The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda

Chapter 13: Surrender

Later that night, guided by a rapidly weakening Marfach, Faramir and a small group of Rangers made their way along the river bank until they reached along narrow shore of gritty sand. Beyond it reeds whispered in the night-wind and above the trees the moon rode Westward on a sea of stars. It had been a dry winter and as they lay in the brush the scent of withered
thyme and ilex filled the air. But Faramir had little time to absorb the beauty of Ithilien this night, for beside him Marfach had thrown himself down as if dead, saying only;
‘Keep watch on that headland….’

To their South and West a great horn of land, thickly wooded, pushed out into the Anduin. The trees were a tangle of blackness, undisturbed by the river breeze. The Rangers fidgeted, fearing a trap. But Faramir crouched in hiding, waiting. He could hear Marfach’s laboured breathing beside him. After a while he looked up, and at almost that very moment a dark shape detached itself from the trees on the headland and strode out to stand silhouetted against the moonlit water.
‘An orc!’ hissed Ciall behind them.’But too far away to shoot…..’
‘Silence!’ whispered Faramir. ‘Let no man speak or move!’

The orc was out of range of their bows, and to draw their swords would risk the starlight glinting on the blades, so they lay still and waited. The orc figure stood still as stone for some time, and they could make out his mane of coarse hair and the moon glinting on the black armour encasing his powerful limbs. Then suddenly he raised a short wickedly curved bow and pointed with it to where Faramir and the Rangers lay.
‘He sees us!’ said Ciall, but Faramir gestured for silence. The orc then described a wide arc with the bow, starting with the Rangers’ position and ending up pointing East to Mordor. Then he dropped the arm holding the bow, and began the gesture over again. He completed the signal three times then stepped backwards into the trees and disappeared.

‘Well!’ said Ciall. ‘What was that all about?’
‘It means now is the time.’ Said Marfach, in a low hoarse voice. ‘Let me g or there is no deal….’

Faramir hesitated. He looked into Marfach’s eyes. Perhaps the creature could be feigning, but to Faramir it seemed that Marfach was succumbing to some deadly poison. His life seemed to be ebbing away before the Captain’s very eyes. Faramir said;
‘Go, then, and keep the bargain. And Marfach….’ The dull red eyes and wasted face turned to him for the last time.
‘If it is any comfort to you….I believe you.’

Marfach said nothing, just nodded. He went to crawl forward then seemed to think of something and reaching down he unbuckled the sword belt and pushed the Elven sword that Faramir had returned to him through the dry grass to the Captain. In the darkness the blade could be seen to glow blue. Marfach’s hand lingered on the hilt; this was Callanach’s sword, given to him by Galadriel. For a brief moment Marfach wondered where the lad was, swept away on the tide of war. Then he remembered his present surroundings and said to Faramir;
‘This is an Elven sword of Lothlórien; I do not wish to bring it into dishonour along with me. Take it…..’

And he held it out to Faramir who took and and laid it beside him.
'I will keep it safe till you require it of me again.' he said solemnly. The Rangers stared at their leader but Marfach just nodded and with a final effort got to his feet and walked unsteadily out of the cover of the trees and down to the river bank. The Rangers gripped their sword hilts and scanned the darkness under the trees but Marfach walked on unimpeded, staggering now and then but keeping steadily along the shoreline towards the headland. At one point he veered into the reeds and the water rose to his waist, but he pushed on, drawing rasping breaths in great gulps, till he ascended the final sandbank. Then, when he was halfway to the headland, another figure appeared on the moonlit ridge. Only this time it was not a orc….

‘Dian!’ gasped Ciall. ‘It’s Dian! The creature did not lie….’
‘I never thought he did….’ Faramir said to himself.

The girl reeled slightly as she walked, as if she had only just been freed from bonds. She seemed unhurt, just dragging one leg as if she had twisted an ankle. Her Ranger cloak was torn and dripping wet and all her weapons were gone, but when she realised she had been set free she began to walk as fast as she could on her injured leg. Then she saw Marfach coming towards her. Faramir watched closely, and could not mistake the shock and relief and the girl’s hastened gait as she hurried towards Marfach. When she reached him she stopped….

‘What are you doing here?’ she asked anxiously ‘Where is Altán…?’

Marfach stopped in front of her and said;
‘He is gone, Ranger.’ Seeing the girl put her hand over her mouth in grie he went on hurriedly;
‘Do not stop walking….’ And he went to brush past Dian but the girl caugh his arm.
‘What is this?’ she demanded. ‘What is happening?’

Marfach turned towards her and the moonlight fell on his sickly face. Dian drew in her breath, sensing some great evil. She asked again;
‘What is happening, Marfach?’

Marfach knew they were being watched by both sides, bows trained on their every move. He said as urgently as he could;
‘Don’t ask, Dian, just walk.’ Seeing she was not moving he added; ‘this is an exchange, a life for a life, mine for yours…’

Even in the ghostly light of the moon Marfach could see the girl turn pale. She glanced back at the far bank then towards where the Rangers were. Then, as if accepting what was happening, she nodded and went to proceed. But
before she walked on she reached up and laid a hand on his shoulder to detain him then placed a kiss, light and cold like a kiss for the dead, on his cheek. His skin felt icy….
‘Farewell, Marfach…’ she said, then turned and hurried on without lookin back

Marfach too kept on walking, moving stiffly, occasionally staggering from side to side. At last, watched by the Rangers, he reached the woods on the headland, splashing through an inlet of shallow water and climbing up the steep slope. His footprints on the sand filled briefly with moonlit water then the river rushed in and covered them with darkness....