5. In the Marshes: in which Boromir is Befriended by an Unlikely Creature
The marshman caught sight of them, stood up, and walked a pace or two towards them. He was as tall as Boromir himself, but very thin. Pants and shirt of coarsely-woven brownish cloth covered his long limbs, and he wore a conical hat with a wide brim that seemed to be made of some sort of leather. His skin, what Boromir could see of it, was a peculiar muddy greenish-brown color. Lank, mud-brown hair touched his sloping shoulders. Small eyes squinted at them speculatively, and a long, thin nose beaked over a solemn-looking mouth.
There certainly were more things in Middle-Earth than Boromir had ever suspected.
As the marshman approached them, a very small smile visited his long face. He held out a hand to Morby. “Well, well. It’s many floods since I’ve seen you in the marshes. How is your good wife?” His eyes flicked to Boromir in curiosity.
“Silla’s the same as she always is. Stands no nonsense from me nor anybody else. She sent you some dried apples, knowing how you like 'em, and a box of salve for your joints. She says it does wonders when the dampness sets in.”
“Well, that may come in handy. The weather’s getting colder, and the rains will come soon. From all the signs, it’ll be a bad winter. My rheumatism’s getting worse; no denying it. Not that anything will help, I just have to bear it. I’m not as young as I was.” Quillwort looked mournful. “And what works on riverfolk likely won’t work on other folk. In fact, it might do more harm than good. But it was kindly meant, I’m sure.” He ended on a note of forced cheerfulness.
“Silla thought as how you’d say that,” replied Morby. “She said to tell you that you was to use it, and she didn’t want to hear no different.”
Boromir cleared his throat.
“Oh,” said Morby. “Quill, this is Master Boromir. He’s looking for a place he calls Rivendell, or... what was the other name you called it?" He turned to look at Boromir.
"Anyway, I thought you might know where it is.”
Quillwort held out his hand. Boromir grasped it. The long fingers did indeed seem to have an extra joint in them, and the skin was cold and clammy. An unsettling sensation.
“Before we get into the why’s and where’s,” continued Morby hopefully, “a bite of supper and something warming to drink wouldn’t come amiss.”
“Come over to the fire,” said the marshman. “I’ve got some eel-stew cooked. The eels haven’t been as fat this year. I don’t know if they’ll suit your friend anyway. Marsh food and Man food might be two different things altogether.” He sighed and shook his head.
Morby nudged Boromir, who suppressed the laugh that bubbled up inside him at Quillwort’s lugubrious look and dejected voice. He schooled his mouth into a serious expression.
“Any food you are kind enough to share with us will be most welcome. I am a soldier. We learn early to be grateful for food and fire whenever we can get it.”
“A soldier. Well now, if you get sick, don’t blame me,” the marshman muttered, turning back toward the fire. Boromir noticed as he turned that his feet were bare, flat and webbed. He relished the thought of telling Faramir about Quillwort. Someday soon, he hoped.
The eel stew was delicious. Boromir ate two bowls of the savory stuff. After it was apparent that he had suffered no ill effects from marsh food, Quillwort disappeared into the house for a few moments and came back out carrying a small black bottle. He took a long drink from its contents, wiped the mouth carefully with a piece of cloth he pulled from a pocket, and passed it to Boromir.
“If that stew didn’t hurt you, I reckon this won’t either.”
Boromir took a cautious sip. His eyes watered, and warmth spread through him. He coughed once.
“Mallow brandy,” said Morby. “Quill’s got one of the best stills in the marshes. That’ll take off the night chill, and no mistake.” He reached for the bottle.
“The mallows weren’t good that year. Weather too dry in the spring,” the marshman said sadly. “Not one of my best years. I’m probably losing my touch. If you don’t like it, just say so. I wouldn’t want to insult a guest. Besides which, it might not agree with you after all. Just 'cause you’re not sick now don’t mean it’ll suit your insides later.”
Boromir reached for the bottle. They sat in a comfortable silence for a time, Morby and Quillwort puffing on their pipes, while the fire died out into embers. All around them, they heard water gently running in the channels and the soft calls of nightbirds, the croaking of frogs and the chirrings of insects.
“So it’s Rivendell you’re looking for,” said Quillwort after a time. “Why?”
Boromir explained it all again, with Morby interjecting his story of the dark riders that had come to Tharbad. The marshman listened. His long face took on an even more sober expression.
After a time, Boromir said, “Do you know of Rivendell? Can you tell me how to find it? The need is urgent.”
Seeming to ignore his question, Quillwort continued to puff on the long pipe he had refilled once since dinner. Looking into the faint, glowing remnants of the fire he said, “Well, I hadn’t seen them myself, but I’d hear rumors of darkness coming from the East. Bad times, bad times.” He shook his head.
