The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda


Chapter 85: The Blood Oath

Elrohir passed his hand over the young boy's face. For a moment, he let it rest on the forehead, bending his own head in meditation. Then he took his hand away, and dipping his fingers in a bowl of water scented with athelas he moistened a cloth and laid it on the youngster's brow.

Elrohir was tired. Elves did not grow tired as men do, but constant labour could induce in them a numbness that betrayed a deep fatigue. It was a warning to rest, or suffer a weakening of their powers.

Elrohir had spent the long spring day assisting Gandalf and Aragorn in their healing of the people of Gondor and of Rohan who were wounded in the battle of the Pelennor, and now he himself needed rest, some quiet time apart to himself to regain his strength.

And yet he was glad to be asked to use his skills in healing, he and Elladan his brother. They did not have their father, Elrond's great healing ability. But they possessed great powers of their own, and their father had taught them well, so they brought great relief from pain and induced restful sleep among the sick and wounded in the Houses of Healing.

Elrohir had almost finished his rounds among the pallets laid in neat rows in the Houses when a sister hesitantly approached him and gave him a low bow. Elrohir bowed in reply and smiled.
'You owe me no obeisance, Lady. I am no prince....'
'You are the son of a Lord of Elves....' replied the girl, almost sternly reminding Elrohir of his station.
'And you will be saluted accordingly..'

Elrohir stifled a smile; the girl was utterly serious, and Elrohir was not entirely unwilling to have his lineage saluted, for among men Elves often felt misunderstood, or even unwelcome.
'I beg you, Lord Elf....' the girl said reluctantly.
'My name is Elrohir, not Lord Elf...' he replied, now unable to resist smiling. The girl blushed, but went on;
'Sir...Elrohir...I know you are summoned to a Council by Lord Aragorn, but before you go I beg you to take a look at a boy we have among the wounded here. He is a young squire, and suffered a deep sword cut in the fighting for the city....'
Elrohir at once replied; 'Of course. Lead me to him....'

Claran led Elrohir to a bed set aside in an alcove. On it lay a young lad of no more than ten or twelve. He was small and slight, with fair hair cropped round his head and a fine, pale face. He seemed not to even be breathing.

Without another word to the Sister, Elrohir knelt down beside Fionn and examined his injuries. Behind him Claran said quietly;
'His name is Fionn. He was once squire to Boromir the son of the Steward, but when he rode North the lad's service was given to Faramir. Somehow he was wounded in the storming of the city. Rangers found him in the lower levels and brought him here, but we despair of his life. If there is anything you can do, Lord Elrohir....'

But the Elf was no longer listening. He changed the dressing on Fionn's wound, putting some aromatic herbs he carried in his purse on the linen before binding it up again. Then he laid his hands on the boy's head, and tried to convey what healing energy he still had after treating so many people that day....

'You're an Elf!' the words, abrupt and not too polite, cut into Elrohir's thoughts. He opened his eyes and smiled at the boy.
'Ah, you are awake....' he said. '...and yes, I am an Elf. My name is Elrohir, son of Elrond Half-Elven'

Fionn struggled to sit up. He held out his hand and to Elrohir's astonishment he shook hands with him.
'I am Fionn, esquire to Lord Faramir....' he said proudly. '..and I am ready to fight again...'

With these words Fionn pushed back the coverlet and tried to stand. Elrohir caught him before he fell.
'Not yet, young squire...' he said gently. 'You must rest...'
Fionn was lying back on the pallet, gasping with pain. Elrohir said with a smile.
'You will feel stronger tomorrow, but for now, you must sleep and let the healing do its work. I will come back in the morning to see how you are. That is a promise....'

And with those words Elrohir turned to go. Then a thought struck him and he said to Fionn;
'You have your lord's permission to rest and get well, young squire. For Faramir himself lies in yonder chamber, also wounded and also waiting till his hurts mend. And so....'
And Elrohir smiled. '...you do not need to get better any more quickly than your master...'

Fionn lay without replying, but his eyes at once sought out the door of the chamber Elrohir had indicated. Then the Elf turned and faded into the growing dusk of the Houses just as the Sisters were lighting the lamps along the walls...

