The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda

Chapter 45: The Homecoming

The last of his strength failed and Faramir slid out of the saddle and fell onto the hard dry ground at his horse’s side. His foot twisted in the stirrup and he was dragged, but after starting forward with her ears laid back his bay mare Rua, weary and lamed by an arrow in her shoulder, hobbled to a halt. On the withered grass a thin trail of bright blood gleamed in the brassy sunlight and Faramir, unable to haul himself to his feet, drifted off into unconsciousness….

‘Are you all right, Far?’ It was Boromir. He had rushed over to his brother’s side when he was thrown from his horse and now bent over Faramir, his face anxious and apprehensive.
‘I’m all right’ whispered Faramir through gritted teeth, but he knew he had broken a rib, he had felt it crack as he landed awkwardly on the sandy arena. Boromir, clad in a black tunic of lightly padded wool embroidered in silver with the tree and stars, had been uneasily watching his younger brother putting a barely-broken, raw-boned stallion through its paces in the cavalry enclosure of the Citadel. Suddenly, in a blur of dapple-grey flanks and a wildly rolling eye, the horse had reared and thrown Faramir.

The Captain of Horse, Marcach, would have intervened but as the young man had been schooling this difficult mount his father, the Steward, had approached the enclosure. Clad as always in black mail and wearing at his side a great broadsword in its long black and silver scabbbard Denethor had watched with a critical eye as his younger son failed to master the powerful charger. Seeing his brother in difficulties, Boromir had ducked under the rail to go to his aid, but Denethor had stopped him;
‘Do not interfere, Boromir. It is time your brother learned that others will not always save him from the folly of his own decisions. He has overmatched himself with that horse, now he must pay the price….’

So as Boromir watched helplessly, the great grey stallion threw Faramir once then when he had remounted it threw him again. When Faramir tumbled into the sand a third time Boromir could stand it no longer and ignoring his father’s angry command he ran to his brother and bent over him.

‘Why is the Steward always so stern towards his youngest son?’ asked Marcach of one of his guards in an undertone.

‘Don’t get up, Faramir!’ hissed Boromir. ‘You’re hurt, lie still….’
Faramir looked across and saw his father Denethor watching him with contempt. Then the Steward turned away, and Faramir lay back and closed his eyes with a groan.
‘I can never please him, Boromir….’.

Since Faramir had led his men out of the gates of Minas Tirith his page Fionn had stood on the battlements of the First Circle, straining to look out over the plain, now completely overcast by the black cloud spreading from Mordor. Tears formed in his eyes from gazing hard, but all he saw were distant columns of dark marching legions as the armies of the East filed across the hastily repaired bridges of Osgiliath and deployed on the Pelennor in preparation for the attack on Minas Tirith….

Behind him the city was noisy with hurrying soldiers and citizens standing in groups talking anxiously in the streets, but Fionn cared only for Faramir. Ignored by the guards, hardly noticing the hour slide past, the little boy at last saw, wavering at the edge of his vision, a tiny speck moving erratically towards the city. He shaded his eyes against the glare, aware now of the low, reverberating thump, thump, thump of drums coming from the plain beyond. He shut out the sound, for now he knew there was no doubt, the dark speck was Faramir, riding slowly back to the city…

‘Open the Gate!’ he shouted, and the sentry looked over the wall and seeing the distant horseman as well he took up the cry.
‘Open the Gate…..’

Fionn could hardly squeeze through the throng gathered around his master. He used his elbows and squirmed past guards and fearful townspeople, for word flew through the city; Faramir was returned, mortally wounded. And his command was lost, every man slain; every house in the city was bereaved…

Grief descended on Minas Tirith, and it seemed to Fionn as if the people were rendered powerless by the news. Faramir’s wounded horse, Rua, was led in limping through the gates, and through the archway Fionn saw, spread out across the horizon, a great black swarm, the host of Mordor, with tall siege towers punctuating the battle line. The guards cried out in warning and Faramir, tangled in the stirrup and dragged along, was pulled inside the great gates and hastily laid on a litter.

