7. The Downs: in which Boromir Discovers that Quill was Correct
“Well, at least I didn’t have to drag you out of the river again.” Morby coughed. “You did better this time, Master Boromir, though I made it out first.”
“Not a fair contest. I’ve no webbing on my fingers.” Boromir sat up and looked at Quill. “Or my feet,” he added. “Did we lose everything?”
“I saved my pack and bow. No arrows, though, and none of the food. Lost my hat, too,” the marshman said.
“That is better than I managed. Quill, I am sorry about your boat. I should never have brought you or Morby with me. You both could have drowned just now.”
“Not your fault.” The marshman’s voice was suddenly brisk. “These things will happen. Look on the bright side, I always say.”
“You never say any such thing,” Boromir protested.
“We’re not dead yet,” Quill continued, as if he had not spoken. He reached for his pack and looked inside. “I’ve got fishing lines and hooks,” He reached inside and rooted around. “A knife and a flint. And the brandy.” He held the bottle out to Boromir.
He did not understand Quill at all. Suspicious and pessimistic when things were going well, the marshman seemed to rally when things actually went badly. Having his predictions of disaster fulfilled seemed to put him on his mettle. Boromir shook his head and reached for the bottle. The warming liquid slid down his throat, and he stopped shivering. He passed the brandy to Morby.
Some scrubby bushes grew on this side of the bank, and they managed to gather enough brush to make a fire and begin to dry out their clothes. Quill even caught a couple of fish. Morby cleaned them, impaled them on stripped branches and set them to cook over the small fire.
After they ate, they settled down on the hard ground to get some sleep. Boromir looked up at the stars for a long time. His share of the fish had done little but take the edge off his hunger, his clothes were still damp and he was cold. But Quillwort was right; they were alive. He wondered if the same could be said of his father and his brother. Perhaps their enemies had already overrun Minas Tirith. Or perhaps Faramir was even now standing at the top of the White Tower, in the spot where they had so often stood together, looking at the same stars.
The next day dawned chill and grey. Boromir woke with a start from a dream he could not quite remember, something about a stone staircase and a dark cloud blotting out the stars. Quill and Morby were standing a little away from him, talking quietly. He stood up slowly, his muscles stiff from the cold and damp, and walked over to join them.
Quill pointed toward the north. “Looks like woods up to the north, maybe two days journey farther on. Probably best if we make for them as soon as we can. More cover and more chance of food there.”
Boromir nodded. “We have to go that way in any case.” They gathered the few things they had and headed north beside the river.
Hungry and cold, they walked in silence all morning. Then Boromir softly started singing the old Gondorrim marching song he had begun teaching Quill and Morby days ago. They were usually strong on the chorus, but less certain on the verses. Morby joined Boromir on each chorus of the swinging, catchy tune.*
We fight for Gondor, brothers all,
Our strength is hers until we fall
Or 'til the ending of the world.
Stars and tree now be unfurled.
Quill just shrugged his pack higher up on his shoulders and continued to walk behind them in silence. As Boromir sang the verses, he thought of the many marches that this song had lightened. He remembered columns of his men, singing in the heat and cold and rain, often before battles in which many had died. Thinking of his present command of two, he marvelled at where this journey had brought him. By the time Boromir sang the seventh or eighth verse, they were moving briskly along and feeling less cold.
So lift a glass to those we leave.
If we should fall, then do not grieve.
We died with honor and with scars,
Full of nights beneath her stars.
After he and Morby finished the chorus together, Boromir was surprised to hear Quill’s voice rise behind them in a new verse of his own making.
The Steward’s son from far off land,
Whole armies under his command,
Left all to seek fair Rivendell
But lost his horse in Greyflood’s swell.
Boromir stopped and turned. Morby and Quill stopped as well. It was very quiet for a moment, then Boromir’s laughter rang over the downs. The afternoon’s march passed swiftly in spite of their hunger and the chill in the air. Each of them took turns making up verses to tell the story of their time together, taking care, if possible, to insult the other two in the process.
