The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda

Chapter 10: The Fox And The Wolf

‘You ask the impossible, Father!’ Faramir exclaimed, jumping to his feet and striding out of the tent to look across the Anduin, flowing calmly in the golden winter sunshine. In his hand he gripped the letter from Denethor, High Steward of Gondor, to  his son. Faramir drew a deep breath, and glanced about him at the quiet camp. No-one had heard his outburst. With a sigh he unravelled the crumpled note and read on…

‘…why do you refuse my bidding in this manner, Captain Faramir?’  Denethor always addressed his son in this manner when he was displeased. ‘..I ordered you to occupy the ruins of Osgiliath, why do you tarry in Ithilien? Now it is too late and the enemy have taken possession and may never be driven out….’

‘How does Father know that?’ wondered Faramir. ‘Even I have not been able to find out if the city has been taken. It is as if he sees with some supernatural eye..’ He read on; ‘..and if it is too late to save Osgiliath it is might be too late to save Minas Tirith. I order you to return and take command of the Tower Guard. Lieutenant Cianda has proved a traitor, one of many that have gained entrance to the city. He drew his sword in my presence and has been imprisoned….’

‘Cianda a traitor!’ snorted Faramir. ‘That is impossible!’ Faramir knew Cianda only as Boromir’s lieutenant and shield-bearer, but they had protected each other in battle many times and Cianda was devoted to Boromir. Since his brother’s death Cianda had lost all hope, but Faramir knew treason dwelt not in his heart…..

The Captain of Rangers gazed again out across the river; Denethor saw traitors everywhere, even in his own family….it was as if some malevolent councillor was poisoning his father’s ear against everyone…he read on; ‘ attendants are few since many have requested to join the army and die with honour, so I command you to return to Minas Tirith to assist me….’

A pang of sadness smote Faramir; he could detect under the haughty command his father’s loneliness and grief, which seemed to be growing greater rather than less since Boromir’s death. And Faramir too felt alone; Boromir had always been there, brave and steady, to share heavy duties and support him. Now he was gone, and the burden of command in war fell on Faramir alone. And it seemed he could not please his father in anything. But all his warrior’s lore told him it was useless to defend the ruins of Osgiliath when his
Rangers could serve Gondor better harrying the enemy in Ithilien. Faramir shook his head in frustration; he must return to Minas Tirith, even against his better judgement….

Faramir rolled up the parchment with the Steward’s red seal on the end and put it into his tunic. He looked one last time down at the river; he had forgotten the exact place, but it was somewhere near here he had been thrown into the water by the orc, that time he had been abducted and Boromir had rescued him…he shook himself; why did that memory come into his mind now? He put it away and called his men. ‘Saddle my horse’ he said ‘I must ride to the City straight away….’

Ithilien was no country for cavalry but Faramir kept horses ready for carrying news to Minas Tirith and now one was saddled for him to ride back to the ford. There he would take a skiff across the river under cover of darkness and the guards on the other bank would supply him with another horse. With luck he would be in Minas Tirith by dawn…

His Rangers gathered round, disconsolate. Without Faramir to lead them they could do little more than skirmish and scout, and be gradually forced back to the river. Their Captain looked at them, clad in dark green cloaks and black tunics, quiet and unnoticed like wolves under the bare winter eaves of the forests. There were no finer warriors for harrying or ambushing the enemy, but now they would be wasted behind stone walls in Minas Tirith. Why did his father not listen to him? Faramir was about to wheel his horse and set off when one of his Rangers, named Ciall for his courage in battle, hurried up and took hold of his horse’s bridle.
‘My lord Faramir…..’
‘What is it?’ asked the Prince, almost glad of the delay.
‘We have taken a prisoner….’
‘What?’ said Faramir in astonishment. The Rangers never took prisoners. Faramir might have wished it, but Denethor was a stern lord and had ordered none they found alive in Ithilien to be spared. And few among the men wanted to spare orcs. Faramir looked at the man and asked;
‘How did you come to spare an orc?’
‘Well…’ Ciall said slowly ‘ is not an orc’
‘A man? An Easterling, or a Southron?’
‘Not an Easterling, or a Southron. Perhaps not even a man….’

The Rangers had begun to murmur among themselves. Faramir looked bewildered. ‘What do you mean? Don’t you know what a man is?’

There was a ripple of laughter. Ciall went red and protested;
‘You have not seen him…he is, well strange, more like some Elven creature, but he cannot be…he has the arms and armour of the Enemy.’
‘How did you come to capture him?’ asked Faramir. ‘Why did you not slay him, as you were ordered?’

Ciall hesitated as if choosing his words with care. Then he said;
‘We found him on the river-bank at dawn and we thought he was drowned. But when we picked him up we saw he was alive.’ His face grew dark ‘I could not kill him in cold blood, whatever our orders are. I am a Ranger, not an executioner….’

Ciall fell silent. Faramir glanced round and saw the men listening intently.
He said;
‘Bring this captive to me….’ and dismounting he sat down in front of his tent. On an afterthought he loosened his sword in its scabbard and laid his right hand lightly on it. To his surprise he noticed his hand was trembling slightly. His men too were looking round curiously and fidgeting.

Then Ciall returned with two Rangers on either side of a tall captive. Faramir got a shock when he looked up into strange grey-green eyes. He stood up at once, and stared at the stranger….

