3. Back to the River: in which Boromir Goes Fishing
He felt curiously free of responsibility for the moment. He had not known such freedom for many years. No clothes, no chain mail. No horn, no sword. In spite of the pain, his body seemed smaller and lighter, freed from the trappings that defined who and what he was. They hadn’t even asked his name. He pulled himself up and leaned against the head of the bed. His head still swam, and his stomach lurched. Closing his eyes again, he let a small sigh escape him. In spite of the bindings around his chest, some tightly coiled something inside him loosened a bit.
He opened his eyes again as he heard a movement at the door. Silla came in, smiling and bearing a tray with fish and bread and what looked like a mug of ale (not, he thanked the Valar, Gath’s foul brew).
“Good afternoon, sir. You’ve slept the clock round, and that’s a good sign. You could do with some food, I’m sure.” She deposited the tray on his knees. “There now.” Then, as if reading his mind, “After you eat, I’ll make up that poultice for your chest, and you must have some more of the healer’s tea.”
“I thank you, my lady, for all your kindness…,” he began.
“Get on with you! You don’t need to be calling me ‘lady.’ Silla will do fine. Morby’s always bringing stray things home with him. One more or less makes no difference to me.”
“I thank you all the same, Silla. My name is Boromir.”
She pulled up a small chair and sat beside him while he ate. “So where is it you’re from, Master Boromir, and how came you to Greyflood, if you don’t mind me asking?”
He smiled. Master Boromir, indeed. Yes, she did remind him of Glenneth. He found himself telling her of Gondor as he ate, of the beauties of its mountains and rivers, the faded glory that was Minas Tirith.
“Seven walls!” She looked at him in wonder. “Well, I never! We’d heard of cities to the East, but I never imagined they were so grand.” She continued, her voice softening, “You miss your home, don’t you?”
Boromir simply nodded, his mouth full of fish.
“And what of your people? Your parents, brothers, sisters? You must miss them as well.” She didn’t ask directly, but her eyes sparkled with curiosity.
He found that he wanted to tell this comfortable little creature about himself and his family. So, as the sun sank lower in the sky, and through the applying of the poultice, he talked. Perhaps it was simply that it was good to have someone, other than poor Bal, to talk to after so much time alone.
She asked about his mother, so he told her something of beautiful, smiling Finduilas, about her laughter, her stories, her songs. About how she loved the sea, how her face would grow wistful when she talked of the smell of the air and the cry of the seabirds in the home she had left to marry their father. He acknowledged that she had died when he and his brother were young, but then stopped. He still could not talk about his mother’s death.
Into the little silence, Silla said, “It’s time for that tea.” She went off to make it. When she returned, she held the steaming cup out to him and said, “Tell me more about your brother.”
At some point, Morby came in, stood listening for a moment, then went to fetch another chair. He sat down with a mug of something of his own and a small pipe that looked to be made of clay. He sipped quietly while Boromir talked, asking a question now and again.
Boromir talked a little of his father, explaining to them about his position as Steward. Mostly he talked about Faramir. Morby and Silla laughed at his stories of their childhood, especially the one about the three dogs, the weasel and the Council Chamber.
“And you the Steward’s sons!” Morby grinned, knocking out his pipe. “Wasn’t your father angry?”
“Oh, yes, we suffered his wrath often enough. But it was worth it.” Boromir smiled, then his smile faded. “Usually.”
“He sounds a hard man,” Morby said.
Boromir shook his head, his lips tight, wordless for a moment. Then, reluctantly, “Not always. Of late, perhaps, he has had to be. He and Faramir have always… I would not have you think.…” His voice trailed off.
“Now, Master Boromir,” Silla said, “you’re tired. It’s time we leave you, and you try to get some more sleep.”
“But Silla,” said Morby, “He still hasn’t told us what he’s doing here so far from home.”
“It will keep 'til later.”
“It will keep. He’s not going anywhere. For one thing, I've got his clothes.”
Morby and Boromir exchanged speaking looks.
“Before you go, may I have my sword and my horn for a few moments? I must see if there is any damage from the water that I can remedy before it is too late.”
“Horn?” Morby sounded puzzled.
Boromir’s heart froze. “Yes, a large ox-horn, curved, tipped with silver. It was attached to my belt.”
“I’m sorry,” said Morby, seeing the look on his face. “It weren’t on you when we got you out. Just your sword and a knife and pouch on your belt. Your saddle and your shield were up against some big rocks a bit downstream, but if you had saddle-bags or anything else, they was gone.”