After another cold night by the river, they set off at dawn, hoping to reach the wooded hills they saw ahead before nightfall. They kept up a good pace all day. As the sun waned in the west, the land rose and they could see trees ahead. Quill suddenly stopped and pointed.
“Look there, right at the edge of the woods over to the left.”
Boromir came up to stand beside him and squinted through the dusk. He saw, against all probability, a house.
“By the Valar,” he said, his heart lifting. It was a large, low building of stone and timber. Lights shone from small windows along the front and a drift of white smoke rose from a chimney at its back. It seemed to promise rest and food and warmth. Perhaps its owner could even provide them with some guidance as to the whereabouts of the elves.
“Seems strange to come upon a house in the midst of nowhere, when we’ve seen nothing but birds and fish for days,” Quill said.
“It lies at the edge of the forrest,” Boromir replied. “Perhaps it is near a road. It might mean we are close to a settlement.”
“It might mean any number of things, and some of them aren’t good,” Quill muttered.
“I doubt if any of your trolls or giants live there. It would be foolish not to try to take shelter for the night if we can.”
“We should be on our guard…,” Quill began.
“I always am.” Boromir’s tone was sharp. Morby said nothing, but he had begun to shiver with the cold. “Come,” Boromir continued, “and stay behind me.”
The reached the house after dark. The small windows across the front of the house cast a faint glow that lighted their way up the last hill. The wind had picked up and rustled through the trees behind the house. As they approached the massive wooden door, Boromir noticed that the windows were set high. He could not see inside and could hear nothing from inside, either. Putting one hand on the hilt of his sword, he knocked on the door with the other.
Almost immediately, the door swung open. On the other side stood a stocky man with dark, matted hair, a full black beard and furrowed skin. He wore plain garments of rough, grey cloth and black leather boots. He scowled out at them with narrowed, dark eyes. Boromir thought for a moment that the man would challenge them. Instead, he made an awkward bow, opened the door wider, and stepped back.
“Welcome, travelers.” His voice, halting and raspy, was a rough as his appearance. “The Lady Nendaeril bids you welcome to her house.”
Boromir made no move to enter. He was uneasy that the man, or the house, seemed to have been waiting for them.
“Who is this lady and what place is this?” A cold wind gusted behind him, blowing his cloak around his legs and his hair forward into his face. A few yellow leaves blew past him and through the open doorway.
The man did not meet Boromir’s eyes. “The house is Tellumorn. My lady Nendaeril is the last of an ancient line. Come with me.”
Boromir still hesitated. Through the open doorway, he could see a hall lit by torches and warmed by rich tapestries. In the room beyond, he glimpsed a fire. Behind him, dark, cold and two tired companions. Something in the servant’s appearance or tone of voice bothered him. Something…. Suddenly, Morby sneezed.
Boromir searched the servant’s closed, swarthy face once more. Then he took his hand off his sword hilt, turned around and put it on Morby’s shoulder.
“Come, I see a fire inside. We will meet this lady and ask her hospitality for the night.”
Quill came up to stand beside him and spoke in a low voice. “I don’t like the looks of this place. No, nor of that sour-faced one there, neither. Let’s go on.”
“It is getting colder and we are all hungry. It is too dark to make camp now. We need to regroup. Do not worry, we will take care.”
“Take us to your mistress, then,” Boromir said, turning and crossing the threshold. His hand went back to the hilt of his sword, seeming to rest there casually. Morby and Quill trailed behind him.
The servant led them through the hall and into the room with the fire. It was a beautiful space, with smooth stone floors and a high, open ceiling beamed with large timbers. Boromir caught sight of shelves of books, a long table with musical instruments and other objects glinting in candle-flame, and tapestries filled with dim, fantastic shapes on the walls. To the right of the stone fireplace was a large, ornately carved chair of dark wood. As they entered, the woman who had been sitting in the chair rose.
