The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda

Chapter 43: A Song for Faramir

Faramir was beloved of the people of Minas Tirith beyond all others, save only his brother Boromir, who was dead. As the great gates closed behind the Steward’s youngest son, the sound echoed like a death knell in every heart in the city, except for that of Faramir’s own father, Denethor.

The Steward sat in the great Hall, and even the dim light penetrating the high windows hurt his eyes. Although it was only March it seemed hot to him, or he was feverish, and his head ached. It was little wonder, for all night he had pored over the dark orb kept in the secret chamber in the highest room in his tower. As lightning stabbed the darkness from Mordor he had strained to see into the black glass and to know the fate of his city, and his lineage. And at last, as the first grey of a weary dawn dragged itself up over the Eastern mountains, he saw the fate of his city, and it was nothing but a great cataclysm of fire…

‘My Lord, what would you have me do?’

The words broke into Denethor’s thoughts, and he looked up distracted; why do they ask me? Do they not know they are doomed? Then he realised it was Faramir speaking to him. Faramir, his son…..
’Osgiliath must be retaken…’ Denethor said, and the words rolled round the marble hall startling the echoes. Faramir went as pale as the white statues of the dead Stewards that stood ranged about him. He replied, trying to keep his voice calm.
‘My Lord, Osgiliath is overrun…’

And Denethor looked upon his son as if he was a stranger, even a traitor, and said;
‘Much must be risked in war….’

Faramir, as hungry for a word of kindness from his father as he was to turn aside this deadly mission, said in desperation;
‘You wish now that our places had been exchanged; that I had died and Boromir had lived….?’

Pippin, standing forgotten beside Denethor’s chair, looked up at the stern lord in his long fur-trimmed velvet robe and black armour, and saw in his eyes only anger and desperation. Denethor picked up a silver cup brimming over with wine as red as blood and held it to his lips and said in a bare whisper;
‘Yes; I wish that…..’

And he gazed past Faramir into a distance where he saw only the flames in the Palantír. He was blind to the tears in his son’s eyes, or how Faramir’s hand shook as he gripped his sword hilt. He barely noted Faramir’s stiff bow, or his glance as he turned to go.
‘If I return, think better of me….’

And in a voice no longer that of a father he replied;
‘That will depend on the manner of your return….’ And before his son had even left the hall he had turned to the table before him and had begun to tear the food asunder and consume it, like a famished beast, not tasting or seeing, blind to everything but the memory of the vision in the Orb….

Faramir felt almost relieved to be out of the city, the grieving crowds left behind. He touched spurs to his horse, Rua the bay, and broke into a canter towards the distant city of Osgiliath, no more than a grey smudge on the horizon. Behind him the jingling of bits and clank of armour was the only sound to be heard from his men.

Despite the overcast sky and the darkness spreading from Mordor, the wind was fresh on his cheek and a last ray of sun fell on the parched grass of the Pelennor. He might almost be riding out for a hunt, or to relieve the garrison at Osgiliath in happier times. But from all points of the far plain there rose columns of smoke, as the outlying fortresses of the Rammas Echor, the defensive dike of Gondor, were set ablaze by the forces of Sauron, and a bitter smell of blazing ricks and farms assailed Faramir’s senses. He urged his charger on to a canter, feeling the ground shake with the hooves of two hundred horses….

Every milestone and relay house on the Road was familiar to Faramir. He passed them one after another, and the now-deserted guard houses. Over all there was a dreadful hush, and Faramir felt a desire to glance back, for one last time to look upon Minas Tirith, his beloved city. But he resisted; he did not want his men to see him hesitate, and in any case, there was nothing in the City that he loved, now Boromir was dead and his father had cast him out…

When they passed the Sixth Marker, and its post-house, already set afire, Faramir gave the order to form ranks for the charge. He glanced to left and right and saw the armoured horsemen extend on both sides, their chargers lengthening their stride as they began to devour the ground with greater speed. The Pelennor was now almost half crossed, but Osgiliath still a grey-white tumble of buildings hardly visible in the haze of heat rising from the midday plain. There were still miles to go, and Faramir held out his right hand to steady the line and prevent the men from exhausting their horses too far from their destination.