Boromir's face went white. He swung his legs to the side of the bed, then stilled as the pain from the broken ribs shot through him. He bowed his head, exasperated at his weakness. First Bal, now this. He looked up. “That horn has been passed from eldest son to eldest son in the Steward’s line time out of mind. I must find it.”
Silla and Morby exchanged glances. “It’s been over a day,” said Morby, “but if it can be found, you’re not the one to do it. We know the river, you don’t. You stay here, sir. You can’t do no good on the river. Me and some of the others will search for it. I’ll get them now, before the sun sets.”
Boromir felt helpless and useless. The Horn of Gondor. One more loss on this ill-fated journey. What next? Slowly he nodded, not trusting himself to speak. Morby went out to gather a search party.
Silla urged him to sleep, but he could not. She sat with him and told him stories of the River Folk while they waited. He heard little of them.
After a while, she said, “Tell me about this horn you set such store by.”
“It has been in my family for many generations. 'Tis an old and beautiful thing, the horn of a wild ox, bound about with silver. It is said that if your need is great and you blow it anywhere within our ancient realms, it will be heard and help will somehow come to you. At his coming-of-age ceremony, the Steward’s heir receives the horn.” He stopped.
“I don’t know much about the doings of such grand folk,” Silla said after a moment. “Tell me about the ceremony.”
“I was all of fourteen,” said Boromir, smiling slightly, remembering. “I stood in the Great Hall before the Steward’s Chair. All of the Council was there, my uncle Adrahil, Faramir… all of them. I knelt before my father, and very important did I feel, I may tell you. I presented my sword to him and swore the oath of fealty.”
Boromir closed his eyes, put out his hands on imaginary sword-hilts and said, in a ringing tone, “Here do I swear fealty and service to Gondor, and to the Lord and Steward of the realm, to speak and to be silent, to do and to let be, to come and to go, in need or plenty, in peace or war, in living or dying, from this hour henceforth, until my lord release me, or death take me, or the world end. So say I, Boromir son of Denethor of Gondor.”
“All that talk of death and the world ending," Silla said, a note of disapproval in her voice, "Goodness!”
Boromir opened his eyes, his hands dropping to rest on his knees. “So pledge all soldiers who would serve Gondor. After I took the oath, my father raised me to my feet. He took the Great Horn from his belt and held it out to me. ‘Eldest son of eldest son, I pass to you the Horn of Vorondil. Today you are a man among men, guard it and Gondor well.'”
His voice faltered and he looked down at his hands. “Guard it and Gondor well,” he repeated softly. He has lost the one. Would he lose the other? He felt Denethor’s eyes boring into him across the small space that had separated them at the ceremony long ago. The flames from the surrounding torches had flickered in his father’s eyes. Testing, probing, Denethor's eyes asked him if he was worthy to sit in the Steward’s chair one day. Could he could give his whole love and devotion to the kingdom they held in trust for a king who had not come, who might never come?
He had spent his life since that day trying to answer those questions, to live his oath. He had given Gondor his love in a single-minded devotion to duty, paying the price of that love time and again in his own blood and the blood of many friends. But would it be enough against the darkness that reached toward her from the East?
Much later, they heard voices outside. Then Morby, wet and with mud still clinging to his clothes and hands, stood in the frame of the door. His shoulders were more bent than Boromir remembered, and his face was sad.
“I’m sorry, sir, we looked all along the river’s edge and down into the water. We looked under what rocks and roots we could. There’s no sign of it.”
Boromir cleared a sudden roughness in his throat and said, with exquisite courtesy, “Indeed, I am sorry to have put you and your friends to so much trouble. Thank you for trying. I bid you goodnight.” In the set lines of his face and the tone of his voice, they felt for the first time the whisper of an ancient authority. Silla almost curtsied, then thought better of it. She put her hand on Morby’s arm, and they left Boromir to his thoughts.
Two days passed. Boromir slept and ate Silla’s excellent food. He also choked down innumerable cups of Gath’s tea, which did not improve upon acquaintance. He suffered the regular application of warm poultices to his chest, as well as Silla’s regular probing of the lump on his head and his family relationships. Gradually, the pain and dizziness subsided. He did not get the inflammation of the lungs that the healer had threatened. Boromir shuddered to think what the cure for that might have been.
