The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda


Chapter 84: A Peaceful Death

 
Boromir never believed his brother when he said he remembered the day their mother died, but Faramir knew he did. He knew that cold November day engraved on his memory was none other than the day the fair but sickly Finduilas, wife of Denethor the Steward of Gondor, was finally overcome by that weakness of body and spirit that no physician of Gondor could cure, or even comprehend.

Unlike the month up to that point, the day was bright, a dazzling winter sun making the white walls of the city gleam like snow. He might only have been a child, barely able to peer over the balustrade of the great staircase in the palace, but on that cold, brilliant day Faramir, craning till he thought his neck would break, saw his father in conversation with a tall prince in a blue cloak bearing the emblem of a white swan on his chest.

‘I will not come again, Lord Denethor. I will not attend the funeral, it would tear my heart in twain…..’
Faramir’s father went to interrupt, but the other man raised a hand.
‘Nay, do not tell me you did all that you could, I doubt it not. And yet….perhaps it was not well done to depart on the trail of war when she was ailing. It was a sickness of the spirit not the body that my kinswoman Finduilas had, and I do believe that had you tarried here last month, when the mists grew and darkness fell early, she might yet be alive…..’

Might yet be alive! Faramir’s short legs gave way, and he tumbled down on the cold marble floor. The meaning of what this blue-cloaked stranger was saying was suddenly made terribly clear; his mother Finduilas was dead.

Faramir did not wait to hear any more, but scrambled to his feet and raced back up the stairs and down the corridor to the Steward's family apartments. As he flew along, he saw a gaggle of serving women outside his mother’s room. When they caught sight of him, they bent their heads and parted. Faramir, by now blinded with tears, ran to the door, but a black-cloaked physician quickly barred the way.
'Nay, master Faramir, you cannot enter here!'

Faramir woke with a start. Clear, bright sunlight was again streaming through a high window, but this was spring sunshine, and there was warmth and life in it.

He sat up with difficulty, putting a hand on the bandages around his chest. He could not remember the arrow striking him in the heat of battle, only the sensation of weakness, the acrid smell of smoke and the confused din of battle suddenly growing further and further away, then the trampled grass rushing up to meet him.

He looked around. Faramir knew every corner of the Citadel of Minas Tirith, and he realised that he was in a room in the Houses of Healing. The air was faintly scented with athelas, and just beyond the reach of clear hearing was a murmur of voices, feet passing, and the rattle of jugs and bowls. Faramir threw back the coverlet and swung his legs to the ground. The stone floor was icy to his bare feet, but he realised, when he tried to stand, that he was still too weak.

''What does the king command?' he had asked Aragorn.
'Only that you rest now, and be ready when I return...' Aragorn had replied, smiling with relief to see Faramir return to life under his healing touch.

This exchange came back to Faramir now, and he closed his eyes. He must do nothing but lie here, or wander weak and pale along the galleries and shaded walks of the Houses of Healing. Even had Aragorn his king not ordered him to rest, he could do nothing else. He shook his head; while even the hobbit Pippin went to war, for the last and greatest battle of the age, he, son of the Steward, must sit on the battlements of Minas Tirith and wait. He thought of his dream, and of his mother, also claimed by war though she suffered no physical wound. But for Finduilas, there was no healing king, no getting better.....

Suddenly there was a soft rap on the door. Aware that he did not look like a prince of Gondor but merely like a very sick man, Faramir got back into bed, pulled the coverlet around him and called out in as strong a voice as he could manage;
'Enter!'

The door opened a crack and a pale, angular face framed with a mass of red dreadlocks looked into the room. Faramir's eyes grew round with astonishment.

'Marfach! How did you get in here?'

'Can I come in?' asked the man. Faramir nodded.
'Yes, yes, come in and close the door....'

The man, tall and lean and clad in a fine mail shirt of ancient design and a ragged tunic that might once have been royal red, slipped inside and with a glance up and down the corridor he closed the door after him. Faramir indicated a chair in the corner and Marfach pulled it up and sat down, his long legs stretched out before him. Faramir saw he was acoutred for war; he had on a sword belt and in the worn scabbard a long blade of Elvish design. As if unsure of how Faramir would react, Marfach pushed it out of sight under his ragged cloak.
'The King has healed you, I hear them say..' he said to Faramir, who nodded.
'He has healed many of us, who would otherwise be dead' he replied.
'...there can be no doubting that he is king, for only a king has the power to heal, to save life as well as to take it....'

Marfach nodded then after a moment's hesitation he said quietly;
'Sauron has those powers too'
Faramir looked up in surprise and Marfach went on quickly;
'....but you pay dearly if he exerts them on your behalf. First, you pay with your freedom. Then, with your soul. And in the end, if you still even want it, with your life....so it is that Sauron always takes back what is his.'