Behind the ranks of armoured knights came the Rangers, set further back for some protection against the arrows of the enemy. Halfway along the right flank, just within sight of Faramir, rode Críonna on Brú, close beside Faramir’s captain, Daigh. The wind made the Northern Ranger’s tawny hair stream out behind him, and had this not been such a deadly errand he would have rejoiced in the speed and power of his mount. But as it was he scoured the horizon with his eyes and gripped the long heavy cavalry lance, his heart pounding and his mouth dry, as the horses bore them at an ever increasing pace towards the doomed city of Osgiliath….

‘Can you sing, Master Hobbit?’

Denethor’s words broke into Pippin’s thoughts, and he looked up, startled.
‘No…I mean, yes.’ he stammered. ‘I mean, only for my own folk.’ Denethor did not seem to be listening.
‘But we have no songs for great halls, or evil times….’

And Pippin was silent. As much as he wished to honour his pledge to serve Denethor, he grieved for Faramir. He had loved his brother Boromir, and Faramir was of the same noble and lordly bearing, only more wise and even more kind. He had only spoken a few words to the hobbit before he had been sent out on this deadly errand, and now Pippin felt a great weight on his heart….

‘Come!’ barked Denethor. ‘Sing me a song!’

Gruamaigh, the lieutenant of Gothmog, wore black armour marked with the Red Eye and a helm crested with a vulture’s beak. His yellow eyes with their black pupils were keener than any man’s and now he scrambled across the ruins of Osgiliath to his lord.

‘March-shlua!’ he shrieked at Gothmog in a twisted imitation of the Common Speech used in Gondor.
‘The horse-lords are attacking!’
For a moment of panic Gothmog thought the creature had seen the horsemen of the dreaded Rohirrim approaching. But when he climbed up to the highest point of Osgiliath, the ruined tower of a once proud palace, he saw, not the Riders of Rohan, but a long line of cavalry galloping at speed towards Osgiliath from Minas Tirith.

A smile spread over the warped features of Gothmog. He turned to Gruamaigh and said;
‘Order the archers to take position! The mad Lord of Gondor has sent us a sacrifice….’

The horses by now were galloping at full speed. Críonna felt his horse’s mane whipping in his face and heard at last a shouted command from his left. Glancing over he saw Faramir draw his sword and spur ahead of his men.
‘Charge…..’ It was not a command but a long cry of defiance, to the orcs, to his father, to fate itself….his men drew their swords and joined in his cry. At last Críonna could see the ruins of Osgiliath and ranged all along them, on every wall and archway, tens, scores, hundreds of orc archers. Críonna drew his Elven sword and held it out and screamed as he charged the last few hundred yards….

‘Fire!’ bellowed Gothmog.

‘Mist and shadow…’ sang Pippin, his voice wavering as tears threatened to put a stop to his singing.
‘ and shade.
‘All will fade
All will fade……’

Beneath him Brú missed his footing on a fallen horse and rider and in an instant Críonna had been flung to the earth, landing hard on his shoulder.

For a long moment he lay still, winded and stunned. The sound of battle, the screams of dead and dying men and horses, faded away, and he heard only the roaring of blood in his ears.
‘Get up…get up….’ he said to himself. He knew that soon the orcs would come, dispatching the dying and stripping the dead of their arms and armour. He must get up…but not yet. He lay unable to move, and gazed up at the sky.

And then the very destruction that the orcs had wrought on the forts of the outer Rammas brought some respite to the men of Gondor. The wind changed. A steady breeze began to blow from the South, and it caught and whirled before it a great pall of black greasy smoke from the burning towers. In a few minutes it covered all the Pelennor and obscured the riders of Gondor, already broken and scattered by the orc archers, and gave them some cover…..

Lying on his back, Críonna looked up in astonishment at the dense cloud but before he could think someone had seized his arm.
‘Get up, Ranger! The attack has failed! We will never reach Osgiliath. Let us retreat, while this smoke lasts. It will do Gondor no good if we die here….let us save ourselves. Some kindly fate has sent this smoke to hide us…..’

