened branches of one of the blasted trees Marfach could just make out someone clad in a torn grey tunic, his head down. With a shock, he saw that the figure had long, fine black hair which covered his face.

Scrambling closer across the rough ground, now almost forgetting Uafas was with him, Marfach saw with horror that on the ground before the bound figure were the remains of armour, originally gilded and inlaid with gems but now torn and buckled and fouled with blood. Marfach gave a silent groan; the armour was that of an Elf of the Galadhrim. He looked up at the figure tied to the tree; it was Dearfa.

Marfach did not know Dearfa by name, but he knew this was an Elf of Lothlorien, and so it must be one of the Galadhrim who fought with the Black Company. Marfach’s mind raced; what was he doing here? A cold and horrible realisation came over him. Turning his back to Uafas so the orc could not see his face, he looked up at Dearfa and said silently to him;

‘Who are you, and why are you here?’

Elves have an ability to communicate without words at times of great need. There was no friendship or bond between Marfach and Dearfa, but so strong was Marfach’s thought that at once the figure bound to the tree stirred and raised his head.

When he looked up, Marfach saw that Dearfa’s face was disfigured by bruises and a long ugly cut over one eye. But he was still undeniably recognisable as an Elf, and one of the Galadhrim. He glared around defiantly as if unaware that he was at the mercy of his captors. Then he saw Marfach.

The two gazed at each other for a moment then Marfach repeated the question in his mind;
‘Who are you, Elf, and why are you here?’

Dearfa stared at Marfach and the defiance faded to be replaced by something like sadness. At last Marfach said to himself and to Dearfa.
‘You came here to kill me, didn’t you?’

Dearfa looked straight ahead of him. His words echoed in Marfach’s head;
‘Yes I did. And my only regret is that I failed.’

Marfach was aware of Uafas moving round to stand between them, even his dull orcish mind sensing that some communication was taking place between the two of them. Marfach looked up at Dearfa and said silently to him;

‘Do not fear, Elf of Lorien, you have not failed. By coming here and being captured, you have condemned both of us to death....’

Uafas drew his sword and reaching up he jabbed the sharp tip into Dearfa’s upper arm, through his torn tunic. A dark red trickle of blood ran down the Elf’s skin and dripped onto the stones. Dearfa’s expression did not change, but his face became even paler. Marfach had to struggle to keep from throwing himself on Uafas, but the creature did not notice his expression and just roared with laughter.

‘He is a fine prize, is he not?’ he said to Marfach. ‘We orcs never take prisoners, but when we found an Elf – AN ELF!- in the wasted land, we thought, why not have a bit of fun? We’ll never get this chance again, and who is to know? Why should the top brass have all the sport...?’

‘If you want him to tell you anything, you’re wasting your time...’ said Marfach as evenly as he could. ‘....Elves don’t talk’

‘Talk?’ said Uafas with a further roar of laughter. ‘What do I want to hear him talk for? What do I care what he knows? All I want to do is watch him die!’

Marfach was by now holding his clenched fist at his side, willing all his energy to stop himself from attacking Uafas and slaying the brute on the spot.

But if he killed the Uruk and freed Dearfa, his mission would fail. He would break his oath to Aragorn. He would lose the chance to sow that seed in the mind of Sauron which might convince him to attack Aragorn and turn the tide of the war. Marfach wanted to scream and beat his head on the rocks. Or at least beat Uafas’s head on the rocks. But he knew he had to try to fulfil his promise to the king. Only in that did his final freedom from Sauron lie....

‘What has this to do with me?’ asked Marfach and his voice sounded hollow. Uafas grinned at him.
‘Well, Marfach...’ the creature drawled out Marfach’s name in mock homage. ‘..I said I wanted to set you a little test. Just to make sure you were on our side, as it were. Well, if you are indeed a servant of the Eye all Elves are your enemies. You will hardly mind then if we burn this one a little. In fact, burn him to ashes. I insist that you watch. It will be a reward for all your loyalty to Sauron....’

Suddenly Uafas’s face lost its hideous grin. A look of triumph and anticipation replaced it. With an ear-splitting whistle, the orc commander summoned a half dozen or so of his soldiers who came loping down the rocky slope on all fours like great dark beasts. When they reached the hollow they began to pile dried wood at the base of the tree where Dearfa was, flinging logs at it regardless of whether or not they struck the Elf. Dearfa had closed his eyes and appeared not to notice anything.

Uafas gazed steadily at Marfach. When the wood was piled high, he thrust out a long scarred hand and one of his orcs put a lit torch into it. He advanced on the makeshift pyre.

Marfach was staring at Dearfa. He knew that the Elf was not hoping for rescue or reprieve and had resigned himself to die, retreating from the world already in that way that only Elves could. In his own mind, Dearfa was already dead. Marfach twisted his fist in his cloak. What would it matter if he let the Elf die? He could not stop it, and if he tried he would give himself away and they would both die. And this Elf had sought his own life.

Marfach hung his head. He could not do it....

Uafas bent and moved the dead branches aside to make a tunnel for the blazing torch. The air was full of the crackle and heat of burning wood. As the Uruk went to thrust the torch in, Marfach said to him.

‘Stop! Do not light the fire.....’

His face turned away from Marfach and contorted with triumph, Uafas called out;
‘Why shouldn’t I? What does it matter to you if he lives or dies?’

Marfach sighed and said in a low voice;
‘He is an Elf as I am and he is my comrade. We are both servants of the King of Gondor.'