The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda

Chapter 36: Day of the Raven

From the high window in the White Tower Faramir could see out over the fields of the Pelennor, basking in late morning sunshine, right to Osgiliath burning in the distance and even to the river Anduin lying coiled like a silver ribbon beyond it.

Despite the dark pall of smoke Faramir thought this sight was the fairest in all Middle Earth. He gazed long at it as if he wished to imprint the vision on his memory for all time.

‘Could you raise your arm a bit, my Lord?’ asked the little page Fionn as he reached up to fasten the straps of Faramir’s armour. The boy had been Boromir’s page and Faramir had taken him into his own service when his brother rode to Rivendell. Now, in this high bright room given to the Steward’s second son as his bedchamber the slight fair-haired boy strapped on Faramir’s armour with trembling fingers.

Faramir held the breastplate in place as the boy worked to fasten it. He looked about him idly; his room was sparsely furnished with a chest and a hard narrow bed, for Faramir spent most of his time in Ithilien, far from Minas Tirith and his father. Denethor disliked luxury, in himself or others and there was little opulence to be seen here except a rich tapestry hung over the door to shut out winter draughts. Yet Faramir liked this bright airy room, and found himself gazing about it as if bidding it farewell…

‘Sorry, my lord!’ exclaimed Fionn, after pinching Faramir’s arm between steel and leather. Faramir laughed.
‘I am not that dainty, Fionn, but you must make haste or we will be late for the weapons-take….’

He could have prepared for the attack on Osgiliath in the armoury, where the knights were getting ready. But Faramir had sought out his own chamber for a few last moments of solitude; he did not want to be among the soldiers who loved him just before he led them to their deaths.

Faramir was as tall as Boromir but lacked his brother’s great physical strength and so he disliked fighting in armour. He was slight and quick of movement and preferred the light Ranger’s tunic of wool and padded leather he wore fighting in Ithilien. But on this day he must wear the armour of the knights so he stood patiently as Fionn placed over his shirt of fine linen a gambeson of padded wool to protect him from the weight of his armour then buckled on the armour itself, the breastplate emblazoned with the tree and stars of Gondor…

As he stood with his arms outstretched a bright band of sunlight fell through the window and warmed his face. The noise of a city preparing for war faded away and he found his thoughts wandering to Boromir, and Finduilas his mother….

He was brought back to the present by a sob and turning saw the little fair-haired page holding a mailed gauntlet and crying. Faramir quickly knelt down to bring himself level with the boy and said;
‘Fionn, my lad! What is amiss?’

The boy, ashamed of crying, choked back his tears and said in a broken voice;
‘I made a promise to Lord Boromir to look after you, and now you are going away…’
‘Only to fight, Fionn, as is my duty….’ said Faramir.
‘But they say you are not coming back!’ the boy blurted out.
‘Who says that?’ asked Faramir sharply.
‘The people in the city, the women in the kitchen, the guards, everyone….’

Faramir put his hands on Fionn’s shoulders and said gently;
‘Fionn, esquire of Gondor, look at me and listen to my words.’
The small, tear-streaked face looked up.
‘There is always hope. Do not listen to them, but to me. Do you see this sword?’
He picked up his Ranger’s sword, still sheathed. Fionn nodded dumbly. Faramir placed both hands on the hilt.
‘I promise you I will return to Minas Tirith’

Fionn looked at Faramir with eyes wide, not daring to question. Faramir thought to himself;
‘I will return, one way or another…..’

He got to his feet and told Fionn to hurry. As the boy picked up the steel and gilt helmet engraved with the wings of birds Faramir saw him looking curiously at the decoration.
‘Do you know what birds those are?’ he asked. Fionn shook his head.
‘They are ravens’ said Faramir ‘Symbols of Minas Tirith. There are two and they stand for Thought and Memory. A warrior needs more than courage, for battles are won not just by arms but by wisdom….’

And are lost by folly, thought Faramir to himself bitterly….

