The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda


Chapter 27: The Departure of Boromir

The next day dawned grey and cold as ash, with an angry red sun reflected in the waters of the Anduin. Dust and smoke raised by the Haradrim as they marched South back to their own land covered the sky. From their hiding place in the woods high above the river-plain Faramir and his men watched in astonishment as the great host passed by.

‘What is happening?’ asked a Ranger in bewilderment. ‘What are they doing?’
‘They are going home, back to Harad’ said Faramir quietly.
‘What made them change their minds?’ asked Anborn, but Faramir did not reply. He was thinking of Marfach, and about the pledge he had given Aragorn to turn aside or betray the Haradrim. Faramir smiled; he could not be sure, but he believed that this was the doing of Marfach. He hoped it had not cost him his life…

‘It is not all of their army’ said Anborn. ‘I would think it is less than half…’
‘Will we attack them?’ asked one of the Rangers.
‘No!’ said Faramir almost angrily. ‘They are leaving our land, going back to Harad. They have laid aside their war against Gondor and we have no reason to attack them. I have given orders that there will be no unnecessary killing…’

When the great host had passed out of sight Anborn said;
‘What will we do now?’
Faramir sighed. He thought of the pile of dispatches from Denethor, demanding his return to Minas Tirith. He said;
‘We must go back to the city…..’

On his bay mare Rua Faramir outpaced his men and as the early winter evening closed in two days later he galloped along the Causeway leading to the city gates. He acknowledged the salutes of the guards and reined his mount to a walk as he climbed to the outer portal. He glanced up; the seven levels of the city rose sheer above him out of the rich green plain, crowned by the gleaming Tower of Ecthelion. The white banner of the Stewards flew from its topmost turret, rising and falling in the late afternoon breeze.

It was a sight that had never before failed to lift Faramir’s spirits. But not today. His heart felt like lead. As he rode in under the great archway of the outer gate the echoing of the horse’s hooves only reminded him of the day Boromir had ridden forth from this very gate for the last time……

All morning Faramir had been kept busy. Denethor, as if on purpose, had given him endless duties, and Faramir had begun to worry that he would never get away to bid his brother farewell on his errand to Rivendell. For he dared not leave undone any task given to him by his father, lest he further kindle Denethor’s anger against him…

So it was late morning before he managed to finish a weapons-take for his Rangers and hurry down through the seven levels of the city to the stables close to the main gate. He wore only a plain black woollen tunic and a torn and faded gambeson. As usual when he was within the City, Faramir bore no weapon, not even a dagger.

He ran into the stable courtyard to find his brother ready to leave, mounted on his horse Seabhac, the Hawk. Boromir was clad royally in a tunic of quilted red silk embroidered with gold and a shirt of pale blue sewn with silver stars. Over these he wore a long leather tunic and a mail hauberk made in Gondor many years before by their finest armourers. Thrown back over his shoulder was a heavy black travelling cloak fastened by a silver brooch fashioned like two sporting dragons and around his neck he wore a silver circlet. His great black shield with its silver boss, a rallying point in battle for the men of Gondor, was slung on his back and he was armed with a broadsword, which on account of his great strength he was accustomed to wield single-handedly.

He did not notice Faramir approach, as he was in earnest conversation with a tall man in the uniform of the Tower Guard. Only when his younger brother stood at his stirrup did Boromir turn to him and smile.

The other man turned round then too and Faramir recognised Cianda, Boromir’s lieutenant. His pale face was even paler than usual and he looked angry, or afraid. Faramir was too surprised to speak, and Cianda bowed deeply and abruptly turned and strode away without a word.

‘Faramir!’ shouted Boromir. ‘I thought you were going to let me go without a word of goodbye!’
Faramir shook his head and laughed
‘Father ordered me to supervise the weapons-take’ he said in a resigned voice. Boromir frowned.
‘What weapons-take?’ he asked. Faramir replied;
‘I am sent to Ithilien, with the Rangers.’
‘Ithilien!’ said Boromir in surprise. He knew of the secret war Faramir waged in that fair country, hiding out for weeks at a time in the woods and caves. A war of great danger and little honour. Faramir saw his look and said with a wry smile;.
‘It is not so bad, Boromir. At least I am free in Ithilien, and a long way from father. I will be safe enough; you know they call me The Fox…..’

But Boromir did not look reassured. It was not his idea of warfare… to change the subject Faramir said;
‘What is the matter with Cianda?’

Boromir went to reply, then remembered his esquire Fionn was still holding the horse’s head. Fionn’s name meant Fair, and indeed everything about the young boy was pale, except his large grey eyes, which were fixed on Boromir. When every lad who could bear arms had been sent to defend the city, Fionn had been too sickly to fight or stand long watches. Instead he had been chosen to be esquire to the Steward’s son and tend to his weapons and clothes, as was the tradition in Gondor. To be given any honorable charge, however small, made him pitifully grateful..

Boromir dismounted and handed the reins to Fionn and said;
‘Walk him round for a little while, lad, I will leave presently…..’

As the boy led the horse into the stable yard Boromir took Faramir’s arm and they walked out under the arch of the courtyard. Faramir asked again;
‘What is the matter with Cianda?’
‘He says I should not go to Rivendell. He has had some premonition…’ said Boromir with a wry smile. Faramir started, but Boromir went on;
‘The truth is he wants to come with me, and he is angry that I will not permit it…’
‘Perhaps you should listen to him’ said Faramir ‘He is a southerner, from Ithilien. They have a sixth sense there….he always seemed to know when orcs were about to attack…’
‘Dreams! Premonitions!’ exclaimed Boromir. ‘Will I ever hear the end of all this foolery. Ever since you had that dream about the Sword that was broken, and Imladris….’
‘And you had it too, didn’t you, Boromir?’ asked Faramir quickly. Boromir coloured but nodded and answered impatiently
‘Yes, yes, I had the dream….’