Nendaeril was tall, with a pale, grave face. She was much younger than Boromir had expected. Black hair fell almost to her waist and lost itself in the black of her dress. Her eyes were dark also and the skin beneath them looked bruised with some deep sorrow.
Boromir wanted to reach out his hand to touch that sad face, to run his thumbs gently over the shadows beneath her eyes, to comfort her. A bright finger of desire traced its way down his spine, sudden and unbidden. He stood up straighter and willed the feeling away. He had no time for any desire other the safety of his companions and of Gondor. Boromir took his hand off his sword, put it up to his chest in greeting, and bowed.
“Welcome.” Her voice was low and musical. It reminded him of Finduilas’ voice. Her gaze, almost palpable, softly touched his forehead, then followed the line of his hair down his neck as his mother’s hands had often done, long ago, soothing him when he was in a fever or when he could not sleep. Involuntarily, his chin went up. He stepped back, shaken and confused.
“My lady, we three travelers have come far and seek shelter this night. I am Boromir of Gondor. My friends are called Morby and Quillwort.”
Nendaeril’s eyes never left Boromir’s face. She stepped forward and held out her hand. He took it in both his own and looked down. It was white, delicate and long-fingered. On her middle finger thin bands of gold were twisted into a ring in the shape of some beast or bird he could not quite make out. A ruby caught in the bands glinted up at him, reflecting the light from the fire. His own hands seemed large and none too clean, the nails broken and dirty, the fingers marked with scars. He blushed and released her hand.
“I am happy to grant you the hospitality of my house, Boromir of Gondor, and your companions also. It is the only one for many long miles near the Great East-West Road. It lies a little way to the north. Tellumorn has ever welcomed travelers.”
Morby sneezed again, and Quill murmured something unintelligible. The lady finally turned her eyes toward them. Stepping gracefully to the table, she rang a small bell, a beautiful thing of etched metal. The same servant re-entered the room.
“Take these two guests to the kitchen. Prepare food for them, and make up some spiced wine. They are tired and chilled. Then take them to the south room.”
She turned again to Quill and Morby. “Gerod will be sure you are comfortable. Sleep well.” Then her eyes went back to Boromir.
Morby put his hand on Boromir’s arm. “Master Boromir….”
“I will come find you later,” Boromir interrupted him gently. “Eat something and drink that wine. Keep Quill out of trouble.”
Quill grunted, and he and Morby slowly followed the lady's servant out of the room.
Nendaeril turned back to the table, lifted a dark glass decanter that rested there and poured something into a two silver goblets. “Wine from the South,” she said, coming back to where Boromir stood and holding one of the goblets out to him.
What was it about this quite lovely woman that made him reluctant to take his hand off his sword-hilt, much less reach out to take the wine from her? She smiled at him for the first time. “Your companions are being attended. Put aside your care and your shield for a few moments, at least. You must be weary from your journey.” Her voice was warm and soothing.
He was, indeed, weary; weary of sleeping on the cold ground, of dirt and hunger and anxiety. He battled each night with fearful dreams in which all he loved went down into a darkness that would never end. Despair awakened him too early in the chill hours before each dawn, robbing him of sleep and confidence. He sighed and bent down to lean his shield against the chair that stood beside the fireplace. He took his hand off his sword and reached out to take the cup from her beautiful, pale hand.
Nendaeril lifted her own cup and drank from it. When she lowered it, there was wine, deep red, staining her lips. It glistened almost like blood against the snowy skin of her face. Very slowly, the tip of her tongue traced its way around her lovely mouth.
Boromir felt a deep shock of desire. He wanted this woman, wanted.... He looked down in confusion and drank deeply from the cup, hoping that the wine would steady him. Instead, the heat of it joined with the heat of lust and set the blood in his veins alight. He felt suddenly more alive, cold and care burned from him. He looked at Nendaeril and smiled. The flames from the fireplace glinted in her eyes as she took a step towards him.
