The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda

Chapter 33: Much must be Risked in War

When Boromir won back the river port of Osgiliath for Gondor it was already in ruins. The ancient Citadel of the Stars was now only a city of rubble. The marble arcades that lined the Spice Quay were broken and sullied by endless bombardment from the forces of Mordor on the Eastern shore. The weirs that let water into the deep pool where countless ships from the South had once moored were choked by fallen masonry and the rotting corpses of men, orcs and horses, and the foul water had invaded the lower streets of the city. Once vines grew on the south-facing terraces and sunlit squares echoed to the music of fountains. Now every column was tumbled, every arch broken and every courtyard teemed with rats or snakes.

The wide thoroughfare that led up from the river, the Street of the Silversmiths, had long ago lost its colonade and the coloured awnings over its shops and the Rangers who struggled to defend Osgiliath crouched in the ruins of the artisans' houses on either side. None dared show themselves in daylight, for the orcs on the Eastern shore had grown skilled in the use of slingshot and ballistae as well as bow and crossbow and only after dark could Faramir’s men move through the ruins without risking death from the skies….

But not this night; tonight a thick fog, rank and icy cold, permeated every toppled palace and roofless building of Osgiliath. The Rangers pulled their cloaks close but they could not shut out the dank, rotten smell carried on the mist. They looked uneasily at each other and strained to listen for the enemy, but the fog seemed to quell every sound as well as block all sight. But worst of all was the smell…..

‘It is only the river’ said Faramir in a low voice. ‘It has been polluted. Keep careful watch….’
‘How?’ muttered one of the Rangers. ‘I can’t see my hand, never mind an orc on the far side of the river….’

Faramir had not the heart to reprimand the man; he knew this was madness, to wait blinded by night and fog for an assault they could not hope to repel. But he had given his word to his father to try to hold Osgiliath, and he could not retreat. This mist, though…it was not natural. Faramir got quietly to his feet and picked his way softly along a ruined arcade to check on his sentries.
‘Something evil is at work here…..’ he thought to himself as he peered into the foul-smelling mist…..suddenly a shape, black and tall as he was, loomed up at his very feet.

Faramir gave a cry and sprang back, snatching at his sword hilt. His Rangers gave a shout and ran to him, their weapons already drawn. But the dark figure, hooded and robed in a long grey cloak, did not advance on Faramir or make any move at all, not even to defend itself. It spoke, though; a single word…

At that Faramir threw out his arm and shouted to his men to stop. Then he turned to the shadowy figure and hissed;
‘Who are you, and why are you here? Know you not it is death for any but those loyal to Gondor to enter this city?’
‘But I am loyal to Gondor’ came a voice from the shadowed depths of the hood.
‘I serve her king’

Faramir knew that voice; on impulse he reached forward and pulled down the hood. His men gripped their swords and raised them, but Faramir gasped;

At night the Rangers seldom risked fires in the ruins of Osgiliath, but a torch was brought now, and by its yellow glare Faramir saw that it was indeed Marfach. His face was even more gaunt and pale than when he had parted from the Ranger captain only days before. The red dreadlocks were gleaming with wet and he had a bitter half-smile on his face. Faramir was aware of his men muttering angrily. He said;
‘It seems Mordor did not punish you after all, but let you go unscathed….’
‘Not unscathed’ said Marfach, and he freed his right arm from the folds of his cloak and held it up and in the wavering light Faramir saw his hand was missing.

Faramir shook his head and asked;
‘What are you doing here? Why did you come back?’ There was a movement in the shadows then and Faramir realised Marfach was not alone; a Southron stood behind him, his cloak drawn round him and the whites of his eyes gleaming with fear in his dark-skinned face.
‘And who is this?’ he added in exasperation. Marfach only smiled and Faramir looking round at his angry men said;
‘This….man…saved one of our Rangers from the river, he is not an enemy…’ As the muttering ceased he said to Marfach
‘Come with me….. ‘

