The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda


Chapter 23: The Prince of Foxes

Faramir waited till the rearguard of the Haradrim army had almost passed his
hiding place, then signalled to his Rangers, lying hidden and waiting among
the close thickets along the sandy river course beside the Anduin.

Deep in the shadow of the trees, blending into the dappled light in their
green cloaks and with faces hidden by masks, Faramir’s men moved warily like
foxes. That was what the Haradrim called Faramir, Prince of Foxes. They had
called Boromir the Lion Cub. But Boromir, it was said, had been slain...

You always hated this kind of war anyway, Boromir, thought Faramir.
Hide and seek, you called it...... better a straight fight, fair and clean.
Drive them down before you like rats.
‘We haven’t the strength, Boromir…’ I used to say, and you said;
‘You mean you haven’t the strength, little brother….’

Faramir raised his gloved hand, and was aware of every Ranger watching him.
He gazed for a moment on the Haradrim, men not much different from himself,
perhaps serving Sauron out of fear and not hatred of Gondor and his people.
Faramir stamped on his pity. That was what got you into trouble with your
father and your brother in the first place, pity….
‘Fire!’

Running back to rejoin the Haradrim army Marfach saw chaos suddenly erupt
and men bolt in every direction to escape a killing hail of arrows from the
trees. Long ash-wood arrows fletched with goose feathers; Rangers’ arrows.
Faramir!

Behind Marfach the Oliphaunts, goaded to rage by the pain of countless
arrows, began a deafening trumpeting and took off at a shambling run through
their own ranks, crushing all in their path. Marfach, however, they did not
touch. Nor did any arrow strike him. They whistled past his head, stirring
his long red hair, but nothing harmed him. With a cold feeling Marfach
wondered if one of Sauron’s guarding spells still had the power to keep him
safe. He walked on half hoping to be shot, but all that hit him were
panic-stricken Haradrim colliding with him as they fled for their lives…

Seeing Marfach remaining untouched amid the danger the Haradrim rallied
round him. His presence gave them courage and they drew their bows and
returned fire. Marfach knew they would soon be picked off by the Rangers but
just then events took an unexpected turn…

One of the Oliphaunts, maddened by the keen Ranger arrows now bristling from
his hide, emitted an ear-splitting squeal and charged through the Haradrim,
knocking off his gilded castle against a tall pine and spilling the bowmen
onto the ground. In three great shambling strides he crossed the dried up
stream and charged over the ancient roadway into the trees where the Rangers
were hidden…

The Haradrim dodged out of the way, and as brush crackled under his great
weight the Oliphaunt flushed out the Rangers concealed above the road. There
was a blur of green cloaks and when the Oliphaunt saw those who even with
its primitive brain it understood to be its tormentors, it trumpeted with
rage and shot out its snakelike trunk and snatched up one of the fleeing
Rangers. Almost effortlessly it threw him away to fall with a crash into the
trees and lie without moving. The Haradrim cheered and rushed forward and
the Rangers loosed a last flight of arrows as their captains ordered them to
retreat.

But it was already too late; the Oliphaunt, its tiny eyes red with fury,
rushed after them and snatched up a Ranger in a long grey-green cloak.
Marfach looked up in horror; the man struggled feebly for a few seconds then
the enraged animal flung him to the ground, placed a great round grey foot
on the small of his back, curled its trunk around his upper body, and tore
him in two.

That was effectively the end of the battle, for both Rangers and Haradrim
forgot their differences and ran for their lives, jostling each other as
they tried to escape the rampaging Mumakil.

Marfach stood still as it charged past without touching him, for no creature
will harm an Elf. Dust and pieces of ruined castle showered down on him. The
Oliphaunt plunged deep into the forest, and its trumpeting died away into a
ghastly silence.