Take care, he thought, take care. He looked down into the cup, away from the dark eyes that burned him, and shook his head, whether to clear it or to deny the desires that filled it he knew not. The wine was rich and sweet, but there was something else. A taste of earth, of decay, under the sweetness. The wine seemed too thick and too warm.
He clenched his hands hard around the metal of the goblet to steady them, then looked up. “I am sorry, my lady. I must leave you now and see to my friends. We must make an early start.” His words sounded heavy and slow to his own ears.
She did not answer him, but reached out a hand to touch his face. He stepped back to avoid the touch, but he moved too slowly. Heat and heaviness swept over him in another wave. The darkness of her eyes engulfed him, and he felt himself falling. The last thing he heard before the darkness took him was the ring of his silver goblet hitting the stone floor.
Was he awake or dreaming? His eyes seemed to be open, but a heavy darkness covered everything. Where was he? He could see no stars. Instead of the cold ground to which he had become accustomed, he was enveloped in softness and heat. Then he remembered. The house, the woman. He struggled to sit up, but his body refused to respond. He could turn his head, but his arms and legs refused to obey his commands. A terrible lassitude filled him. She must have drugged the wine. Curse the witch, Boromir thought.
As if in respond, a low laugh sounded beside him. He turned his head and encountered a coverlet of some sort. He felt her move closer to him in what must be a bed. Her hand touched his face, and he jerked away as best he could. Then, as his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he saw her face above him. Her dark hair brushed his bare chest as she bent to kiss it, her lips trailed licks of flame across it and up his neck. She twined her hands in the hair at both his temples and held his head. As she leaned down to possess his mouth, he gathered what strength he had to raise his head slightly and spit in her face.
Her eyes blazed down at him. “You are a fool, son of Denethor. Men have died willingly for the pleasure I can give. You will die in any case, but you could have had the pleasure first.”
“I do not take pleasure with monsters, I thank you, my lady.” Boromir’s voice cut through the dark with a sharp edge of scorn. He would rather he had his sword to do the cutting.
“No?” She laughed again, and Boromir went cold with the sound. “Perhaps I will prove to you wrong,” the low voice continued. “I can make you beg for my touch before your end.” Her hands trailed down his chest and onto his thighs. Her lips, hot and wet, followed them. Boromir shuddered, but not from desire. He clenched his fists to keep from crying out in revulsion. His fists, he thought wildly, he was getting back some control. He lay very still. Just a few more moments, he thought.
“Perhaps you will prove me wrong,” he said weakly, trying keep her talking, trying to buy time. “But must I die? I have done you no harm and intend none. I might even bring you pleasure as well as receive it if you will but wait.” He tried to drain the revulsion from his voice so that she might believe him.
She lifted her head and laughed softly. “I will take my pleasure in my own way, never fear. But why must you die?” She seemed to consider it as one hand busied itself lightly stroking the inside of his thigh.
“There is no reason not to tell you, since you will not live to see the day. I serve Sauron. I am bound to him and his purposes, a spy, if you like. Word reached him that you had left Gondor, he knew not why. We thought it possible that you would seek help from the elves. His servants have been watching for you ever since. And you found my house. Delicious, is it not? Sauron desires your death. I am happy to oblige him.”
Boromir could not test his legs, since she was draped over them, but he cautiously flexed his arms, still weak but responsive.
“Now I will show you how I take my pleasure.” Bestowing one last lingering kiss on his belly, she slid up the length of his body and twined her hands in his hair again. Boromir could not bear for her lips to touch his, so he quickly turned his head.
“Yes,” she said, the word a sibilant hiss. She bent to his exposed neck, and he felt a terrible pain, more like daggers than teeth as she bit him. She pressed closer and he felt her suck at his neck. A new wave of weakness and revulsion hit him. He gave an inarticulate cry of horror and tried to lift his arms to push her away.