A flight of cracked and broken marble steps led down into a sunken garden, once shaded by palms and planted with sweet-smelling herbs, when Osgiliath was a fair and bustling city. Now the Rangers used it to hide and snatch an hour’s sleep between watches. A small brazier glowed, unseen from the outside and through gaps in the broken walls came the sound of the river…..
‘What are you doing here, Marfach?’ Faramir asked again when they were alone.
‘I let you go once, but do not try my patience….’
Faramir had believed the girl Dian when she told of Marfach rescuing her and Altán from orcs. But he was beset with enemies and anxious to do right in his father’s eyes; he did not need this renegade and his Haradrim friend…he said;
‘You cannot speak of the King, there are only the servants of the Steward here….’
‘Then I serve the Steward’ replied Marfach coolly.’I serve Gondor, by whatever name…’
‘And him?’ asked Faramir abruptly, nodding to Salanda.
‘So does he.’ Faramir’s eyebrows shot up. Marfach went on;
‘He follows me, and I serve Gondor.’

Faramir nodded slowly, looking from one to the other. He knew from Dian that this strange creature could inspire great loyalty. But also great hatred; Faramir said;
‘You cannot stay here, Marfach. My men will not have you in their ranks, and certainly not your Southron. I will give you safe passage out of Osgiliath….’
‘I do not want safe passage, Lord Faramir’ said Marfach in a clear voice. His eyes flashed in the red glow of the brazier.
‘I wish to fight at your side…’
‘Why?’ asked Faramir. He lowered his voice and added;
‘…and why did you greet me with my brother’s name …?’

‘Look after my brother, Faramir…..’
Marfach had a sudden vision of a grey rocky coast and a tall black-cloaked man, very akin to Faramir…then the vision vanished.

Faramir was staring at him.
‘Answer me!’ he said. ‘Seoid is an ancient form of my brother’s name, Bright Jewel. How did you know to greet me with that name?’
‘All the West knows you are Boromir’s brother…’ said Marfach in a calm voice.
‘You’re lying!’ snapped Faramir. Marfach looked down, agitated. He could only tell the truth to Faramir, and yet he could not tell him this. He threw aside his cloak and unsheathed the sword which had been taken from the dead Ranger, Ciall. He held it out to Faramir.
‘This belonged to one who is now dead. I have taken it to fight for his cause. So the dead give to us the living. So Boromir gives to you. Accept my service, Lord Faramir, and do not ask any more…’

Faramir stared at Marfach in astonishment. He realised the Haradrim was trembling like a leaf. Marfach looked up at him then and said;
‘Faramir, you are in great danger….’
Faramir snorted.
‘We are all in great danger….’ He retorted. Marfach put his good hand on the Captain’s arm.
‘You do not understand; this fog….’ And he gestured to the thick, evil-smelling miasma. ‘ not from the river. It is a creation of Mordor..’
Faramir stared at him. Marfach went on urgently;
‘It comes from the East and is sent to cover the advance of the orcs across the river.’ Faramir instinctively looked towards the river but Marfach held onto his arm;
‘They have launched a great host of rafts and are crossing under cover of the mist and the dark. It is a vast force, far more than you can drive off. You must retreat…..’

‘Retreat?’snarled Faramir. ‘are you mad? Now I doubt you, Marfach, and wonder if you are truly still in the power of Mordor. Much must be risked in war…’
‘Those are the words of a fool!’ interrupted Marfach.
‘They are the words of my father’ said Faramir angrily. ‘And I must do his bidding, and hold this city….’
‘Abandon it or die!’ shouted Marfach. Salanda, who had kept silent all this time now blurted out;
‘Listen to him my lord! I have seen them! It is a great army of every breed of orc ever known, armed at every point and aided by trolls and wargs. Your men will be overwhelmed. Do as he says, and fall back…..’

Faramir silenced Salanda with a furious look, but did not reply. He said to Marfach;
‘Why did you come here?’
‘I swore an oath to protect you’ he answered. Faramir stared at him and into the silence that fell came the unmistakable splash of an oar. Faramir started as if struck and bolted up the stairs to rouse his men. At the top he paused and looking over his shoulder said to Marfach;
‘Prove it….’