The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda

Chapter 12: The Crystal Cave

The evening light struck through the curtain of water that was the waterfall of Henneth Annun, Window of the Sunset. As he always did when he was present to see it, Faramir paused to stand still and look upon the fairest sight in all the West. Rainbows shone and danced as the sunbeams were caught in the drops of water and each became a diamond, ruby or sapphire.

In a secret cave behind this, the fairest waterfall of Ithilien, the men of Gondor had long ago made a sanctuary, a place of safety unknown to any creature of Mordor. But it was more than that to Faramir; even now, as he struggled to accept the finality of his brother’s death and the burden of his father’s disfavour, this place still had the power to lift his courage and bring peace to his heart.

But not this evening. Tonight, as darkness fell not only on Henneth Annun but on the Kingdom of Gondor itself, he should not even be here; he should be on his way to Minas Tirith, in answer to his father’s summons. But events, perhaps even fate itself, had intervened….

Faramir sighed. The last glow of sunset faded out of the bright water and the falls and the cave behind it grew dark and cold. All around him his men moved quietly, not wishing to disturb the peace of this sacred place and not wanting to intrude on Faramir either. For they knew he faced hard decisions.

He turned and made his way to the back of the cave. The rough-hewn ceiling sloped downward and near the wall a small alcove had been set aside by Faramir for his maps and papers. A board laid on trestles among the barrels and bundles of bow staves served as his council table. He drew up a low wooden stool and looked at the map of Gondor spread out in the yellow light of a tallow dip. A qualm of fear smote his heart; a wide green serpent denoted the fertile valley of Ithilien. Faramir reached out and began t roll up the map.
‘Ithilien the fair, Henneth Annun itself’ he thought. ‘Soon my father wil sacrifice even you in order to save Minas Tirith…’

His father! Faramir drew a long breath. What would Denethor say to his failure to return to Minas Tirith? The Captain of Gondor picked up a quill and unrolling a sheet of parchment he began to write. But he soon stopped; how could he tell his father about Marfach?

When his men had ceased to laugh Faramir said to Marfach;
‘Let me understand you aright; this sword wrapped round with a filthy orcish rag is a message to say they wish to exchange the Ranger they have capture for you?’ Marfach did not speak, but merely nodded. There was an angry murmur from th Rangers.
‘He’s lying!’ burst out Ciall. ‘It is a trick to make us let him go. Then he will go back to his orc-friends and we will have to fight him again….’ There was a growl of agreement among the men. Faramir waited till it died down then said;
‘Why should the orcs want you?’

Looking away across the river Marfach said in a dead voice.
‘Because Sauron never willingly gives up what he has claimed as his own.’
‘I thought’ said Faramir sarcastically ‘that you were free from Sauron now’
‘So I believed’ said Marfach. He paused, and Faramir looking closely at him noticed that sweat, like that of a man in a deadly fever, was streaming down his gaunt pale face, and in his eyes there glinted a strange light.
‘What is the matter with you?’ said Faramir, with a hint of impatience.
Marfach shook his head and replied slowly;
‘I do not quite know….I felt it first in the river when we tried to swim away from the orcs. I could not hold Altán above the waves. I did not have the power. I thought it was just the cold, but it was more than that…’ H stopped. Faramir moved to stand in front of him.
‘Go on’ he commanded. Faramir looked in his eyes and the man felt a thril of fear to see the red fire in their depths. The voice that replied had grown strained and hoarse.

‘All the powers I had as an Elf Sauron took from me. But he gave to me a well; other powers, great powers, of vision and courage and bodily strength beyond any mortal. But what Sauron gives he takes back as well, and swiftly if his servants disobey him. For he has set a traitor in my blood, to betray me should I ever betray Sauron….’

‘If this is true – and I am not saying I believe you..’ said Faramir; ‘why did it not happen before?’
Marfach shook his head and gasped;
‘I know not. I began to be free of Sauron when I saved the life of an Elf….’

For a moment Marfach paused, remembering Líofa…but this tall stern Captai of Gondor would know nothing of that. Marfach went on;
‘…and when I swore allegiance to the King, the one you say you know nothin of….’
‘Not quite nothing’ said Faramir wryly. ‘In Gondor we believe the King wil come to rule again. But we do not think he will come yet,

 even though ou need is greater than at any time in our long history. We know all about a king, but is this the one ….?’

Marfach went to speak but Faramir stayed him with an upraised hand.
‘I don’t say I believe you.’ He said. ‘But neither do I say I don’t…’

Marfach by now was swaying on his feet. The Rangers were staring at him uneasily, fearing for the safety of their captain. Faramir said in a quiet voice.
‘But why should I let you go?’ Marfach fixed his blurred sight on the man and said with great effort;
‘Sauron will barter a Ranger to regain me. It is his pleasure to punish those who defy him. This time he will break me utterly. It will serve to show his other slaves how inescapable is the power of the Dark Lord..…’
Marfach paused for breath. Faramir waited. When the voice resumed it was no more than a whisper;
‘Let me go, and you can save the girl. Keep me and you will lose both of us.’
‘How?’ asked Faramir. Marfach smiled, a ghastly wraithlike smile.

‘Because tomorrow I will be dead.’