Fionn could not reach his master, but through the press of soldiers and townspeople he saw Faramir had been struck by two arrows, one in the chest and one in the side and he was unsconcious. His armour was scored and draggled with the red dust of the plain and a trickle of blood ran from the side of his mouth. He was deathly pale. Fionn thought of Boromir, and what the halfling Pippin had told Denethor the Steward of his eldest son’s death;
‘Boromir fell pierced by many arrows….’

Then the guards bore Faramir away up to the citadel and his father leaving Fionn to follow as best he could…

The uneven pace of the wounded horse tugged painfully at the arrow and ground the tip deeper into Faramir’s side. When at last he came to a halt he was aware only of the easing of the pain. He could faintly hear men call his name, and gentle hands raised him and laid him on a litter. Someone pressed a moistened cloth to his face and for a moment his eyes flickered open and he realised he was back in Minas Tirith.
'He is slain!' wailed a woman. 'Faramir is slain, our hope is gone....!'

'I wonder...' thought Faramir dreamily 'will my father be pleased now?'

Wavering between waking and darkness Faramir felt every step as the guards hurried up the winding streets to the Citadel, the litter cruelly jolting his wounds. At last he heard the sound of running water and thought he must be beside the fountain in the Court of the King. A hand was laid on his forehead…..

He was burning up, sick of a fever. Below his window the city was covered with snow but inside the chamber a fire burned brightly. Finduilas laid a long, cool white hand on his forehead and said in a low voice;
‘Rest now, Faramir my son. Sleep….’

Faramir longed to reach out for his mother, but then another voice came to his ears; that of his father.

‘Without a blessing, or even a farewell did I send you out, Faramir my son, and now you are dying. Well am I punished, spending both my sons in vain for the defence of Gondor. Faramir! How soon his spirit crumbles….’

Then Faramir felt a hand on his face. Not his mother’s long cool fingers, but a small hand, light and trembling, like the hand of a child.

‘He’s still alive!’ thought Pippin, gently passing his hand over Faramir’s brow, wet with icy sweat. He glanced at Denethor, but the Steward seemed lost in dark thoughts and scarcely heeded his stricken son.
‘He needs medicine, not long words!’ said Pippin to himself desperately. Into his mind came a vision, clear as the day it happened, of Boromir fighting off the Uruk-hai attacking him and Merry in the sunlit glade at Parth Galen. Into his heart came a pang of grief for Boromir, lordly in manner but also kind towards him and his cousin. He formed a grim resolve;
‘Faramir will not die! I will not let it happen….’

The leeches removed Faramir’s armour, gingerly unbuckling the straps and easing off the bent and blood-stained cuirass. Then they removed the black tip of the orc arrow, gripping it and tugging it out with their long steel instruments as Faramir shifted and moaned under their hands. Then they peered at the tiny triangle of metal in the dim light of the Tower. It was a small sharp arrowhead, a bodkin selected to pierce armour; the orcs were skilled archers. One of the leeches examined the bloody tip, sniffed it and said to the Steward standing by;
‘There does not seem to be any poison on the arrowhead, my lord. Your son might yet heal….’
‘He will never heal.’ replied Denethor in a voice like a death knell. ‘My house is doomed and my line is ended. Leave us….’

The leeches gathered up their instruments, cupping glasses and lancing blades and poultices and fled, so stern was the look in Denethor’s eyes. When they were gone Denethor walked over and stood looking down at his son, almost unaware of the presence of Pippin the hobbit.

‘Faramir my last-born, always the one I dealt harshly with. In your kindness I saw the weakness of your mother Finduilas. Harshly I dealt with you, to try to bring her back to me. Harshly I dealt with you, for it was you I loved the most….’

Faramir did not hear him. Deep in unsconsciousness, fevered and breathing with difficulty, he lay on the litter pale as one already dead. Wandering in a dream he saw again Gandalf seeking to speak to him as he rode from the city. The wizard’s words rang in his head ….
‘Your father loves you, Faramir. He will remember it before the end…..’
‘It is too late for us…’ murmured Faramir. ‘Let me go to my brother. Let me go…’

‘Come!’ called Denethor to his attendants. ‘Bear my son from this place, to Rath Dínen and the street of tombs. Sundered from me in life by my own doing, we will be together in death…’