Faramir stared bleakly at Marfach. He noticed that his face was very pale, and the red eyes were sunk deep in his head and shadowed with purple.
'You too....you were wounded?' he asked suspiciously.
Marfach nodded.
'I too should have died. But it was not the King who healed me, it was Sauron....'

Faramir shot an anxious glance at the door.
'Keep your voice down when you speak that name!' he said. 'What do you mean?'
'I should have died' repeated Marfach in a numb voice. '...such was the wound that Eomer gave me in battle. But I did not want to die. I still had to keep my word to Aragorn, and justify the trust he had placed in me, however unwillingly. I had promised to do him service, and had failed, not once but twice. I wanted the chance to try again....'

'So...' said Faramir with a puzzled look on his face. 'what has that to do with Sauron?'
Marfach smiled.
'I have great gifts of long life and strength. I am very hard to kill, Faramir, as you well know. But these gifts were given to me by Sauron when he held me in Mordor, for longer ages than even I can remember. When I use them, I fall under his power.'
'Then don't use them!' exclaimed Faramir. 'Be a man again, or an Elf, or whatever you were before you were taken. Do not endebt yourself to him any further....'
'If I did that...' said Marfach sadly. 'I would lie in this place forever, and perhaps only have a peaceful death at the end. Peace is a gift, a great gift, Faramir, and I would also have the knowledge that I was free of Sauron. But I could not do Aragorn any further service, nor my friends that I left on the battlefield, wounded and scattered.'

Faramir was silent. He gazed at the ground, unsure what to say. He knew that in Marfach's place he too would want to take the last chance to prove himself honourable. What good was a peaceful death if everyone thought you were evil ....? Suddenly he put his feet to the floor again and as Marfach watched anxiously, Faramir stood up. Marfach got to his feet too and Faramir took an unsteady step towards him and to his surprise, embraced him.

After several moments, he held Marfach at arm's length and said with a sad smile;
'I cannot go with you, Marfach, but my heart does. I know what it is to be thought unworthy, for it happened to me too, and I strove in vain to prove myself as well, to my own father. May you keep your word, and clear your name in the eyes of the King and of all men and Elves. Whatever happens, you will count Faramir Son of the Steward of Gondor as your friend! Go forth now with my blessing....'

Marfach bowed his head for some moments, and when he lifted it again his strange red eyes were filled with tears. But he smiled;
'Thank you, Faramir. Farewell.....'

Outside in the passageway Marfach closed the door quietly and turned away. Then he stopped dead.

His path was blocked by a tall girl clad in a blue habit and spotless white apron. She had a look of stern reproof on her face...
'Croga!' she said sternly. 'I went to change your dressing, and you were not in your place.....'

In her hands, as evidence, were a small brass bowl and a pad of snowy linen. She began to speak again but Marfach took the bowl and linen from her, set them down on long table and placed a finger on her lips. Surprised, and conscious of the curious stares of people passing in the hallway, Claran fell silent. Marfach kept hold of her hand and said in a low voice;
'You are a great healer, Claran, of bodies and of souls too. But I do not need your healing powers any more; I am better, Or at least, well enough to do what I have to do....'

Claran looked at him in disbelief, and was on the point of makng a scornful remark when she noticed how straight and steady Marfach was standing. The mail tunic that clung to his lean figure was heavy but he stood easily, and he did not hunch as he would if his wound still hurt. A look of suspicion came over Claran's face.
'This is some sorcery...' she said, but Marfach held up a warning hand.
'Please, lady, say no more. It is some sorcery, yes, but I could not wait for your good healing herbs and simples to do their natural work...'
Clarna's face went pale. She said with suppressed horror;
'This is some work of the enemy...'

Marfach looked down, and glanced at the sisters who were passing. At last he said;
'Claran, I cannot wait. If you must wonder why I did this, think only that I did it for you, and for your city and your king, and for those whom you love, that they may return from battle. Think that of me, and no more, should we never meet again...'

And with that Marfach bent his head over her hand and kissed it. Then he straightened up and smiled at her, bowed and walked quickly away.

Claran stood looking after him until his tall, lean figure disappeared from view round a corner. Her eyes filled with tears, and a desolate feeling filled her heart. Then she became aware of someone watching her, and turning she saw a group of very young Sisters clad in white aprons standing staring in amazement at her.

'What are you looking at?' she barked. 'Have first-years no duties to attend to? Don't stand there gawping, get on with them....!'


Face set, covering the ground with long swift strides, Marfach headed towards the doors of the Houses of Healing, and no-one dared stop him. He passed room after room of wounded men of Rohan and Gondor, and many of the people of the town as well. As he crossed the last chamber, something made him pause.

He raised his head as if listening to a voice no-one else could hear. He looked round, running his keen red eyes over the rows of wounded on their makeshift pallets. Then his gaze settled on a figure wrapped in the dark green and gold cloak of the King of the Mark's own guard.

