One Hundred and Ten Days

by Linaewen

Chapter 6

Boromir rode up the long grassy slope and halted at the top. Before him stretched the other side of the hill sloping sharply downwards, broken at the bottom by a wooded glen. The trees climbed partway up the next green hill, then thinned out near the top. That hill was rough with outcroppings of stone at the crest, and the sun glinted on water dripping from the rock. A good place to rest and replenish his water, he thought.

Boromir nudged his horse forward down the hill. Surefoot seemed to sense that a rest was being contemplated and trotted forward eagerly. The air was still under the trees as he rode into the forest, and Boromir was surprised at how cool it was. The wooded valley was dark compared to the sunlit hillside, and the trees grew tall and close overhead. Surefoot's hooves thudded loudly on the carpet of old leaves as he picked his way carefully through the trees.

As he rode, Boromir tried to calculate how long he had been traveling. He ticked off the days on his fingers. It had taken him two and a half weeks or so at the beginning of his journey to reach Rohan, as he had been traveling at an easy pace...two or three nights with Eomer and at Edoras...then he had ridden hard straight through to get across the Fords. That had perhaps been overdoing it, but his horse had been fresh and they were both eager to be on the road. The brewing storm over Isengard had worried him, but the long hard day of traveling seemed to have put the storm well behind, as there had been no bad weather threatening since he had turned north after the Gap of Rohan and crossed into Dunland on the eastern edges of the Misty Mountains.

He had been taking it easy again since then. He had been over a week on this course, so it must now be at least a month, or a little more, since he set out from Minas Tirith. So...that would make it early to mid-August. The weather had been warm enough that he had put away his fur-lined cloak, but the days were now not as long as they had been, and the nights were beginning to grow cooler. It would likely take him a week or more to get through Dunland; though it was a fair and fertile country with few settlements that he could see, it was rough and uneven and the going was slow. Because he was following the line of the mountains, the terrain was more difficult and he was making less time than he would if he had tried to find the old road on the flatter plains to the west. But this was likely the more direct route and he hoped to make up the time in the end by going as straight as possible north, instead of taking the other way that would take him off to the west and necessitate cutting back eastward at some point. He was also proceeding cautiously and keeping more than a sharp eye out for any of the local inhabitants. Eomer and his men had warned him that the Dunlendings were fierce, primitive hillmen who hated the people of Rohan. His blond hair and the horse he was riding might mark him as a prime target for an attack. Boromir had not asked for directions from anyone and had avoided the few settlements he had come across. He had seen few people other than hersdmen, and he hoped that they were more interested in their herds than in a lone traveler, no matter how much he resembled a Rider of Rohan.

When he reached the crown of the hill, Boromir looked around and decided to halt for the day. Both he and Surefoot would do well with a long rest and this was an excellent spot for it. The stone-studded hilltop offered a good view of the surrounding terrain, and would be easily defended in case of any attack, unlikely though that might be. There was a little spring welling up from a crack in the rock and a few trees stood there at the crest to provide shade for the rest of the afternoon and shelter for the night. Boromir made his camp in the shadow of the stony ridge that cut across the crown of the hill, well back from the edge so that he might not be seen from the valley if anyone should pass by down below. He tethered Surefoot close by, within reach of grass for grazing, and removing the saddle, gave him a good rub down and some water. After a long drink of his own and a meal of dried fruit and meat from his pack, Boromir settled down with his maps. He had them nearly memorized by now, but it wouldn't hurt to see if he could figure out how far he had left to go. He also wanted to make some notations on them. He had decided to update the maps as he went, so that he could return them to Faramir with accurate changes. Faramir would appreciate the work, and it gave him something to do when he was not riding. Though it was not a task that he normally would have enjoyed, he found it strangely comforting to be doing something for his brother, even though he was so far away. Boromir was not ashamed to admit that he missed Faramir. Poring over the maps that his brother had given him made him feel less lonely for his company.

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Boromir came suddenly awake. What had disturbed him? Had he heard a sound, a twig snapping in the woods below? Or was it that he now heard no sound at all...not even the creaking and buzzing of insects in the underbrush below that had filled the night air and lulled him to sleep earlier? Either way, it signaled danger to Boromir. He laid his hand on his sword hilt, which lay unsheathed at his side. He reached out and touched Surefoot's tether; the tautness of it reassured him that the horse was close by. He carefully drew off his cloak that he had been using as a blanket in the coolness and slowly rolled over into a position where he could see the edge of the grassy knoll before him. The moonlight was dim and the night had clouded over, but he could see faintly ahead of him; if anyone came up the hill he would see them.

He strained his ears to listen for any sound of movement. He heard nothing at first but the wind sighing among the rocks, but gradually he became aware of the shuffling, rustling sound of movement in the grass on the hillside before him. Someone or something was definitely approaching with stealth. He drew his legs under him carefully and silently, gathering himself to spring.

The scrape of a boot on rock and a muffled oath sounded loud in the night. So it was men that sought to take him unawares while he slept. There was no further sound for what seemed an interminable amount of time, then the shuffling began again. They were drawing closer. Boromir watched the edge of the dark hill through slitted eyes to prevent any glimmer of moonlight from catching them and revealing to the intruders that he was awake. He tried to relax into a position that looked natural for a sleeper, but from which he could leap up at a moment's notice. There...several shapes took form, darker than the surrounding darkness, rising up over the crest of the hill...five or six at least. He tensed, waiting...waiting...

The clouds drew back suddenly from in front of the moon and the faint moonlight glimmered on the sharp edge of a drawn knife in the hand of the foremost figure. Even as the man with the knife lunged, Boromir rolled forward under the arc of the knife, swinging his sword as he leaped to his feet. His attacker went down with a scream. Boromir stooped quickly and grasped his cloak in his left hand. More attackers ran towards him, and he flung the cloak out in front of him, dodging to one side as he did so. While several men floundered in the folds of the heavy cape, Boromir leaped on them from behind. A sharp crack with the hilt of his sword took out one, and a back swing of the blade took out another. Surefoot, a horse trained for battle, entered the fray - Boromir leaped back to avoid being struck by the flailing hooves. The attacking Dunlendings were dismayed. One of them shouted a retreat and those that still could ran down the hill and away.

Boromir located the bodies of the remaining men in the dimness, and dragging them to the edge of the hill, he rolled them down. He did not care to see if they were alive or dead. Let their comrades take them either way; he wanted them out of his camp before daylight came. He did not want to see their faces or know how old or young they were. Morning light would reveal no bodies at the bottom of the hill; the attackers had taken them away, and there was no evidence of who they were or how many they had been.

Boromir went over to Surefoot, who was pacing restlessly at the end of his tether. He spoke soothingly to him, and felt him all over, checking carefully for any wounds. There were none. Boromir drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. The adventure was over, at least for the time being. He drank from the spring and washed off the grime of the battle. He would rest for the remainder of the night, but there would be no more sleeping. He doubted that the attackers would return , but he would remain awake and alert in any case. At first light he would break camp and be off northwards. The sooner he got out of this country the better.