'Much must be risked in war...' His father's words came back to Faramir now.
'Do you wish then I had died and Boromir had lived?'
'Yes, I wish that....'

'Have you ever seen a raven, Fionn?' he asked. Fionn looked down and replied in a low voice;
'Sometimes, flying high over Mindolluin...' Faramir saw the boy shudder.
'They feed on the dead....'

Just then a footstep was heard in the open doorway and Faramir turned to see Tostach standing there with two other Ranger captains, Arracht, named for his great gaunt frame, and Daigh, Dagger-hand, the youngest of the Ranger captains. These were the only officers of the Rangers of Ithilien who had survived the battle of Osgiliath and the flight across the Pelennor. More than a third of the men had also been lost.

Fionn looked up in awe at these dusty, battle-worn men. They seemed to him to be giants and heroes, in their faded leather tunics and torn green cloaks, their gauntleted hands resting on the hilts of their great broadswords. Although weather-beaten their faces were fair and grave and their grey eyes shone with the light of the ancient line of Numenor itself. Suddenly he started as Faramir demanded sharply;
‘What are you doing here?’

Tostach bowed and said hesitantly;
‘We have come to ask leave to take part in the attack on Osgiliath…’
‘It is denied!’ said Faramir. Tostach glanced at the others and Daigh said;
‘We want to volunteer to ride with the knights of Gondor….’
‘You are not cavalrymen…’ pointed out Faramir.
‘Neither are you….’ replied Daigh coolly, speaking to Faramir almost as if to an equal, for he had always treated his men as comrades.

Faramir was about to reply when he remembered Fionn. He leaned down and said to the boy;
‘Fionn, run and fetch my captains some wine….be quick!’

The lad ran off and in the silence that followed Faramir said formally;
‘I thank you for your offer, but I cannot permit this…’
‘Why not?’ asked Daigh hotly. ‘We lost Osgiliath; if the Steward believes that to be such a dishonour, it is right that we help to regain it…’
‘Regain Osgiliath?’ said Faramir in astonishment. He looked from one to the other and said bleakly;
‘Rangers, you must understand, there will be no regaining of Osgiliath; we do not ride to a battle, we ride to ……’

And then Faramir seemed suddenly lost for words. Tears sprang into his eyes and he turned away. The Ranger captains glanced at each other then the oldest and most experienced, Tostach, said;
‘My Lord Faramir, we understand well enough to what we ride. But you are our captain, and your doom is our doom, we cannot be left behind.’
He paused and pointing to the smoke lying on the Pelennor he went on;
‘The foe is almost at the city; what does it matter where we fall as long as we fall defending Gondor?’

The other two Rangers nodded, their faces grim.
‘Wherever you lead, Faramir, there must the Rangers follow.’

Faramir turned to them and gazed upon each man in turn. Then he said in a sad voice;
‘Let me bid you farewell here, then’ and stepping forward he embraced first Tostach, then Daigh and lastly Arracht who towered over him. There were tears in his eyes but before he could say anything Fionn hurried in with a tray bearing wine and four goblets.

Faramir ordered the boy to set it down and picking up the jug he poured the wine and handed a cup to each of the Rangers and took one for himself. He held it up and they held theirs up too. But he hesitated to speak the toast, and at last Arracht in his deep voice said;
‘To Gondor, and Victory!’

The others repeated the words
‘To Gondor!’ and were about to drink when Faramir raised his cup to them and said in a quiet voice;
‘To the Rangers of Ithilien!’

The Rangers looked at each other, surprised and slightly abashed, but Faramir lifted his cup and drank and they drank too. When they had drunk Faramir glanced down and noticed that Daigh’s hand was shaking so much a splash of the wine had spilled onto the white marble flagstones. It gleamed in the morning sun like a discarded jewel or a bright bead of heart’s-blood. Faramir looked at his own hand and saw that it was steady. He smiled bitterly and thought to himself;

‘I no longer have any fear because I no longer have any hope....'