But Faramir was not convinced. He put a hand on Boromir’s arm and said;
’Boromir, tell me the truth; you did have the dream?’
‘Yes, I had the dream’ replied his brother, then added. ‘What does it matter, as long as one of us goes, as long as one of us seizes this thing that is in Rivendell, whatever it is….’
‘It does matter, Boromir.’ said Faramir and his voice was so quiet it was hard to hear him above the clatter of horses and men in the stable yard. Boromir looked at him uncertainly. Faramir said in a low, hoarse voice;
‘It doesn’t matter if you go in my stead; but it does matter if you die in my stead….’

For a moment even Boromir grew pale. Guards were passing them on their way to the gates so he took hold of his younger brother, none too gently, and pulled him after him into a doorway. Faramir let himself be dragged along, feeling Boromir’s fingers dig into his shoulder but not protesting. When they were alone Boromir hissed;
‘That is a poor jest, Faramir…’

Faramir looked up at his taller brother and said;
‘It is no jest, brother….’
‘Then what do you mean by it?’ demanded Boromir. Faramir stammered;
‘A long time ago, I had a dream…’
‘Oh gods, not another dream!’ cried Boromir, running his hand through his hair in exasperation. But Faramir shook his head and said;
‘Listen, Boromir. This was long ago, years ago. Remember when you rescued me from the orcs? For two days I lay in a fever, and that last night, I had a dream….’

Boromir dropped his hand. He remembered bringing Faramir home, dying as they had thought him. He remembered sitting up, night after night, as his brother lay wandering in a fever. He said;
‘What was this dream?’
‘It was a boat, an Elven boat, borne along on the waters of the Anduin’ Faramir spoke rapidly, as if he wanted to tell this as quickly as possible.
‘You lay in the boat, asleep, as I thought then. As I wanted to think….’
Boromir was looking at him in silence. Faramir continued;
‘You wore a silver grey cloak clasped with a brooch wrought in the shape of a leaf, like one made by Elves, and you bore a belt of golden leaves, again of Elven make. Last night, and for two nights before, brother, this dream has returned to me….’

‘So?’ asked Boromir with a shrug. ‘You dreamed I was dressed up as an Elf…..’
‘Boromir!’ cried Faramir in anguish. ‘You are going to the realms of the Elves! You are going on an errand you were not chosen for! And you are going to your death, I have seen it!’

For a long time neither spoke. Faramir felt the blood pounding in his ears, and felt the bright morning grow dim. Then Boromir put a hand on his shoulder, not roughly this time, but gently. He said in a quiet voice.
‘Faramir, I have not learned lore from Gandalf as you have, and I think little of the Elves, it is true. But this much I know; there is now in Rivendell some great power, something that could bring victory to Gondor in this endless, hopeless war….’
‘That is father talking!’ cried Faramir, but Boromir put up his hand and went on;
‘Yes, these are father’s words, and he is right, Faramir. I will claim this thing for Gondor, whether it is lawful or not, and save our city, at whatever cost…’

Faramir hung his head
‘Let me go, Boromir…’
‘No!’ said his brother. ‘It is settled, the quest is mine, I will let no-one else have it..’
Seeing Faramir’s anguish he added, more gently;
‘Who says I have the hardest road? You must stay here and take on the duties of both of us in father’s eyes. He will test you, Faramir. Something is gnawing at him, making him act rashly. Do not let him drive you to throw your life away for nothing….’

Faramir looked up angrily. There were tears in his eyes;
‘You counsel me to do what you won’t do! Save your own life!’

For some moments Boromir did not answer. Then he looked up at the banner of the Stewards, flying from the Tower of Ecthelion, dazzling white against the blue winter sky. He nodded to it and said;
‘Little brother, do you think I could bear not to return to the White City? I promise you, I will come back…’
Faramir looked up at his brother and smiled stiffly. His heart whispered to him that it would never be…..

Boromir called for his horse, and Fionn led Seabhac forward. Boromir saw the lad had been weeping; his eyes and the tip of his nose were red, his face even paler than usual. He dreaded his master’s leaving…Boromir said, half jokingly.
‘Warriors do not cry!’ but Fionn only wept the more. Faramir shook his head at Boromir as if urging him not to tease the lad. Boromir was preparing to mount, but turned aside and knelt down on one knee to bring himself level with the little boy. He said gently;
‘Fionn, I am going away, perhaps for a long time. I wonder if you could do something very important for me?’
Fionn dragged his sleeve across his eyes and nodded vigorously. Boromir went on;
‘My brother Faramir has no esquire, as you can plainly see…..’
And Boromir gestured to Faramir’s torn gambeson and patched, plain tunic. Fionn smiled through his tears. Boromir said;
‘Could you be my brother’s esquire and look after him till I come back?’

Fionn nodded again, not able to speak. Boromir smiled and clapped him on the shoulder. Then he embraced Faramir. He could feel his younger brother tense in his arms, his cheek cold when he kissed him.
‘Farewell, Faramir….’

Then he swung himself up into the saddle. With a wave he rode out through the gate and down the ramp. At the end of the causeway he stopped and looked back. Faramir had his hand raised in farewell.

Boromir thought with a sudden pain in his chest how slight and vulnerable his brother looked in his plain black tunic and battered gambeson. Traitor tears blurred his sight and he took off his gauntlet to wipe them away. Then he waved again and rode on. When he looked back at the first fort Faramir had turned and was walking back into the courtyard with his arm on Fionn’s shoulder….