The Dragon and the Fox
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
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
‘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
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
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
‘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
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
‘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
‘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
‘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
‘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
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.'