The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda

Chapter 47: The Burning of Faramir

Faramir was jolted awake by hands rough in their haste to lift him off the bier and place him on the pyre. He felt his wound torn open and a surge of pain brought him back from his dreams. People were talking around him in low voices but he could not make out the words.

Broken ends of kindling-wood snagged his tunic and pushed into his back, but he did not have the strength to lift himself off the sharp points. He opened his eyes and looked up, and saw far overhead a vaulted stone ceiling. It was the roof of a tomb. He was in the Houses of the Dead….an icy breath of wind fanned his burning cheek and he tried to raise his head up to look around. A face loomed out of the darkness and he thought it was his father….

Stony-faced and impassive, heedlesss of the terrified looks of his attendants, Denethor ordered firewood, tinder-dry and crackling, to be piled on the stone table. Here in the Houses of the Dead former Stewards had been laid in state before burial in one of the marble sarcophagi that lined the walls of the tomb. Now Denethor watched as his youngest son, unconscious and wasting with fever, was laid on top of the great heap of dry wood.

‘No tomb, no tomb for Faramir and Denethor.’ said the Steward, half to himself.
‘We will burn, like heathen kings ere ever ship sailed out of the West..’

And with these words he snatched an iron torch from the shaking hand of a guard and with the agility of a young man he leaped up onto the pyre and stood with the fire glinting in his eyes as he looked down at his son …..

Faramir heard the voice; he even knew it to be that of his father. But he did not understand the words, nor did he realise his danger. He was overwhelmed by the smell of oil-drenched wood, green and raw…..

The orcs had torn a great swathe through the wood as they fled, leaving branches and leaves littering the forest floor. But the undergrowth had closed behind them, hiding them from their pursuers…..

‘It’s hopeless!’ said Cianda ‘We can’t follow them in there, we will be ambushed and cut to pieces…’

Faramir panted to a halt beside his brother and his men. Boromir had paused to let him catch up, leaning on his blood-stained broadsword and getting his own breath back. Faramir saw a cut over his brother’s eye and blood on his bright mail shirt. But in Boromir’s eyes was a fierce light of battle….he looked at Faramir and smiled;
‘They have claimed six of our hunting party, and wounded many more. What say you, little brother? Will you aid me to find them and flush them out like foxes?’

Faramir saw Cianda shake his head but he knew when Boromir was set on any path no-one could turn him from it. He said;
‘Wherever you go, I will follow, Boromir my brother. Just try to leave me some orcs to finish off….’

There was the flash of Boromir’s brilliant, generous smile then his brother was gone, ignoring the warning shouts of his men, crashing into the thicket, not looking to see who was following….

Faramir went after him, keeping his sword drawn, trying to guard his brother but struggling to keep up. Behind him he could hear the soldiers of Boromir’s command charging through the trees in their wake. But no-one could catch Boromir; he wanted the glory to be his alone….

This band of orcs had ravaged and slain for days before Boromir and Faramir and their men had tracked them to this muddy patch of woodland on the heights overlooking the river fortress of Cair Andros. The men of Gondor had given chase but their quarry had been quick and fierce and had fought them off then took refuge in this grove of ash and willow. Through the thick summer screen of leaves the hunters could not see even a yard in front of them….

A tree root snagged Faramir’s ankle and he stumbled and almost fell. When he recovered he could not make out which way Boromir had gone. As he was looking around wildly, there came to him the sound of his brother’s horn, sounding long and loud, somewhere off to his right….he gripped his sword and rushed towards the noise…
‘Wait for me, Boromir…..’

He tore through a curtain of long graceful willow leaves and halted suddenly in a trampled space where the mossy ground was dappled with fresh blood. In it stood an orc, bearing a long curved black scimitar and standing calmly as if awaiting Faramir’s charge.

The young warrior, tall for his age but slender and not as strongly built as his brother, stopped dead and stared at the creature.

It was no common orc; an Uruk-hai perhaps, or some new creature of Mordor. The dappled sunlight streamed through the trees and Faramir saw he was tall and broad, bigger and more powerful than any man. He was clad in black armour fashioned in overlapping scales, each gilded and marked with red. On his black-maned head he wore a helm with a visor in the shape of a vulture’s beak. His great dark eyes gleamed with flecks of red when he saw Faramir and his leather-skinned face distorted in a smile. Before Faramir could guard himself, the creature brought his scimitar down in a mighty stroke, which shivered the man’s bright sword into many pieces and rendered Faramir’s right arm useless with the force of the blow.

Faramir stumbled to his knees, clutching his numbed hand. He looked up, at any moment expecting the scimitar to cleave his life in twain….but to his astonishment the orc merely stood with his blade raised, and a smile on his face. Then he turned and looking over his shoulder at Faramir he strode away through the forest.

For a moment Faramir was too surprised to move, but then he recovered and leaped to his feet and ran after the orc. Even unarmed he wanted to stop the creature and find out why he had been spared. Then he pushed aside a willow branch and found, not the orc, but his brother, standing with his horn in his hand and his back to Faramir.

‘Boromir!’ shouted Faramir, making towards his brother. At his name, Boromir turned, and Faramir saw his face was bone-white and smeared with blood. He started forward in dismay.
‘Boromir! You are hurt! Come, let me tend you…..’

But Boromir only laughed, a strange, mirthless sound. Then his smile vanished and he said sadly;
‘It is too late for leechcraft, little brother. I will never bear sword or blow horn again…’
Faramir stopped, unable to approach his brother any closer, his heart pounding till he could hardly hear the words.
‘Where I go you cannot follow. Go back, Faramir, go back to Minas Tirith…’
‘Not without you, Boromir!’ said Faramir in tears. His brother looked long at him then said;

‘My time is over, dear brother, but yours is not yet come. You still have tomorrow, your life to live and lordship to prove. Go back, and rebuild our kingdom. The days of peace will be yours. It is too late for me. I have been given my chance….serve well the King!’

And as Faramir watched, Boromir turned and faded away into the trees without a backward glance….

‘Boromir..!’ Faramir murmured in his fevered sleep, stirring on his rough couch of firewood, his tunic saturated with oil…

‘He speaks his brother’s name!’ whispered one of the guards. ‘He is still alive, this is madness….’

‘Give me the brand!’ shouted Denethor, and the guards fell back before him, holding out a blazing torch with trembling hands. The Steward took it from them and held one and set the other in the firewood. Then he stooped and laid a hand on Faramir’s brow. It was hot to the touch. Denethor took up the half empty flagon of oil and to the horror of the guards he poured the remainder over his unconscious son, who stirred in his sleep as the cool liquid splashed on his fevered face.

‘He is burning, already burning….’ said Denethor, and a tremor shook his voice. Then he looked on the pale face of his dying son and said;
‘Faramir, my youngest, closest to your mother Finduilas in your beauty and the kindness of your heart; furthest from your father in everything else….’

Then Denethor grasped the torch tightly and looking up at the vaulted ceiling he shouted in a ringing voice;
‘Far apart in life, we will be united in death; we will burn together!’

And Denethor thrust the torch into the kindling on which his son lay and set the pyre alight….