“Quill, do you know this Rivendell?” Morby asked, his tone quiet and patient.
“Oh, I’ve heard tell of it, right enough. Somewhere upriver, to the North. Dangerous country up that way. Wolves. Trolls. Worse things, too, maybe.” He shook his head. “I’ve heard stories….” His voice trailed off.
“Just where upriver is it?” Boromir asked. “How far?”
“Well, I’ve heard that it’s up the Loudwater, but I’ve only been up as far as the Angle. That’s where the river forks. One fork’s called Hoarwell, the other Loudwater.”
“And you’re not sure which fork I should take?” Boromir suddenly stood up and started pacing.
“No, nor whether you should go that way at all. There’s trolls and beasts and who knows what else up there. It’s black country, and the river’s dangerous. Maybe you should go by the Old Road.”
“That’s just as bad, or worse,” Morby said. “That’s where them Dark Ones was searching. You haven’t seen 'em. I’d rather risk any number of wolves than run up on them again.”
Boromir stopped pacing. “Time grows short. I will chance the way by the river. Is there a path? Can you draw me a map as best you remember? Which fork do you think should I follow?”
“Well, if you’re sure you want to go by river, most of the stories say it's near the Loudwater,” Quillwort said. “I guess it’s a dark way whichever way we take.”
“We? I go alone from here.”
“You stand a better chance if I go with you. I know part of the way, and at least I have some idea of what may be up there.”
Boromir blinked. “But you said it was too dangerous. I thought you were afraid.”
“So I am,” said Quillwort mildly. He took the pipe out of his mouth and pointed the stem at Boromir for emphasis. “And you’re a fool if you’re not afraid as well, soldier or no. Like as not we’ll die before we get to the elves. You may have a better chance to get there if we go with you, though.”
“We? What, you mean Morby? He’s not going,” said Boromir flatly.
“Yes, I am,” Morby replied. “Silla and I talked it over afore ever I left home. Quill’s right. You don’t know what may be between here and Rivendell. We can help.”
“No. The risks are too great, especially if Quillwort is right about the way ahead.” He looked at the two odd figures sitting by the fire. No warriors they. Best to keep them as far from harm as possible, if that was possible anywhere in this dreadful time.
“Besides, I will travel faster alone.” Boromir felt an unexpected sadness as he spoke the words.
“That you won’t,” said Morby. “Do you know the way? How much food can you carry? Do you have fishing gear?”
“And you’d travel faster by boat. If you had a boat, that is,” said Quill in a conversational tone, knocking out his pipe on a convenient rock.
“You have a boat?”
“I do,” replied Quill, looking pointedly out into the marshes instead of at him.
“Would you lend it to me?” Boromir asked, holding his temper in check.
“Don’t think so,” said Quill, his eyes sliding to meet Morby’s. “Chances are I’d never get it back. You don’t know the Loudwater. If you go alone, you’ll likely lose it in the first rapids.”
“Like your horse," Morby said innocently, joining Quillwort in his careful study of the darkening horizon. Then he looked at Boromir. “Quill’s always been right attached to that boat.”
He couldn't take these two with him into who knew what dangers. He was used to sending men to what might be their deaths, but he never did it needlessly. “I won’t risk your lives.”
Morby got up, walked over to Boromir, and put a hand on his arm. “It’s our fight as much as yours.”
“Morby…,” he began, almost pleading, then stopped. He lifted a hand to cover the small, wrinkled brown one resting on his other gauntlet.
Quillwort stood up. “Morby’s right,” he said. “We’re going. Even if you try to leave without us, we’ll follow you in the boat. Now, there’s room in the house for all of us. It’s not a palace, like you’re used to. No doubt you’ll sleep hard, or not sleep at all. And those eels will come back to haunt you in the night, I shouldn’t wonder. Still, we’d better try and get what sleep we can.”
Boromir nodded, not trusting himself to speak.
Morby and Quill walked toward the house together. Boromir heard the marshman saying, “Never did fancy being eaten by wolves, but to tell you the truth I wouldn’t mind seeing a troll.”
“Or a giant,” said Morby. “That would be something, that would.”
Boromir found himself smiling, in spite of all his misgivings. He hoped he was doing the right thing by letting them come. He stood for long moments with his eyes closed, listening to the peaceful sounds of the marsh. He sighed once, then went into the house.
Author’s note: Quillwort and his eel stew are small tributes to another of the Inklings. Quill is a sort of first-cousin to my favorite among Lewis’ characters. As with Tolkien, Lewis' characters belong to him and his estate; I'm just having a bit of fun with one of them.
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.