The Dragon and the Fox
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
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
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;
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
'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
'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
'You too....you were wounded?' he asked suspiciously.
'I too should have died. But it was not the King who healed me, it was
Faramir shot an anxious glance at the door.
'Keep your voice down when you speak that name!' he said. 'What do you
'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?'
'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
'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
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
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
'I thought you were dead! I thought Eomer slew you....'
Marfach shook his head. 'Well, he tried very hard, and near
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
'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
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,
'That you have had already from me, Marfach. I can only give it
'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.....'
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
'Take me with you. I can't stay here now . There is no place for me but
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.....'