After a while, Fionn drifted off into sleep again, only this time it was a sleep of healing, and his dreams were full of warmth and light and hope. Dawn was creeping into the Hall when he again awoke.

It was chilly, and the Sisters were moving quietly among the wounded, changing dressings and carrying food to those who could take it. But Fionn cared nothing for food; all his thoughts were on that far door, and his lord Faramir who lay within. If only he could get to see his beloved master, he could once again take up his role as esquire.....

Fionn edged one foot out of the bed, then the other. He tested his weight on them, wondering if he could walk unaided as far as the Faramir's room. He took a deep breath, gripped the sides of the pallet and prepared to rise....

Then Fionn looked up, and what he saw made him scramble back into bed and pull the covers up over his head.

A tall, gaunt, red-haired man, if it was a man, had just stepped quietly out through the door of Faramir's room. Through a hole in the coverlet, Fionn watched him in fear. For this was no soldier of Gondor or Rohan. He wore a tunic of mail that reached to his knee and was wrought of fine brazen links after a fashion unknown to Fionn. Over it was a torn and faded red surcoat belted with a black leather belt and scabbard which bore a great sword of strange design. Fionn knew, without being told, that this was an Elven weapon.

But the strangest thing about this figure was his face; thin, angular and very pale, but fair in the manner of Elves. It had something stern and terrible about it, and his eyes were red, a thing Fionn had never seen before in his life. The creature's hair was also red and twisted into dreadlocks that fell to his elbow. He moved through the hall with long silent strides, pausing only once to speak to a Sister who tried to bar his way. But he swiftly sidestepped her and headed on down the hall to the door out of the Houses of Healing.

He had almost left the hall when as if he heard a voice calling him he stopped and looked round. Fionn cowered back down under the covers, afraid that the creature had sensed his eyes on him. But he turned and walked along the rows of pallets, not towards Fionn but towards a pallet where a man lay under the green and gold cloak of the King's Guard of Rohan.

When the red creature reached this man, he sat up, and they exchanged some words. Fionn could not see the man's face, but he could see the red stranger's face, which was pale and grim. Suddenly, the man in green struggled to his feet and pulling his cloak around him he followed the stranger out of the hall. Only once did he see the man's face and to Fionn's surprise he realised that it was not a man, but one with the features and bearing of Elrohir; it was an Elf.

When the two were gone, Fionn lay thinking, and wondering. He could not guess what the stranger or the Elf were doing, but it did not really surprise him that Faramir should receive a visit from such a creature; Fionn had served as Faramir's squire, and even when his lord took time away from his duties in his beloved Ithilien, he often received strange guests in his quarters in the Citadel of Minas Tirith. Dwarves, sea-captains, commanders of mercenaries. People that his father Denethor would not speak to Faramir was happy to lend a listening ear. It was how Faramir gathered precious information. Maybe that was why Faramir was called The Fox...

Fionn had served both Faramir and his brother Boromir as esquire. He would never really be as happy as he had been serving Boromir. The two brothers were utterly different. When Faramir wished to ride out of the city, he called Fionn to him and they walked together down through the streets, Faramir pointing out certain buildings and statues, explaining their past and purpose. He treated Fionn like the son he did not have. When they arrived at the palace stables, Faramir would saddle his horse, bay Rua, himself, with Fionn helping him.

When Boromir wanted to ride out, however, he sent Fionn racing down to the stables to order his great black stallion, Seabhac, Hawk, to be saddled and ready, then he strode into the stable yard where the grooms were barely able to control the excited animal, and taking Fionn up behind him on the cantle he trotted to the Front Square, amid the admiring stares and cheers of the people. Then, letting the boy down at the Gate he bade him look after his gear till he returned. Then he rode away. Boromir treated Fionn like a small comrade, and it was in the nature of little boys that he had preferred to be treated as a brave little warrior than a son.

Now Boromir was dead, and Faramir badly wounded, and Fionn was not so sure.....

After a while, Fionn decided the coast was clear, and he could risk another attempt to reach Faramir's room. He looked up and down the hall; no sign of any of the Sisters. Gingerly he slid a bare foot out from under the covers, touching the cold marble floor with a shiver. Slowly, carefully, he lowered the other foot to the floor, and took a deep breath and prepared to stand....