Though he mourned the loss of the horn, he reconciled himself to it. As Silla often said, “What can’t be mended, best not minded.” She treated him, increasingly, with the same affectionate tartness with which she favored Morby. On the afternoon of the third day, she returned his shirt, breeches and tunic to him, washed and well mended, and allowed him to leave his bed to sit in a chair in the little house’s other room.
Boromir settled into the small chair, which creaked alarmingly under his weight, his long legs sticking out at an awkward angle. He looked around the small room. It was warm with old wood and bright fabrics here and there. It contained a tiny kitchen, a table and four wooden chairs, one of which he was sitting on. There were a couple of larger chairs with rush-woven seats by a fireplace.
When he saw it, Boromir was aghast. “Silla, where have you and Morby slept?”
“On the floor, and don’t you make a fuss about it either, Master Boromir.”
“We have plenty of blankets for padding, and we’re in a site better shape than you for sleeping on the floor.”
Boromir rose, with some effort, from the chair. “I will not allow it.”
“Oh, ho!” Silla said. “Well, you may be a fine lord in Minas Whatever-Its-Name-May-Be, but I’m mistress in my own house. Don’t be telling me what you will and won’t allow.”
Boromir was flummoxed. He usually commanded instant obedience.
“Here,” said Silla, holding out a basket of small, gnarled apples that Morby had brought in earlier. “You can make yourself useful instead of arguing with me. Go outside and peel them and cut them up. Here’s a knife. There’s a bench outside where you can sit in the sun. Do you good.”
He drew himself up to his full height, and set his jaw, ready to have it out about the bed. Silla drew herself up to her own full height, admittedly not very high. She stared up at him, eyebrows raised, visibly unimpressed. He laughed and reached for the basket.
As he went out the door, she called after him, “And mind you get out all the cores!”
A week after his ill-fated attempt to cross the Greyflood, Morby came into his room very early in the morning. Boromir yawned and looked at him in surprise. “Get you dressed, Master Boromir, we’re going fishing,” he whispered. “And be quiet about it, ‘cause Silla don’t know as I’m takin’ you. She’s still asleep. What she don’t know, she can’t stop.”
Boromir thought about the times that he and Faramir, quite small and forbidden to leave the King’s House without escort, had stolen past a sleeping Glenneth and escaped to the Anduin to fish. He dressed with great stealth. He and Morby, both holding their boots carefully before them, crept past the bundle on the floor. A floorboard creaked. They froze, Morby looking wide-eyed at Boromir. The bundle shifted, but did not awaken. They made it out the door and into the fresh morning.
It smelled of green, growing things. He could hear the river, not too far distant. The dawn was just a pearly glimmer through the trees, the moon still high. The little riverman reached under the wooden bench beside the door and pulled out two poles and a basket of tackle. He handed the poles to Boromir, and they set off down a well-used track toward the Greyflood.
Morby led him to what was obviously a favorite spot. He took a small spade from the basket and handed it over wordlessly. Boromir started digging in the rich earth on the riverbank and soon turned up several fine worms. How it all came back to him. Faramir had never liked this part of the adventure. He passed a couple of lively specimens over to Morby, not breaking the companionable silence of the morning. Threading a couple on his own hook, he sat on a fallen tree trunk right beside the bank and lowered his line into the Greyflood.
They sat quietly side by side for a considerable time, looking out over the river, waiting for a bite. Then Morby said, “Care to tell me what you’re doing here, Master Boromir?”
Boromir started, brought suddenly out of his thoughts of Faramir, the Anduin and home. He had dreaded this moment. Morby and Silla’s care of him deserved some sort of explanation of his presence here, but what was he to tell them? He did not want to frighten these gentle folk that he had come to respect and, yes, care for.
“Don’t you trust us?” said Morby, hurt in his voice.
Trust, again. “Of course I do, it’s just that….” He hesitated.
“I’ve always been one that likes to look trouble in the face, rather than have it sneak up on me from behind.”
“Trouble?” Boromir said it as neutrally as he could.
“Well, it’s as plain as the nose on your face you ain’t jauntering out here, so far from home, just to see the sights.”
Boromir’s mouth twitched. “True.”
“I asked myself what somebody who’s the son of what’s near enough the king of a big place like this Gondor would be doing out here alone,” Morby continued. “Because he don’t want to be seen going where he’s going. Am I right?”
“Near enough, in part at least.”
“Well, me and Silla can tell you’re a good Man, so whatever it is you’re up to has got to be for a good purpose.”
