That night, after their dinner of fish and apple fritters, Morby built a fire in the little fireplace. The September evenings were turning cooler. They sat up late into the night telling stories, avoiding any mention of the Dark Ones. Some things were best left for daylight.
Morby told the tale of the large, black and undoubtedly intelligent fish that had led the ancestors of the River Folk up from the seacoast to their home in the region of Tharbad. There they had flourished for a time, long ago.
Together, Boromir and Morby told Silla of the recovery of the horn. Boromir sat with it on his knees, the fingertips of his right hand stroking the ancient characters carved along its length, and spoke of some its history. He recounted the tale of Cirion and his forces, cut off and under attack by a horde of Orcs from the mountains. Almost without hope, he had winded the Great Horn. Faint but clear from the North, horns had answered him. The horns of the Rohirrim sounded then for the first time in Gondor as the riders swept in to Cirion’s aid.
Boromir also told them the story of the second Túrin who had gone hunting alone in the wilds of Ithilien. When he was surrounded by wolves, he lifted the Great Horn to his lips, hoping for aid. As the dark beasts snarled around him and lunged at his horse’s legs, he blew one clear note. At the sound, the wolves dropped to their bellies, whining. When they found their legs again, the reddish gleam was gone from their eyes. The beasts fell into line behind Túrin’s horse, as tame as ever you might please. From that day, the pack always hunted with him, and swift, loyal, and deadly they were. Of course, none of the court would ever join his hunts after that, but he considered it a small price to pay.
As Morby and Boromir sipped a final cup of tea, Silla made up a pallet of blankets on the floor and added one pillow. “I reckon if you’re well enough to go fishing, you’re well enough to sleep on the floor, Master Boromir,” she said, trying for a stern expression. “Good night to you.”
After she went into the other room, Boromir turned to Morby. “And if I’m well enough to go fishing, I’m well enough to be on my way. I must leave tomorrow, you know, or the next day.”
Morby nodded, “I know. We’ll speak of what’s best to do in the morning.”
Boromir wished him good night and lay down in front of the still-flickering fire, enjoying the novel sensation of being able to stretch his long legs out without bumping into the end of the little bed. In spite of the uncertain road ahead, he fell asleep with a slight smile on his face.
In the morning, they held a council of war. Boromir told them of Mordor, the incursions against Gondor, and the fall of Osgiliath. “In spite of that, we thought we had managed to stop them at our borders. But it sounds as if at least some of them are ranging farther, Varda knows for what purpose. It bodes ill, very ill.”
“But if you didn’t know they’d come this far West, why did you leave Gondor?” asked Morby.
“Sauron’s forces seemed to grow day by day, not just in number but in power. We knew Gondor alone could not hold them for long." He told them of the dreams and his decision to seek counsel from the elves of Rivendell.
“We’ve heard tell of elves from travelers,” said Silla, “but our stories say that they’ve long since gone.”
“Apparently not. Some remain, although many have left for the West. So you have never heard of Rivendell? Or Imladris? That is how the elves themselves name it.”
“No, neither one, nor any elves anywhere near these parts, time out of mind,” Morby replied.
“Then I must follow my original plan. I had thought to take the Old North Road to a place called Bree. It seems to be a settlement where the north road crosses a road running east to west. Surely if anyone knows where Rivendell may be, it would be travelers passing to and fro. I will make for Bree and hope for news of the elves there.”
“But if them riders was on the north road,” said Silla, alarm in her voice, “they might be on it still. They may even be looking for you. Have you thought of that?”
“Yes,” Boromir said, reluctantly, “but I can hardly credit it. How would they have known of my leaving Gondor? I took care that few should know of it. Yet I can think of no other reason they would have come this far to the West. They may think to prevent me from finding any aid for Gondor, or perhaps they have some other evil purpose.”
“Whether they’re looking for you or no, best to stay off any road they’re on,” Morby said.
“I cannot wander through Middle Earth, looking for a place few have heard of and hope to stumble on it, either,” Boromir replied, his frustration apparent in the tone of his voice. “Time grows short. I can feel it. I have been here too long as it is.”
“Just because we heard of this place doesn’t mean none have,” said Morby. “Look you, I know of some folk up north in the marshes. I know one of 'em in particular who’s known to be a flighty sort, for his kind. He travels up and down the river a fair bit. Maybe he’s heard of this place.”
“Who is he? A Man?”