'Get back into bed, you little orc....'

The voice was quiet and stern, but carried right across the hall. Fionn rolled back under the covers, looking about wildly for the speaker. His eyes grew round with surprise....

'Seolta!'

The dour leader of the Black Company stood right beside Fionn's couch. He had come up silently, in the manner of his kind, the Rangers of Arnor. Now he stood looking down at the boy with a frown on his weatherbeaten face, but his eyes, blue as a winter lake in the North, twinkled.

'This is a happy meeting!' he said in a gruff voice to hide his delight. 'When we left you in the city, I did not look to ever see you alive again....'
'Some Elf healed me' said Fionn eagerly, looking around as the giant Ranger Teagar and the two Elves Dearfa and Rosc quietly followed Seolta up to stand round his couch. There was one with them who was not much more than a boy himself, pale as those who lay sick, with dark hair and grey eyes. He stood at a distance, smiling at the others. He wore the green and gold cloak of a royal guard of the King of Rohan, but he himself was not of that people.
'I am so glad to see you all!' the boy said. The dark Elf Dearfa raised his head and seemed even more aloof than ever, but a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. Teagar laughed, but kept it as quiet as he could, not his usual roar of mirth that deafened everyone in the room....

Rosc, the gentle and lordly captain of the Galadhrim Elves who fought with the Black Company, smiled and by now used to the customs of men, he shook Fionn's hand politely.
'I am joyful to see you well....' he said. '..and even more joyful to learn that one of my distant kinsmen healed you. '
Fionn knit his brows and replied;
'At first he did not seem very like you, my lord. But he had your eyes, really bright and keen, and he was kind...'
Rosc smiled and said;
'I believe he is Elrohir, one of the two sons of the great Elf-lord Elrond of Rivendell, called the half-Elven. So great as he is he has the blood of men in him, as well as great lore. You were very lucky he was here to heal you...'

Fionn nodded, wondering to himself how he could ever repay so great an Elf. Just then Seolta said;
'It is on the subject of Elves that we are here, Fionn. We are very glad to find you, but that was an accident, although a happy accident. We came in search of an Elf of our company who was snatched from our number during our wanderings. We were told he had been taken into the service of the King of Rohan, and wounded in the battle. We were told he was here. Elves are not hard to spot, so have your keen eyes seen such a person? '

Fionn looked up at Seolta. The leader of the Black Company was an unlikely lord of men; not quite middle height and lean and wiry rather than powerfully built, he had a thin, lined face and a brooding manner. He was ironically known as the Gracious because he had no time for courtesy. The Black Company, as their name suggested, had known evil fortune, and even worse luck had befallen their leaders, of whom no less than three had been slain since they left Rhovanion. Seolta had unwillingly taken on the leadership. Not because he feared any curse, but because he hated dealing with lords and leaders; his blunt manner and sharp tongue inevitably got him into trouble. The only lord he had ever failed to antagonise had been Aragorn, when the Black Company had sworn their allegiance to him in Minas Tirith the day before. Aragorn had accepted the honour, touching the hilts of the notched and worn sword Seolta held out to him, and had said;

'Leave your wandering and your hunt for revenge, Seolta Captain of the Black Company. Here you will find comrades worthy of the faith you and your men kept with Arnor. Receive my gratitude, and serve me and Gondor as Captain of the Black Company, in the hope that such a name will soon no longer be true...'

Now Seolta stood looking down at Fionn, the squire they had saved during the fighting in Minas Tirith and said;
'This Elf is a harpist, and his name is Liofa. Have you seen aught of him?'

Suddenly, Fionn remembered the red stranger who strode through the hall, and who had roused and taken with him an Elf in the livery of the King of Rohan.
'Yes, Sir!' shouted Fionn eagerly. 'I have seen him! He was here, just over there on that courch....'
Then Fionn's face clouded. '...but he is gone now..'
'Gone?' asked the towering Ranger Teagar in his deep voice. 'Gone where, little one?'
Fionn's frown deepened. He struggled to make sense of the figure he had seen in the hall of healing.
'I know not. I was lying here, thinking of trying to get up, as I was when you came in, and suddenly there walked by a man...well I think it was a man....he was tall, with long red hair in plaits, and he had....it was not a dream sirs....he had red eyes...'