“Morby, you cannot know that. These are dark times, in some parts of the world, at least. You must be careful who you trust. You do not know me.”
“Yes, we do, Master Boromir. As I was sayin’, you’ve a good purpose in mind, so why would you hide it? Because you’re an enemy of the Dark Ones. That’s what me and Silla decided, leastways. So we’ll do whatever we can to help you.”
Boromir opened his mouth, but nothing came out for a moment.
Morby laughed. “Bless you, son, we may keep ourselves to ourselves, but we’re not daft.”
“I never thought you were. I did not want frighten you with an evil that I hope will never come to this place. Not if I can help prevent it. The less you know about it the better. I will not involve you in it.”
“It’s already come,” Morby said, his face grim. “It’s best you take whatever help you can, like it or not.”
“What?” Boromir was startled.
“We’d heard rumors over the years from the few travelers that passed this way, dwarves mostly. But the wide-world rarely troubled us. Come summer, though, we started hearing things about trouble to the East. Creatures of all sorts were on the move. A few folk passed through here. We gave them food and helped them as we could. They told us of dark things. Just shadows, some said. Others said black horsemen. Whatever they were, they scared folk half to death. Lots of them were going West because they was afraid of what was coming.”
Boromir sat very still, saying nothing. He shivered underneath the warmth of the sun, thinking of Osgiliath. He remembered a dark shadow under the moon and the fear he had felt, unlike the fear of battle.
Morby looked at him sharply. “I see you know what I mean.” Boromir nodded.
“Then, they came here, just two days before you tried to cross the river.”
“Who came here?”
“There was two of 'em. I was out with Jeth, fishing down by the ford, right about where we found you. It was just dusk, the fifth of September, near as I reckon it. They come out of nowhere. Big, they was, and on big black horses. They had black robes on, and you couldn’t see their faces. We was fishing from the bank. I don’t think they saw us in the shadows of the trees.”
“They come right down to the edge of the water on the far bank, but they couldn’t seem to cross it. After a while, they took themselves off. I’d never seen anything like 'em before, but I know badness when I see it. They was looking for something or someone, and up to no good at all, as I’m sure.”
Black horsemen. If they were indeed from Mordor, what were they doing here? Were they the same things he had seen at Osgiliath? Had they broken through Gondor’s guard, or gone around it? What could they be seeking here?
“So whatever it is,” Morby said, “it’s come here already. You don’t have to say any more just now. You think on it, then you can let us know how we can help you. Now we’d better catch some fish, or Silla’ll be that peeved.”
From the position of the sun, it was getting close to noon. Having caught what Morby thought was a sufficient number of small fish for their dinner, they began to gather their tackle to set off for home. As he bent over to reach the basket on the far side of the log, Boromir caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of one eye. There was a glint of something silvery just below the water line. Just the sun glancing off the river, he thought. Then something made him look more closely. It wasn’t a reflection. There was something in the tree roots that tangled together in the water.
“Morby, look down there. There’s something there. I’m going to take a closer look.”
Morby came and stood beside him, peering down. “No, that you’re not. I see it. I’ll go down and find out what it is. I’d as soon not drag you out of the river a second time, I thank you.”
He climbed carefully down and reached under the knotted tree roots just where they were submerged in the greyish-green water. He fumbled a moment and then turned to face Boromir, his wrinkled little face glowing. “Look!” Aloft, streaked with mud, he held the Horn of Gondor. Boromir went weak with relief and sat down abruptly on the log. Morby clambered up the bank and laid it, still dripping, on his lap.
Author’s notes: The oath that I incorporated into Boromir's coming-of-age ceremony is, of course, taken from Pippin’s oath to Denethor in The Return of the King, “Minas Tirith.”
Concerning the date that Morby sees the Black Riders: In “The Hunt for the Ring,” Unfinished Tales, Tolkien says that in the summer after the fall of Osgiliath, the nine went northwards seeking the Ring, “and terror went before them and lingered behind them.... As the summer waned, the Lord of the Nazgûl divided his riders into four pairs and sent them forth... They passed west out of Rohan…and came at last to Tharbad... and a rumour of dread spread about them, and the creatures of the wild hid themselves, and lonely men fled away.” He also says, significantly, that by the beginning of September, Sauron had learned of the “the words of prophecy” and the “going forth of Boromir,” among other things. Without fudging the timelines too much, I thought it possible to have Boromir’s and the Nazgûls’ paths almost cross here.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.