The fire burned low, and the last piece of wood was thrown on.
"The night is getting old," said Aragorn, pushing back his hood to look out at the night. "Dawn cannot be far off."
Boromir rose and stepped out of the circle around the fire. He stared out into the blackness for a long moment, then turned back to the others.
"The snow is growing less," he said. "And the wind is quieter."
Aragorn nodded and stirred the fire.
As light grew in the sky, the snow continued to lessen until finally it stopped. The Company looked out on a changed world; all was silent and shrouded in white. The path they had taken from below was lost now, buried in snow that in places was almost man height. The path ahead was completely blocked by fallen debris and drifted snow; and the sky was heavy with the threat of more severe weather. They had no choice but to turn back, but the retreat would be difficult, if not impossible.
"Perhaps Gandalf should go before us with a bright flame, to melt a path!" said Legolas light-heartedly.
The others smiled at the thought, but Gandalf was not impressed with the suggestion.
"If Elves could fly over mountains, they might fetch the Sun to save us," he retorted. "But I must have something to work on, I cannot burn snow!"
"Well," responded Boromir, "when heads are at a loss, bodies must serve, as we say in my country. The strongest of us must seek a way." He considered the buried path for a moment, then pointed off into the distance. "See? Though all is now snow-clad, our path as we came up turned sharply upwards there at that shoulder of rock further down. If I remember rightly, some way below the turn we ought to come to a flat space at the top of a long steep slope. If we could reach that point, we might be able to get some idea of how the snow lies further down. Perhaps it will prove easier beyond. It is worth a try, at least."
"Come then!" said Aragorn, rising. "Let us force a path together!"
Boromir led the way, and Aragorn followed. It was slow going, and it was not long before they were both toiling heavily. The snow was breast-high in places, and Boromir felt more like he was swimming than walking. He thrust the snow aside as he went, and tramped it down underfoot; Aragorn, following, did the same.
Boromir caught movement out of the corner of his eye, and looked up to see Legolas run past on top of the snow. He waved at the two men as he passed.
"I go to find the Sun!" he called, and speeding into the distance, he vanished around the rocky turn.
Boromir sighed and momentarily wished for the ability to run atop the snow. They toiled on, slowly forcing their way through drifts, ice, and snow to a broader way below the precarious path they had been on when the attack came. The going was somewhat easier there, for a time, as the expanse of snow had been partially swept clear by the strong winds. But the way soon became difficult again, as they approached the shoulder of rock that marked the bottom of the steep path for them.
When Boromir and Aragorn reached the spot, they stopped, dismayed. The protruding shoulder of rock had caused the wind to drop its load of snow in a great drift that blocked their path The drift was flung like a sheer wall across the path, its crest sharp as if shaped by knives. Boromir drew in a deep breath before turning to Aragorn.
"Well, there is no other way except forward," he said. "At least it is only snow here, with no debris to be removed."
"Only snow!" exclaimed Aragorn. "Heavy snow, you mean, and wet! We shall be buried!"
"Dry snow might be easier to pass through, but more difficult in the end for those who follow," said Boromir, gazing upwards as he tried to judge the height of the drift. It was more than twice his height, and he was a tall man. "Wet snow will at least stay where we put it. This much snow is heavy whether it be dry or wet!"
"We do not know how wide the snow wall is here," went on Aragorn. "Do we attempt to tunnel through, or should we try to beat a path over the top?"
Boromir considered the drift again.
"Over the top, I think," he said at last. "Though I fear the chance of being buried is perhaps just as great."
"Lead on, then! I will follow further back, to dig you out when the mountain falls on you!"
Boromir pushed forward. Slowly, surely, they beat a passage forward and up through the middle of the drift. Arms and legs became heavy, and breath painful in the thin air as they labored to make a path. They were no more than a third of the way up, when their fears were realized. An avalanche of snow cascaded down from atop the high drift.
Aragorn shouted, but Boromir had no time to do more than draw in a quick breath and duck his head before he was buried. His face was pushed down and his mouth filled with snow. He struggled and kicked to get free, but the snow weighed heavily on him. He was trapped.
In spite of his fear, Boromir forced himself to lie still. He would only make matters worse by struggling. He would have to trust that Aragorn could come to his aid. The sounds were muffled by the heavy snow, but he could hear Aragorn digging above him. Suddenly the weight of snow was removed, and he felt Aragorn's grip on his cloak. He gasped and choked as he was pulled up and out into the air.
"A near thing!" said Aragorn, slapping Boromir on the back.
"Indeed!" agreed Boromir, brushing himself down. "It was well I was not alone!"
A small spray of snow from the top tumbled down and they both looked up, afraid it was coming down again. Legolas was silouetted against the sky. He leapt lightly down and stood before them.
"Do not despair!" he announced. "I have been on the other side. The Sun is not to be found, but this I can tell you for your comfort: the drift is little wider than a wall, and beyond, the snow is considerably less. Deep enough, but no deeper than on our way up the mountain."
"Well then!" said Aragorn. "That is hopeful, though we still have to make a path there."
"And we had better do so, before I grow too weary," said Boromir, climbing to his feet.
"I will lead this time," said Aragorn.
The rest of the Company was waiting patiently for Boromir and Aragorn when they returned. Legolas had gone ahead of them to report their success. Gimli was of the opinion that the drift had been laid, perhaps by Saruman, for the express purpose of cutting off their escape.
"Perhaps," said Boromir in response. "It is fortunate that he has forgotten that you have Men with you. Doughty Men, too, if I may say it; though lesser men with spades might have served you better. Still, we have thrust a lane through the drift, and for that, all here may be grateful who cannot run as light as Elves."
The hobbits remained doubtful.
"How are we to get down there, even if you have cut through the drift?" wailed Pippin. "The snow is still very deep."
"Have hope!" replied Boromir. "I am weary, but I still have some strength left, and Aragorn, too. We will bear the little folk. The others can tread the path behind us. Come, Pippin! I will begin with you."
Boromir shifted his shield to one side as he lifted him up.
"Cling to my back if you can. I shall need my arms to widen the track for those who follow," he said, striding forward. Aragorn with Merry came behind, and Legolas followed. On the far side of the drift, they set the hobbits down and left them in the care of Legolas. Returning, Boromir lifted up Sam and set off again; the track was well-trodden now. Gandalf followed, leading Bill with Gimli perched among the baggage. Aragorn came last, carrying Frodo.
They gathered together and stood looking out from the high place over the slopes below. The way back down was passable, but the snow was still knee-deep for the tallest, and it would be a tiresome journey down. They would have to decide what other path to take, but they were too tired to think of it now. To get away from the snow on the mountain was their only thought. A cold wind flowed down behind them as they turned their backs on Caradhras and stumbled wearily down the slope.