At these last words Seolta jumped as if he had been struck with a whip. Teagar put a restraining hand on him. Rosc's fair gentle face had gone ashen grey. He said in a low voice;
'Fionn, are you quite sure you saw this ....person?'
Fionn nodded vigorously.
'Oh yes, I have been awake for hours, it was not a dream. He came out of Prince Faramir's room, which puzzled me. Then he was leaving when he seemed to remember something, and came over to where your friend Liofa was, and they spoke for a while then the Elf got up and went away with him....'

At these words. Seolta turned and stamped over to the window, looking out of it but seeing nothing. He was followed by the pale young man in Rohan green. Rosc patted the boy's arm.
'You did well, Fionn, thank you. Stay here, we will be back in a moment...'
As the men and Elves abruptly left his bedside, Fionn looked after them forlornly.
'Did I say something wrong?' he wondered.

Rosc walked up to Seolta and Callanach, who was whispering earnestly;
'It must be Marfach. But how came he here....?'

'You heard the boy!' retorted Seolta furiously. 'He won the confidence of Prince Faramir. He has the power to gain the trust of men, that is how he is here! That is how he has not been slain!'

The tall dark Elf Dearfa came up behind them. His face was even more formidable than usual.
'He has taken Liofa!' he said. 'We will never find him now. He is lost to us. This...Marfach... is an evil being.'
'He took Liofa once before, from our very company...' raged Seolta. 'Now, when the Elf was in the houses of healing, he has taken him again! But why?'

Dearfa looked out across the city towards the East.
'Who can understand the deeds of that evil creature?' he asked. 'Not even we Elves, among whom he once dwelt as one of us. Now he is warped to another being entirely, and is nothing of us.'

'You are wrong about Marfach...' said Callanach, speaking slowly. The others turned to him; Callanach was pale and angry.
'There is no more evil in him than in any of us. He was captured by Sauron....'
'That was very sad...' snapped Seolta. '...but it does not change the fact that he is now a monster. And he has taken Liofa from us - and from you, Cal - not once but twice.'
'Lord Aragorn trusted him....' pleaded Callanach.
'Yes...' said Rosc quietly. 'It was Aragorn who let him go free. But how does he repay the king's trust? He takes away with him into peril an Elf who is dear to us, and to the Wood-elves of Mirkwood....'
Rosc looked sadly at Callanach and asked;
'Are these the deeds of an innocent being?'

Callanach hung his head. Rosc put an arm round his shoulders.
'He was your friend, and he was loyal to you, at least. Perhaps it was the only good thing he did in his life, and you brought it out in him. But now he has done evil again. Your faith in him does you great honour, but it were better now that you regarded him as one dead....'

There were tears in Callanach's eyes, but he did not reply. Seolta said;
'Well it is not enough for me to regard him as dead; I want to see him dead with my own eyes...'
Callanach looked up quickly. Seolta said to the Rangers;
'I am going after them. I will kill Marfach and rid the world of this scourge. Here I take an oath; it will be his blood or mine. I will kill him or not come back...'
'You are not free to make vows of such a kind' said Rosc. 'You are leader of the Black Company, and sworn to serve Aragorn the King...'

Seolta looked around at them and said with a bitter laugh;
'I was never made to lead men. The leader of this company was Feolchu, your father, Callanach. If I can slay Marfach I will serve the king better than with any other deed....'
He put a hand on Callanach's shoulder.
'This was your father's company; now, if the men will agree, it will be yours. You are old in everything but years....'
'But...' Callanach went to protest. '...what about the Galadhrim in the Black Company? Will they accept me as leader?'
Rosc looked at Dearfa and nodded;
'We have no objection. Callanach has the special favour of the Lady Galadriel, she healed him and gave him the Green Stone. We will follow him gladly...'

Then Dearfa said;
'I will go with Seolta. I too wish to put an end to this Marfach. He has darkened our age, bringing evil to men and Elves alike'
'But what about Liofa?' cried Callanach. Dearfa replied;
'If he was taken away against his will, we will rescue him and bring him back. If he has fallen under Marfach's power and turned from the light, we will slay him too; it were better he had never lived than that he becomes like Marfach....'