“Bless you, no sir.” Morby smiled. “Quillwort’s a Marshman. There’s a fair number of them scattered through the marshes up to the north and east, back on the other side of the river. They call it the Swanfleet up there. We can set out right after we’ve had a bit to eat. It’s a matter of thirty miles or so. We could make it in two days.” <>Boromir hesitated. What if this marshman knew nothing? Without Bal, however, the journey to Bree seemed daunting. If he had read the maps correctly, it was two hundred miles or more from Tharbad to Bree. It would take him well over a week to reach it on foot. His broken ribs were not completely healed and his strength not fully returned; he did not know what pace he could keep for days at a time. With the possibility of the dark riders on the road, would it be rash to follow it? If he had to go overland, it would take him longer, and he might end up no nearer to Rivendell in Bree, or to finding out where the place lay, than he was now.
“It’s not safe to go on the Old Road,” Morby insisted. “You’ll be no use to your Gondor, or to us for that matter, if those Dark Ones find you. Let me help you try to find this Rivendell by a safer way.”
Boromir looked at the two small figures sitting across the table from him. He had always thought of himself as the defender of the weak and innocent, of Gondor as the bulwark between Mordor and the lands of the West. It was he who should be protecting Morby and Silla, and all their like, not the other way around.
“It is too dangerous. Silla, you would never forgive me if anything happened to Morby on the road.”
“Well, that’s where you’re out,” Silla replied stoutly. “With them black things coming through here, he’s no safer at home than he would be going overland to the marshes. They might just as well come here looking for you or to do whatever black mischief it is they’re up to.”
“The more reason for Morby to stay with you,” Boromir said.
“I can take care of myself, I thank you," she said, lifting her chin as if daring him to contradict her. "The sooner you get to that Rivendell the better for all of us.”
A deep sorrow filled Boromir’s heart. The contagion from the East had touched even this peaceful place with its foulness, in spite of all the blood that Gondor had shed to prevent it. He continued looking at their worried faces for a long moment, then said, “Very well. I’ll get my things.”
The next morning they were faced with an enormous breakfast which Silla insisted that they eat. As she crowded plates of fish and apple dumplings and bread on the little table, she said grimly, “You don’t know what you’ll get to eat out there in the Wilds!”
As they left the house, Silla handed them a large package of food for the journey, fussed at Morby about wearing a warmer coat, and admonished Boromir to be sure not to get his feet wet in the marshes or at least be sure to dry his boots out at night. In the middle of one of her pieces of sound advice, Boromir leaned down kiss her forehead and said, “I will miss you. Thank you for everything. I will take care that Morby comes to no harm.”
“Take care that you come to no harm yourself,” she said. Her tone was sharp, but her eyes shone bright with unshed tears.
“Silla…,” Boromir began in a soft voice.
“Oh, get on with you,” she interrupted. “You’ve a ways to go before nightfall. And mind what I said about those boots!”
They walked north on a path beside the river, keeping a companionable silence most of the day. They forded Greyflood as the sun was setting. Morby knew of a narrow spot where the rocks would afford them a relatively dry passage. It had not rained since the day Boromir had first tried to cross the river, and it had resumed its more usual level.
They made camp on the eastern shore in a pleasant, wooded spot. Boromir built a fire while Morby laid out a supper of Silla’s bread and smoked fish. They sat by the fire for a while, Boromir munching an apple and Morby smoking his pipe. The crackling of the fire and the sounds of the tree frogs and crickets all around them made Boromir think of the times he and Faramir had camped beside the Anduin when they were boys.
They had often sat staring into the fire, or up at the stars, telling stories into the night. Boromir favoured histories of the glorious battles of Gondor, tales of danger and valour. Faramir preferred the songs of the elves that Finduilas had carefully written down for him. Strange stories they were, heavy with time and a kind of joyful sorrow that tugged at Boromir’s heart, though he would never admit it to his brother. Boromir smiled now, remembering. He had always groaned ostentatiously when Faramir began to sing of Lúthien or… what was the name? Gil something or other. But he had listened.
Boromir leaned his head back on the rough bark of the tree-trunk he was sitting up against, closed his eyes, and sighed. His brother had so loved the elves. Perhaps this was meant to be Faramir’s quest after all. In trying to keep Faramir from harm, had he set in motion a chain of events that would work to the ruin of them all?
He had not been able to save Finduilas from death. He was but ten years old when he stood looking down at her still, white face. All the laughter had fled from it. Her pale lips would not sing again. If only he had been older, stronger.
The vow he made to himself that day still burned in him. He would become a great warrior and protect those he loved. He would protect them. His oath to the Steward and to Gondor four years later was but an extension of the promise he had made to himself then. Still sitting against the tree, Boromir slept.