Críonna struggled to sit up and looked into the face of Daigh. His tunic was covered with blood from the gash of a cross-bow bolt in his upper arm, but he was able to stand. All about lay dead and dying men and horses, the once proud knights of Gondor reduced to a bloody slaughter in a trampled field. But under the concealing cloud of smoke those who had survived the killing volleys fired from the ruins of Osgiliath had picked themselves up and some had recaptured their horses or mounted others and were looking about for some way to escape….Críonna scrambled to his feet and saw through the murk Brú, limping towards him. He called the horse in Elvish and it whinnied and trotted up to him. He swung himself into the saddle and reaching down he pulled Daigh up behind him.

Looking up he saw the smoke was clearing; they did not have much time.
‘South! ‘ said Daigh. ‘We must reach the river…although they will be able to see us soon…’
For the smoke indeed had almost blown away. But then Críonna cast his grey Elven cloak about them both and said;
‘Do not fear; there are other things in this world that can give protection. They will not be able to see us…..’ Then he looked back and asked Daigh;
‘But where is Lord Faramir…..?’

Faramir heard the first arrows strike amongst his men, skipping and snapping on armour and thumping into flesh. He rode on, his sword held straight out, shouting the charge. He could see little of his enemy, concealed in the ruins, but he saw the arrows, dark clouds like swarms of deadly insects or a flock of vile carrion birds, darkening the sky. He was aware of screams of horses and shouts of men, but he did not look round. His heart was a stone, and his only thoughts were of death.
‘Let me join my brother…’ he thought. ‘Death…!’

But he did not die; on he rode, as horses and men plunged to the ground around and behind him, but no dart struck him. He ached for it to end, but instead the ruins grew closer and he could see the faces of the orcs trying to kill him. He might reach the city yet; he was far ahead of what few of his men were left. Then suddenly a great blow struck him and he was knocked almost out of the saddle.

He kept his seat with difficulty, for now the world was reeling about him and Osgiliath veered drunkenly off to one side. He looked down and saw the black shaft of an arrow sticking out of the join in his cuirass. He had been hit.

Faramir felt almost elated. At last; his father would be happy….but then he remembered what Pippin had said of his brother’s death;
‘Boromir fell pierced by many arrows….’
It was some comfort that he would suffer as his brother had suffered, and die as he had died….just then another arrow struck him, and one also embedded itself in his brave bay’s shoulder, causing it to swerve to a halt in full view of the orc archers.

This arrow had struck Faramir below his ribs, and a great feeling of pressure forced him to lean forward on his horse’s neck, unable to breathe. He felt blood rise in his throat, and clutched the horse’s mane, expecting at any moment another arrow…but none came. Instead a darkness fell on his eyes. He thought he was losing consciousness but looking up he saw a great pall of smoke had covered the Pelennor. The orcs could no longer see him…..

Faramir knew he was dying. He had a chance to turn and flee, but stayed bent over his horse’s neck, gasping for breath, fingering the black shaft sunk in his side, bleakly awaiting the end. His eyes grew dim. He struggled to see ahead, and then through the gloom he seemed to see another warrior approach and hold out his hand. Faramir went to take it but looking up saw the man’s face; it was Boromir.

In spite of his weakness Faramir tried to rein back his horse. The apparition only advanced closer, still holding out its hand. It spoke;
‘Why do you tarry here, brother? The battle is lost, fly back to the city…’
‘Boromir!’ shouted Faramir, in tears. ‘Do not counsel me to retreat! You would never have yielded….’
The figure seemed to smile, and Faramir noticed the face was deathly pale, with blood on the cheek. The hand reaching out was bone-white and thin.
‘It is the end, Faramir. The time of the Stewards is over….’
‘No!’ wept Faramir. ‘all is not yet lost….’

The figure seemed not to hear him. It said;
‘The one who will rule Gondor will not come from the East, but from the North. Go back to our city, Faramir….’
But Faramir could not turn away from his brother. He wept, reaching out to him. Then Boromir said to him;
‘Let me go, Faramir…’
‘No!’ cried Faramir, but the hand he was trying to reach resolved itself into a whirling tendril of grey-white smoke and the face too vanished as the daylight scattered the fog. But the words echoed in Faramir’s head.

‘You must let me go…..’

And with his last strength, as the smoke cleared Faramir, bleeding and bent over his horse’s mane, hauled Rua’s round and urged her with a touch of his heels towards the distant blur of white that was the city of Minas Tirith…