It seemed to be a man, a tall lean man with broad shoulders who carried his head proudly despite his bound arms. Down his back hung his long red hair, braided into dreadlocks, and his skin was ghostly pale. He wore a chain mail hauberk of ancient pattern, slightly rusty and emblazoned with the emblems of a long dead Steward of Gondor. The rest of his clothes were little more than rags, his black leggings were tattered and he wore a soaked and rent tunic of dark red edged with gold embroidery.

‘A Dunlending!’ thought Faramir, but he was not quite sure. The creature’s eyes met Faramir’s gaze coolly, like an equal, not like a barbarian from the West; a strange yellow light shone in their green-grey depths. And he studied Faramir as if it were the Prince and not his captive who was being examined.

Faramir went to speak then noticed one of his Rangers carried the creature’s blade; a great broadsword in a black and silver scabbard. The Prince had not wasted his time studying under Gandalf; he recognised the style and the runes of the Elves of Lothlórien. His heart quickened; none but an Elf could draw an Elven blade, unless given permission. He looked intently into the grey-green eyes….

‘Who are you?’ he asked. The strange figure raised his head slightly and said in a low quiet voice, not unpleasant, slightly musical.
‘I cannot tell you.’

Faramir raised his eyebrows and a murmur of anger went round the Rangers. He stepped closer to the creature and said;
‘You must tell me who you are. It is forbidden to wander in Ithilien and your life is forfeit, even if you did not wear the livery of the Enemy. Speak, or you will be slain….’

The stranger smiled a ghastly pale smile and replied;
‘You cannot take anything I would more willingly give you than my life.’

The Rangers fell silent then, and Faramir stared for a moment unable to think of anything to say. But then he growled;
‘Come, come, speak, or I will have you whipped till you talk. You are condemned, but I will find out why you are spying here for the Eye….’
‘No!’ said the stranger suddenly, in a voice loud enough to startle Faramir’s horse, standing tethered nearby.
‘I am not a spy’
‘Then what are you? What is your name?’
There was a silence, then the captive said with a sigh;
‘I am Marfach.’

Faramir pondered the name; it was an Elvish dialect, archaic but familiar to the Prince from his studies. It meant Man-Killer. Faramir gave a bitter laugh;
‘With such a name, you are doubly condemned. Dunlendings are even more despised by the men of Gondor than orcs….’

The stranger was not listening. He had turned to study the horse. After a while he said to Faramir;
‘What a fine and noble animal….’
Faramir did not reply. Marfach said in a cold voice;
‘More noble by far than his rider….’

A gasp of indignation went round the Rangers and even Faramir stared in surprise. But he recovered himself quickly and said with barely controlled anger;
‘Your death is assured, wolfsbane… ‘
Then Faramir turned and said to his men;
‘Delay no longer but take him to where his orcish friends will find him. Hang him and leave him there for a warning. He only looks like a man, he is an abomination of Sauron’s….’

As they laid hands on him Marfach said;
‘I am not a servant of Sauron. I am a servant of the King, in whose service I journey to the South….’

The Rangers looked up in surprise. Faramir said;
‘What King?’
‘The King of Gondor…’ replied Marfach.
‘There is no king in Gondor..’; said Faramir bewildered. Marfach smiled his cadaverous smile again and replied;
‘There will be, soon’

An awkward silence fell. The men moved imperceptively away from Marfach, worried now that he might be a seer. Faramir said;
‘You are lying. All the servants of the Dark Lord are deceivers…’
Marfach replied almost wearily;
'Aragorn, who sent me forth to disrupt the onslaught of the Southrons. I swore allegiance to him while Gandalf watched….’

Faramir felt a catch in his throat; Gandalf! Before he could speak Marfach said;
‘Now you can hang me if you want, but then my errand will not be done, and one of your own Rangers will perish with me….’

An angry murmur went round the Rangers.
‘What Ranger?’ asked Faramir.
‘It was a woman….’ Said Marfach.
There were exclamations of surprise then laughter from the Rangers. Faramir smiled grimly;
‘You condemn yourself with your own lies, Dunlending. There are no women in the ranks of the Rangers….’
‘Yes there is’ said Marfach calmly. ‘She bears a sword of Haradrim make, a Scorpion….’
One of the Rangers spoke up;
‘Aontach bore a Scorpion, and since his death his sister Dian has petitioned to be allowed to join the Rangers……’

So, it might be true, Faramir thought. He looked again at the amber-tinted grey eyes.  ‘Where is this woman Ranger?’
‘I know not…’ said Marfach and Faramir saw his eyes cloud with doubt.
‘We both swam the river to escape orcs, and with us was a wounded Ranger, a young yellow-haired warrior….’ A murmur went up but he continued; ‘..the current was too strong…I was borne away from the Ranger and the woman was also swept away. But the longer you question me the less chance you have of finding either….’

The Rangers were all talking together. Faramir thought quickly. He stepped up close to Marfach and said;
‘What are you?’
‘An Elf’ said Marfach with a bitter smile. He pointed to his sword, held by one of the Rangers.
‘That is an Elven blade, as you well know, I saw you count the runes. None but an Elf can bear an Elven blade. Let me prove what I am by drawing it from its sheath..’
‘No!’ said Ciall. ‘it is a trick!’

But Faramir thought for a moment; if Marfach indeed was Elvish and drew the sword he would not attack him. If he were not the sword might slay him, for Elvish blades were protected by spells of great power…..

‘Let him draw the sword’ ordered Faramir. Marfach smiled.

‘Clever little fox…..’ he said, and when the Rangers had cut his bonds he reached for the outstretched hilts of the sword of Lothlórien….