6. Up the Loudwater: in which Boromir Gives Morby a Gift
When the marshman added a bow and quiver of arrows to the boat, Boromir raised his eyebrows in surprise.
“I hunt a bit, marsh-duck mostly. They make a change from eels,” said Quill in his usual flat tone.
“Well, we’re not as defenseless as I feared.” Boromir heard himself falling into the voice he often used to put heart into green troops facing unknown dangers.
Quill wasn’t having any. He grunted, then said, “I doubt it’ll be much use against trolls. Or wolves.”
Exasperated, Boromir said, “Well, at least I will be grateful for some fowl along the way. I’ve had none since I passed through Rohan.”
The boat was a sturdy little craft with low sides, suited for navigating the marsh-channels. It made a tight fit for the three of them and the supplies. Boromir held his breath as Quill eased himself into the front of the boat, but she held well above the water-line. Sitting in the stern, Boromir pushed them away from the bank. He and the marshman paddled north against the current. Morby sat in the middle on the bunch of kindling, cushioned by Boromir’s cloak.
Quillwort had warned them that it was a five or six day journey up to where the river forked at the Angle. They stroked steadily through the day, stopping only to switch places from time to time so that the one not paddling could take some food and rest.
The country on either side of the river was flat marshland as far as the eye could see. Boromir felt increasingly exposed. There was little cover and no place from which to mount a defense if they were attacked. On the other hand, if danger threatened they would see it coming, at least if it came in daylight. They stopped only when dusk was falling, before it was too dark to make camp.
They tied up the boat to a sturdy-looking bush by the river’s edge and found a patch of slightly elevated ground dry enough to lay out their bed-rolls. It was well past the middle of September, and the night turned cool quickly. Using half their small supply of wood, they built a fire.
Sitting on the ground, they ate smoked fish and sweet perras-fruit. Boromir and Morby sat crossed-legged, but Quill sat with his webbed feet planted to the sides of his torso, his knees sticking up past the top of his conical hat. Boromir thought he looked like nothing so much as a serious frog. A thin frog smoking a pipe, but a frog nonetheless.
“We need a song,” Morby said suddenly. “Do you sing, Master Boromir?”
“Not according to my brother. He says my voice is good for giving orders, but he prays me let him do the singing. He has our mother’s voice. I remember her singing songs of the sea, of the elves, songs of home.” He looked down for a moment, then lifted his eyes and smiled. “I know only soldiers’ songs.”
“Well sing one then. There’s no-one but us to hear you.”
“And we’re not likely to live to make report of it,” Quillwort added, “so sing on.”
Boromir laughed, as he half-suspected Quill intended. Softly, he began an old marching song. His voice was rough, it was true, but it was as warm as the fire that flickered in front of them. It also stayed, more or less, on key. The tune was simple, but the words were of Gondor, brotherhood, death and glory.
“It has many other verses,” said Boromir after he had sung several. “Soldiers tend to make them up as they march or as they sit beside the fire as we are doing now. Some of the verses are less… serious.”
“Tomorrow night you can sing us some of those, but that deserves a drink.” Quill drew the brandy bottle out of his pack and passed it to Boromir.
“We should save the brandy. We may have greater need of it later. One of us could fall sick or be wounded.”
“We’re not likely…,” Quillwort began.
“…'to live long enough to need it',” Boromir finished for him. “I know, Quill, I know.” He reached for the bottle.
The next several days followed the pattern of the first. They rowed steadily up the Greyflood, wide and calm as it flowed through the marshes. Although always alert for danger, Boromir relaxed somewhat as the days went by and no danger presented itself. He even began to enjoy the journey. After they made camp each night, they gathered what wood they could find and usually managed a fire.
As Morby and Quillwort puffed their pipes, Boromir worked his way through the songs he remembered. Surprisingly, Quill also knew many songs, which he was quite willing to sing in a quavery tenor. Although some of the songs were sad and some were funny, he sang them all with the same melancholy expression on his face. Boromir noted with some satisfaction that the marshman’s voice was much worse than his own.
He was also glad to find that Quill was a good shot with his bow. The marshman managed to get a pair of ducks on their third day out. As they sat by the fire that night, with full bellies and grease still on their fingers, Boromir praised his skill and waxed eloquent about the succulence of the ducks.
The ghost of a smile passed over Quill’s face, which turned a somewhat darker greenish-brown with pleasure. His only response, however, was to say that what Boromir called his skill wouldn’t help then much when something bigger than a duck attacked them.
Goaded, Boromir stood up, threw his last duck bone into the fire and turned around to face the marshman. “Quillwort, you are without a doubt the most pessimistic, the most… the most…. You didn’t have to come on this journey if you remember. I simply asked you to draw me a map.”
“Now, then,” said Quill mildly, obviously taking no offense, “you needn’t get testy. Who said I didn’t want to come? Why, the other marshfolk think I’m quite a wanderer. Always did enjoy travel. I just like to be realistic, is all. And what with the trolls and the wolves, and with those dark things Morby saw about, don’t you see….”
Boromir rolled his eyes and abruptly walked away from the fire. Morby, who had known Quill for a long time, just laughed.
As they paddled upriver, they took turns telling stories or simply talking of their lives. Boromir found the histories and doings of the Riverfolk and the Marshmen both interesting and comforting. He was heartened to know of all the threads of life in Middle Earth that had been spun far away from Gondor. Somehow he felt that the tapestry woven from those different threads had to be stronger than all the fires that burned in Mordor and threated to consume it.
Six days after they left Quill’s home, they came to the Angle. The river forked on either side of a narrow neck of land that rapidly broadened and rose slightly toward the northern horizon.