Although the face was turned away, and Marfach could only see the dark hair, he knew at once who it was. He turned quickly and made his way through the rows of couches to where the figure lay. Then he knelt down and put a hand on the wounded man's shoulder.

'Liofa?' He said.

The figure on the pallet turned slowly and looked at him. Marfach's face lit up and he grinned.
'Liofa! I knew it was you....'

The Elf just stared, astonishment on his pale face. At last he smiled weakly.
'I thought you were dead! I thought Eomer slew you....'

Marfach shook his head. 'Well, he tried very hard, and near succeeded....'
Then Marfach's smile faded. He reached over and pulled back the dark green cloak to reveal a large, bloodsoaked dressing on the elf's chest. Liofa's long, fine hands were crossed on his heart and when Marfach felt them they were cold as stone. His dark grey eyes looked into those of Marfach, but they seemed to see right through him. Marfach realised, with an icy shock, that Liofa was dying. He had not much time left to live, for Elves who felt their death near often went into a sleep-like state where they seemed to see and hear things not apparent to the living.Now Marfach saw this remote look in his friend's eyes. He grasped one of Liofa's hands in his own.

'Why has no-one tended to you?' he asked in an urgent voice. 'Did they not realise who you are? Doesn't the King know? Hasn't Aragorn seen you?'
'The King?' asked Liofa vaguely, seeming to be confused by the questions. 'He came...I think...he tended to those here who were sore wounded....but he has many duties, and did not see me....'

Marfach sat back on his heels, despair in his heart. Aragorn had gone to prepare himself to lead the army of the West out for the last great battle. His healing work was done, and he would come no more to the Houses of Healing. He had missed Liofa, who without the King's life-giving touch was doomed to die of his wounds.

Marfach took a deep breath, and leaned over Liofa.
'Liofa! Harpist to Kings of Elves and of Men, hear me!'
The Elf stirred and looked up at Marfach.
'It is too late, Croga. Go and find Callanach, he is searching for me. Tell him farewell...'
'There will be no farewells!' snarled Marfach

He grasped both of Liofa's hands in his own. He took a deep breath, and closed his eyes.

At first Marfach could see only darkness. Then, swirling slowly out of the nothingness, a dim yellow orb came into view. As it grew clearer it assumed an oval shape, with a dark band at the centre. Gradually, inexorably, it became more and more defined, till it had taken the shape of an eye, a yellow eye with a long black slit down the middle, like the eye of a beast. Tiny red spines, like the spines in Marfach's own eyes, radiated out from the black into the yellow. The eye flickered and grew indistinct, but became clear again. A soft voice spoke in Marfach's head. It was a language that Marfach had not heard for many years; it was the Black Speech of Mordor. Marfach felt sweat break out on his face, and disgust rise in him. But he fought it down, and listened carefully to what the voice said;

'My loyal servant Marfach, where have you been these many days? Long have I desired to see your face, most loyal of all my servants. What do you desire of me now? Speak, for whatever you desire shall be yours....'

Marfach wanted to speak, but it seemed as if his voice was gone. At last, using the Black Speech although he felt his tongue would shrivel from it, he said;
'Master, give me the gift of life!'

The dark voice did not reply, but out of the nothing came a long, ringing laugh.
'That you have had already from me, Marfach. I can only give it once...'
'This gift is for not for me, Lord Sauron.....' said Marfach, his own voice sounding weak and lost in the void.'...it is for another.'

There was no reply, only a rushing noise, like a bitter winter wind across wastes where neither man nor beast could live. And a long laughter dying away into a hiss;
'You have your wish....life out of death.....'

'Marfach!'

He opened his eyes and sprang to his feet, clapping his hand to his sword. He looked wildly around. He was standing between the rows of wounded, and some who could had turned their faces towards him, bewilderment in their looks. Beside Marfach stood Liofa, holding his arm as if to restrain him.
'Liofa!' exclaimed Marfach, looking his friend up and down in amazement. 'You can stand!'

Liofa looked down at himself then, and stared at his arms and hands as if they did not belong to him.
'I don't know what happened...' he said. 'Suddenly, I felt stronger. I felt I was not going to die....' he touched the bandages on his chest and found the blood had begun to dry. He looked at Marfach with delight. But then suddenly his look of joy faded.
'Was this your doing?' he asked warily.

Marfach did not reply. Liofa stared at him for a long time as the Elf realised the truth. Then he looked about the hall crowded with wounded and said in a low voice;
'Take me out of here, Marfach. Take me with you....'

Marfach went as if to refuse, but Liofa caught hold of his arm and said:
'Take me with you. I can't stay here now . There is no place for me but with you..'
He put his pale face close to Marfach's and spoke in a voice full of anguish but without any reproach;.

'Now, Marfach, we are both the same.....'