The Haradrim peered out of hiding and began to pick up their discarded
weapons and look about for their enemy. A few Rangers darted like hunted
deer back into the trees before they could be taken but one was trapped
between the road and the Haradrim and although he quickly turned to run he
was surrounded by an angry crowd of Southrons and attacked. He drew his
sword and cut down one then another as they fell on him but a long Haradrim
spear caught him in the side and he dropped his sword and the Haradrim
closed in like black hounds and as Marfach looked on in dismay the Ranger
fell under their long thin swords and was slain.

As if this one death was some recompense for all their losses the Haradrim
rejoiced fiercely, pushing each other out of the way to strip the body of
its weapons, sword, dagger and grey-fletched arrows. The Ranger’s bow
already lay on the ground broken. Marfach did not want to watch but could
not look away.

The Haradrim invited him to share some of the spoils, and one of them pushed
the body onto its back with his foot and proceeded to cut off the
five-pointed steel star brooch that Rangers wore to fasten their cloaks. As
he did so Marfach saw his face, and realised that it was Ciall, Faramir’s
captain. He felt sick and cold, and when the Harad warrior held the brooch
up to him and said;
‘This is yours, you delivered us from the Rangers!’ he wanted to knock it
out of the man’s hand and kill him. But the Haradrim were watching so he
took it and looked at it. It was smeared with blood. Another Haradrim took
it back and fastened it onto Marfach’s own cloak, and the warriors cheered
and shook their spears….

Just then a squadron of cavalry galloped up, sent back by the vanguard to
help the Haradrim to drive off the attack. A white horse pushed forward and
Salanda jumped down and ran over and said to Marfach;
‘Come with me, Síota has summoned you….’

He handed the reins of a tall, dusty half-starved bay to Marfach then looked
down and started to see the Ranger’s star on his cloak. He looked round then
at the dead man, and back at Marfach in disbelief. Marfach nodded and said,
in a low voice only Salanda could hear;
‘Now there is no-one I have not betrayed.’

The last of day was fading in the West and thunder rumbled round the four
corners of the sky, heralding the first rain in this parched land for weeks.
Faramir stood at the mouth of a low cave in the chalk cliffs that ran along
the Anduin. Far in the distance he could see the dust cloud raised by the
Haradrim army.

‘Not as many of you now, are there?’ he thought grimly, then turned to look
at the dead brought back from the ambush, for the Rangers never left their
fallen behind.
‘Nor as many of us, either……’

‘What happened to him?’ he asked Anborn when he saw Ciall.
‘He was caught on the road’ said the Ranger, one of his captains. ‘and
surrounded. He never had a chance…’

Faramir knelt beside the dead Ranger and placed his hand on his chest. He
bowed his head and was silent for a while. Then he noticed Ciall’s star
clasp was missing, and he felt angry. Robbers…! He looked up and asked;
‘How many did we lose?’
‘Seventeen, including Ciall’ replied Anborn. ‘another fifteen are hurt, but
all except two can walk’.

Faramir nodded. He would pay for this, Denethor would rant at him for losing
men. They had slain twice fourscore at least, but still his father would be
angry…

‘With Boromir away, father, I should be given command in Ithilien…’
‘You are not fit for command.’
Faramir bit back his anger.
‘If I do not go’ he said coldly ‘the defence of Ithilien will fail…’
Faramir almost pitied Denethor; there had been no word from Boromir for
months, since he had left for Rivendell. He knew his father missed him
sorely, and was wondering had he done right to let him go after all….
‘Boromir is no longer here to lead the army.’ He said almost gently. ‘You
must give me the command….’
A window faced West. Denethor gazed upwards at it in longing and said
suddenly;
‘Boromir, why have you not returned? Not a word, not a letter to your father
in all this time!’ He stopped and looked at Faramir and said with a sigh;
‘Go then, and lead in place of your brother, a better man than you in every
way. But curb your weakness, your pity. Slay all you find in Ithilien who do
not have my leave to be there, or forfeit your own life….. ‘

‘Captain Faramir?’ said Anborn, breaking into his leader’s thoughts. Faramir
looked up.

‘We have captured two spies….’