“Over there to the left's the Hoarwell. To the right's the Loudwater. From all I’ve heard, I'd say the elves are more likely up the Loudwater. Don’t know how far.”
“Are you sure?” asked Boromir.
“No, not sure of anything, but I think that’s our best chance of finding it. Just follow the river 'til we come on it, or come on someone who knows of it.”
Boromir simply nodded and, from the stern, guided the boat onto the right fork. There was nothing he could do now except go forward and hope for the best.
The first day on the Loudwater was relatively easy going, but by the middle of the second day the land was rising more sharply and the marshlands had given way to downlands. The river narrowed. Making headway against the swifter current became increasingly arduous. A series of long, sloping ridges came down to meet the water on either side. Their tops were covered with dry-looking grasses, the sides bare and eroded with deep fissures.
Unease plucked at the edged of Boromir’s mind again. The comfortless landscape oppressed him. The cuts and ridges of the downs provided ample opportunity for any enemy or beast to find a hiding place.
When they made camp that night, they were exhausted from trying to make head-way against the swifter current. Finding no trees, or even shrubs, on the barren downs, they had no fire. They ate cold, smoked eel and a few of the dwindling pieces of Silla’s dried apples in silence.
Boromir looked around him as night fell. He couldn’t shake his feeling of exposure. He looked at his two companions, sitting quietly, their eyes drooping. He suddenly undid his belt and removed the long scabbard and knife that rested on one hip.
“Morby,” he said, holding out the knife toward him. “Take this; it is yours. Put it on your belt and keep it there.”
Morby reached for it slowly, seeming somewhat reluctant to take it. He finally pulled the knife out of its finely-tooled leather holder and blinked as it shone in his dark, wrinkled hands. The handle was long and straight, made of dark wood and capped with silver. The blade, also long and straight, was etched with an intricate repeating design of a graceful, spreading tree surrounded by stars.
“Master Boromir, no. This is too fine. Besides which I don’t know how to use a knife like this.”
“And what use would it be against…,” Quill began, then stopped when Boromir shot him a fierce look. The marshman cleared his throat and began to pay close attention to his pipe, which seemed to need refilling.
Leaning forward, Boromir reached out and closed Morby’s hand around the knife’s hilt. “My brother gave me this when I left for my first campaign. If he knew you had saved my life, he would be glad for you to have it. I will teach you how to use it. May it keep you safe as it has kept me.”
Morby looked into Boromir’s eyes, then said, "When this is over and you go back home, Silla and I can look at it and remember you.”
Boromir felt a tightening in his throat. He stood up abruptly.
“Come,” he said, holding out his hand to help Morby up, “I will give you your first lesson.”
As the sun sank behind the downs, Boromir began to instruct him on how to use the knife to meet an attack and how to use his small stature against a larger opponent. Boromir admonished him to keep the knife with him at all times, to keep his head and look for vulnerable spots in his enemy, no matter what sort of enemy might come at him.
When they had all settled down for the night, Boromir went to sleep with his hand on the hilt of his unsheathed sword.
When he woke the next morning, his hand was still there. In spite of his forebodings, the night had passed uneventfully. It was now the end of September, and the morning was cold. After a scant breakfast of smoked fish, they were on the river again. The going was hard. The currents became swifter and more treacherous.
“Watch out for rapids,” Quill said. “They don't call it Loudwater for no reason.”
Boromir shared his concern. As he had noticed when they first set out, the boat’s sides were low and she carried a heavy load with the three of them. Although Morby was the best boatman, they could not put him in the back to steer because his lighter weight would not keep the back of the boat steady if they ran into trouble. They had decided that the safest configuration was to put Quillwort in the back to steer and Morby in the front to call out hazards. Boromir sat in the middle tried to shift his weight as best he could to keep them afloat.
As the day wore on and they paddled north, the elevation of the land rose and they could see low hills on the horizon. The river narrowed steadily, its surface increasingly broken by large rocks. The water churned white around them and sometime sprayed over the sides of the boat. Quill shook his head, but said nothing. The time for stories seemed to be over. He and Morby paddled grimly, trying to keep ahead of the current and away from the rocks.
Boromir felt frustrated and uneasy. He could not use his strength to help them. He had little experience in boats and could not trust what skill he had in the currents that seemed to become swifter and more confusing by the minute.
As they rounded a sharp bend, the river in front of them was suddenly white with foaming, churning water from bank to bank. Morby yelled, “Rocks, rocks! Steer left, left!”
Quillwort bent to the right and leaned over the side, sinking his paddle as deeply as he could. He paddled frantically. Boromir clung to the sides, trying to keep his weight from hindering them. The boat shot past a large rock to the right, but plunged dangerously down into swirling white water as it did.
Boromir heard a sickening crunch as the prow hit something under the roiled surface. Reaching forward quickly, he pulled Morby back against him. Water rushed over the prow of the boat. It began to sink.
Morby turned in Boromir’s grip as they sank and yelled over the roar of the rapids, “I can get to shore. Can you swim?” Boromir simply nodded and let him go. Quill had kicked free of the sinking stern and seemed to have something in his hands. The rest of the boat had already gone under. The current pulled them south, and Boromir fell the water drag at his mail and leathers, pulling him down. The thought briefly crossed his mind that the soldiers of Gondor should stay on land.
Taking a deep breath, he groped at his belt to be sure that his sword and the horn were still secure. Struggling to keep his head above the rushing water, he swam as best he could for the closer bank on the left, kicking against rocks where he could get a purchase. As narrow as the river was, it seemed a long way to the bank.
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.