Seemingly in response to his cry, he heard shouts and a scuffle in the hall. The door crashed open and a shaft of light from the torches in the hallway blinded him for a moment.
He struggled with Nendaeril, astonished at her strength. She screamed and cursed as he found the strength to wind his hands in her long hair and pull her head back, away from his neck. She writhed like a snake, fingernails clawing at his chest and arms. He slid to the edge of the bed, still holding her head back away from him with one hand. He used the other to capture her flailing hands.
When he tried to stand up, his legs failed him. He fell heavily on top of her. She screamed again, then tried to tear at his neck with her fangs. He managed to hold her down and away from him. As his eyes adjusted to the light from the hall, he saw in horror that her face had been transformed into something out of nightmare. Long fangs filled her open mouth, her face was furrowed and contorted, and his blood smeared her mouth and chin.
Across the room, the commotion continued: thuds, feet sliding on the stone floor and inarticulate cries. Why had not her servants come to her aid and killed him while he was still weak?
“Master Boromir, are you all right?” came Morby’s voice. Then another thud and a crash as a large iron candlestand fell to the stone floor.
Boromir was so astonished that he loosened his hold on the writhing Nendaeril for a moment. She raked her nails across the side of his face. Boromir banged her head forcibly against the stone floor, then dragged her up with him so that he could look over the edge of the high bed. On the other side he saw Morby, Quill and three dark men engaged in mortal combat.
The lady’s servants were armed with knives. Morby had his own knife out and seemed to be using it to good effect to keep one of the men at bay. Quill had Boromir’s sword and his own bow. He was swinging the sword wildly, but inexpertly, with his left hand while at the same time using his bow as a kind of quarterstaff with his right to keep the other two men away from the bed. How they had gotten this far, Boromir was not able to imagine. One of the men turned away from Quill and headed toward Morby.
Boromir stood up, hauling Nendaeril up with him. He flung her unceremoniously into a corner, then lunged unsteadily toward the man moving toward Morby and managed to tackle him. The servant lifted his knife, but Boromir grabbed his wrist and beat it repeatedly against the floor until he let it go. He seized the curved knife and plunged it into the man’s chest. He cried out once and died. Boromir looked up, and Quill slid his sword across the floor toward him.
Quill turned his full attention toward his own assailant, lashing his bow hard across the man’s face. The man roared and swiped his knife toward Quill, but couldn’t manage to get within striking distance without encountering jabs and prods from the bow.
Since Quillwort seemed to have the man well in hand, Boromir hefted his sword gratefully and, his legs steadier now, strode toward Morby and the other man. He noted that Morby was using all his lessons for keeping a larger opponent off-balance, but the man’s strength would soon overcome him. With one satisfying blow, Boromir parted the man’s head from his body. Since Morby was well below the chest level, it was the safest way of dispatching him without taking the risk of wounding his friend as well.
Morby smiled at him and opened his mouth to speak. Just then, they heard a cry from the other side of the room. Turning, they saw that Quill had managed to knock his man unconscious with an apparently well-aimed strike with his bow. In the meantime, however, Nendaeril had recovered and come upon the marshman from behind. Boromir and Morby looked on, horror-stricken, as she sank her teeth into his neck.
They both lifted their weapons and ran toward Quill. Before they could reach him, Nendaeril gave a terrible shriek. She drew back from the marshman, his greenish-brown blood on her lips and fangs. Her eyes wide, she screamed again and again. Then her body began to change. It shrank. Her skin grew black and leathery, and her hands receded and turned into talons. Nendaeril changed before their eyes from a woman into something truly monstrous, keening and shrieking all the while. Before the transformation was complete, she died.
Boromir looked away from the thing on the floor, his gorge rising. Morby closed his eyes and shook, the knife dropping unheaded from his hand. Quill prodded the body with the end of his bow and said, “Seems marsh blood didn’t agree with the lady.”