He woke to the smell of smoke. As he sat up, Morby handed him a cup of tea. Sipping the strong, bitter brew, Boromir asked, “Where does this Quillwort live?”
Morby pointed to the east. “Out in the marshes a ways. The marshfolk don’t take to settlements. They like their privacy. He’s got a place to hisself, if he’s there. Like I was saying, he travels a bit.”
Boromir’s heart sank. What would he do if he could get no help here? He closed his eyes and leaned back against the tree-trunk. He was in the middle of nowhere, long-delayed already, without a horse or supplies, and with no more idea of where Rivendell was than when he left home. What was happening there? Minas Tirith might have already fallen into shadow for all he knew. He had done nothing.
He felt Morby's hand on his arm. “Don’t worry. We’ll find out something. If Quill’s not there, I’ve got another idea.”
Boromir opened his eyes. “What?”
“We’ll cross that bridge if we come to it. We’d best get started if we’re going to get to his place before nightfall.”
Once they left the river, the land quickly gave way to fens, treeless and flat. There was no road; they simply walked north and east. Within a couple of miles, the fens gave way to marshland. Boromir looked out over a landscape of low grasses and mosses, dotted with small bushes here and there. Channels of water, bordered by tall rushes, criss-crossed the land.
There was no straight path through the maze of water, and they often had to cross the channels. The water sometimes came up to Boromir’s knees. Even between the channels, the ground sank and squelched beneath his boots. Silla would not have been happy with the state of those boots.
They stopped when the sun was high overhead, sat cross-legged on the ground and shared a lunch of bread and apples. Boromir looked in concern at Morby, whose short legs meant that he was wetter and probably more exhausted than he. “How fare you?” he asked.
Morby grinned. “As well as you, long legs. I’ll admit I’m hoping Quill has a fire built and some supper cooking by the time we reach him. Best move on.”
And so they walked through the waning afternoon. In spite of the moist sounds that his boots were making and his nagging fear that Morby did not know where he was going, Boromir began to see some of the beauties of the land they were crossing. How long had it been since he had really looked at a landscape? He had been too preoccupied with his own worries, with the internal hills and valleys of his duties and his fears, to pay much attention to the lands through which he had travelled. He had been busy trying to keep to the often-disappearing road, always alert for danger.
Struggling slowly through the marshes, grasping onto rushes to pull himself up out of the water-channels, watching his feet so as not to stumble on a tussock of grass or moss-covered rock, he began to feel the world again. He heard a ‘kee-wick’ to his right and looked to see a small, fat black waterbird with a yellow bill flee with an indignant ‘plop’ into the water, uneasy at their approach. He took a deep breath. The air was clean and full of the smell of growing things, mingled with the peaty-dark background smell of the marsh itself.
He stopped and looked down at his left boot, which had come close to crushing a small plant that poked up from a bed of mosses. It spread out glossy green leaves and sported a brave cone of purple-red flowers. Boromir bent down to look at it more closely. Morby caught up with him and bent down, too.
“Marsh woundwort,” he said. “Here.” He carefully plucked one of the glossy leaves. Crushing it, he held it toward Boromir’s nose. It smelled like mint, clear and invigorating. Boromir smiled and straightened up. “And that there’s brooklime,” Morbysaid, indicating a patch of dark green leaves and tiny blue flowers closer to the bank of one of the water-channels. “And that over there's yellow loosestrife.”
He took Boromir’s arm and led him closer to the water. “That stuff's quillwort,” he said, pointing to a clump of green, low to the ground and running down the bank, a mass of tiny, round leaves. “The marshfolk call their children mostly by names of plants and birds. Quillwort’s lucky. He could have been Woundwort. Or Snipe.” Boromir laughed.
As the sun was setting, they came to a place where the tributaries of water widened and looked more like the fingers of a river reaching out into the flat lands. Boromir saw what seemed to be scores of white dots on the water. As they approached, the dots resolved themselves into swans. The big, proud white birds, with arched necks and black beaks, glided silently in pairs all up and down the water, as far as he could see.
“That’s why it’s called Swanfleet,” said Morby. “They seem to like it here. Quill’s place is just around that bend.” He pointed up the stream to their right
Around the bend, there was indeed a peculiar little hut, made of dried rushes bunched and tied together to make something like small logs. Boromir saw one small window and a roof thatched with rushes. He also saw, to his relief, that there was a small fire burning outside the hut. Then he saw what he assumed to be the Marshman, sitting quietly by the fire and smoking a pipe. Boromir stopped in his tracks, so suddenly that Morby bumped into him. Morby just patted him on the back and said, “I told you he weren’t a Man.”
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.