Later, having found his clothes and shield and cleaned his sword, Boromir sat with Quill and Morby in the kitchens. They were drinking tea that Morby had managed to find and brew up. Boromir would have preferred something stronger, but he was afraid to drink any more of Nendaeril’s wine. The one servant left alive was neatly gagged and bound in a corner by the kitchen fireplace.
“How in the name of Eru did you two manage to find me? How did you get away from her servants?” Boromir was still surprised that they weren’t all of them dead. The resourcefulness and skill of his small company astonished him.
“Well, Quill wouldn’t let me drink any of the wine. Didn’t trust the lady or her servants.”
“Rightly so, as it turned out.” Boromir lifted his tea-cup in salute toward Quill. Quill blushed greenly.
“Anyhow, we pretended to drink it and went to the beds they gave us,” Morby said. “They probably assumed that we were drugged as well and could cause them no trouble. After a while, we got up and tried to find you.”
“We saw them take you into that room,” Quill continued the tale. “We didn’t know if you were dead or just drugged. We hid behind a tapestry in an alcove in the hall. We didn’t figure we could do anything until you woke up. If you were going to wake up, that is. We didn’t think as how the two of us could beat the four of them.”
“So we waited,” said Morby, “for hours. We began to think that you were dead.”
“You should have left while you could,” said Boromir.
They looked at him. Boromir looked down at the table. “I am sorry,” he said, “I do not doubt your courage. But this is too dangerous.” He looked up. “Quill was right, after all. There are dark things here, very dark. Although, in fairness, you just said trolls and wolves. Nothing about vampires, if you remember.”
“We wouldn’t leave you anymore than you would leave one of us,” said Morby. “More tea?”
“Anyhow,” Quill continued, “late in the night, we heard you cry out. But they heard you, too, the servants. Just as we came out into the hall, so did they. We were able to hold them off, and Morby got the door open. At first we couldn’t see you, but we could hear you were alive and fighting, too. So, all’s well that ends well, as I always say.”
“You never say any such thing,” Boromir smiled. Then he said soberly, “I have never been prouder of soldiers in my life. You fought bravely and well. I am in your debt, and I thank you.”
Quill blushed green again and Morby said, “You taught me, Master Boromir. I was only doing what you said.”
“What about him?” Quill jerked his head toward the now-conscious servant.
“Time for some answers,” Boromir said. He turned toward the man, whose swarthy skin turned pale at the look in his eyes.
The servants were Dunlendings, it turned out, recruited for Sauron’s service with gold and promises of revenge against the Gondorrim whom they hated. Nendaeril was indeed a vampire, a descendent of the line of Thuringwethil. Boromir remembered her story well. Faramir told it to him one night when they were boys. They had been camped alone by the Anduin. Boromir was usually impatient with Faramir’s tales of elves and ents, preferring stories of battle. He dared Faramir to tell a tale that would frighten him. Faramir managed it with the story of Thuringwethil, the woman of secret shadow, a servant of Sauron in the First Age.
According to Faramir’s story, she disappeared when Sauron’s power was broken. Boromir had assumed that such monsters left Middle Earth long ago. He had apparently been wrong. He had scoffed at Quill’s predictions of trolls and werewolves; but with Sauron’s power growing again, the time of legends had returned.
The Dunlending told them further that Nendaeril had sent a servant to inform Sauron of their whereabouts. The quest grew ever more dangerous. Boromir now knew better than to try to persuade his two companions to turn back and let him pursue it alone. Touched by their loyalty and humbled by their courage, he still feared for them.
They let the servant go, not wishing to kill the man in cold blood. Boromir assumed that the damage of reporting his whereabouts and likely purpose to Sauron had already been done. Taking food and other supplies that they thought might prove useful, they walked out into the cold sun and gladly left Tellumorn behind them.
* May be sung to the tune of “Over the Hills and Far Away.”
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.