Keeping the Silverlode to their left, they followed the stream for several more miles until they came to the edge of the forest. A steady wind blew chill up the valley to meet them. Before them a wide shadow of trees loomed tall, arching over the path with spreading boughs; they heard the endless rustle of leaves in the breeze. The stream plunged into the trees and was lost in shadows of green and gold.
"Lothlorien!" sighed Legolas. "We have come to the eaves of the Golden Wood! Alas that it is winter!"
Aragorn shot a glance at Boromir, who stood silent at the edge of the wood, a look of doubt upon his face. Boromir sighed at the look, and shrugged in resignation.
"If we must enter, then let us do so quickly," he announced firmly. "The sooner now we lose ourselves in the trees, the better. Perhaps this Elvish virtue you speak of will help us, but I fear we will still have to stand and fight."
Aragorn nodded. "Come then," he replied. "The sun will soon fall behind the mountains, and darkness will be upon us."
They had gone little more than a mile into the forest when they came upon another stream flowing down swiftly from the tree-clad slopes that climbed back westward towards the mountains. They could hear it splashing over a fall away among the shadows on their right. Its dark hurrying waters ran across the path before them and joined the Silverlode in a swirl of dim pools among the roots of the trees.
"Here is Nimrodel," said Legolas. "The Silvan Elves made many songs long ago about the stream of Nimrodel; we still sing them in the North. Follow me! The water is not deep."
Legolas climbed down the deep cloven bank and waded out into the water. Boromir held back as the others crossed; he looked back along their path through the wood, straining to hear any sound of pursuit. The rustling of the trees and the sound of the water were loud in his ears, but he thought he could hear something else. The wind carried the sound away from him, so it was hard to pin down at first, but it grew, coming closer, until he realized what it was: the sound of heavy feet crashing through the underbrush.
Boromir ran back to the stream. Pippin had not yet crossed; he seemed to be waiting for Boromir.
"Go! Go!" Boromir cried, giving Pippin a push towards the water. "They are coming!"
Pippin cast one terrified look behind him, then splashed across the stream, clambering up the bank on the other side. Boromir looked back; he could now see orcs running towards them through the trees. It was a small group, not more than a dozen -- an advance group of fast runners, perhaps, sent ahead to harry them, while the larger group came on more slowly. He turned and followed Pippin across the stream, taking the opposite bank in two leaping strides. He helped Pippin to his feet, and they ran on together. The others hung back, waiting for them.
Boromir could hear the growls and cries of the pursuing orcs behind him as he caught up to Aragorn.
"A dozen I make it," he reported. "We can take them."
"We should stand and fight while the number is small," agreed Gimli.
"Yet it will go hard for the little ones if they have to fight," Boromir went on.
"Then we must not allow the orcs to break through," replied Aragorn. He turned and spoke urgently to the hobbits. "Stay well back, do not engage the enemy unless you must. Be prepared to flee when we give the word. If we are defeated, run away from here, straight into the forest, keeping the Silverlode on your left. The Elves are there. They will aid you."
Merry tried to object, but Aragorn shook his head.
"Go on, move away from here. We will join you soon. Keep out of sight if you can."
"They are crossing the Nimrodel!" cried Legolas from behind them. Boromir and Aragorn swung around; the orcs were coming. Legolas drew an arrow from his quiver and placed it on the bowstring.
"Curse their foul feet in its clean water!" he cried.
He loosed his arrow and quickly drew another. Boromir glanced back to be certain the hobbits were away and at the same time reached back to sling his shield forward -- but it was too late; the orcs had crossed the stream and were almost upon them. Boromir gave a sharp exclamation of annoyance; he let go his shield and drew his sword. With a cry he dashed forward and met the orcs head on, Aragorn at his side.
The battle was fierce. The orcs were angry after their long chase, and though they might have been hampered by the sun earlier in the day, it was now growing dark under the trees, which worked to their advantage. The Company was weary from grief and a long journey, but they fought fiercely and did not give ground. Gimli's war cry of "Baruk Khazad! Khazad aimenu!" rang through the trees and gave heart to his companions.
As Boromir grappled with a large orc, a smaller one slipped past him and made for the hobbits. A desperate stab of his sword freed Boromir from his attacker, and he made a leaping dive for the smaller orc. His hand caught the orc's foot and they fell to the ground. The orc twisted quickly around and with a snarl hacked at Boromir's hand with its long knife; the tip of it caught the back of Boromir's hand, slicing through the glove and into his flesh. Boromir gasped at the pain, but did not let go. The orc kicked out with the other foot, striking Boromir on his wounded hand. He let go with a groan, but managed to swing his sword arm up and around as the orc stretched out its hand to strike again with the knife. Boromir's sword sliced the hand neatly off; the orc shrieked with pain and rolled away, giving Boromir time to scramble to his feet. He swung his sword again, and the orc's head tumbled to the ground.
Boromir stood still for a moment, dizzy from the pain of his wound. When his vision cleared, he saw that the skirmish was over. The orcs were all dead; Gimli was making sure of that, while Legolas retrieved his arrows. Aragorn had his ear to the ground, listening for sounds of the others that pursued them. The hobbits ran up to join them, relieved that their friends had triumphed.
"A large party still follows," declared Aragorn as he got to his feet. "They are close behind. We must move on quickly."
He caught sight of Boromir's hand and let out a sharp exclamation.
"You are hurt!" he cried, reaching forward to take Boromir's hand in his.
"It is nothing," said Boromir, wincing slightly as Aragorn inspected the wound.
"It is not 'nothing'!" retorted Aragorn. "What happened?"
"A knife stab from the last orc I fought. The point caught me on my hand." Boromir pulled his hand gently away from Aragorn. "Leave it, it will keep. There is no time for it now, we must press on."
"Take this." Aragorn pulled a strip of cloth from his pouch and handed it to Boromir. "Wrap this around the cut. It will keep it clean at least, if we have to fight again. I will treat it when I can."
Boromir took the cloth gratefully and nodded his thanks. Aragorn gripped Boromir's shoulder.
"I am glad it was no more than a cut on the hand," he said with a smile. "I am not ready to lose you yet!"
"Nor am I ready to be lost," replied Boromir, returning the smile. "Come, let us get the little folk to safety."
Aragorn led them through the trees, running as swiftly as he could, without leaving the smaller ones behind. The hobbits struggled to keep up, but they had to stop now and then to catch their breath. It was during one brief halt that they suddenly heard the orcs behind them. Aragorn and Legolas turned and shot off a few arrows; several orcs fell, but the others came on. There were dozens of them spread out through the trees; there was no hope of being able to defend against such a large group.
"Go! Go!" shouted Boromir, waving the hobbits forward; he stood with his sword ready as the hobbits ran on. Legolas took up his position and shot several orcs in quick succession, but it made little difference.
Suddenly an arrow flew past Boromir's face, in the direction of the orcs; then another and another. He put out his hand to hold back the hobbits -- had orc archers gotten ahead of them somehow? The hobbits fell back in amazement as dozens of arrows shot past them. Looking back, Boromir saw that many orcs had fallen, pierced by the arrows; the remaining orcs fled the deadly onslaught, running off in different directions into the wood.
They gazed at one another in amazement, then turned as one as a voice rang out behind them. Boromir did not understand the words, but he knew they were Elvish. Before they could move or speak, the Company was suddenly surrounded by many Elves, tall and stern, clad in shadowy-grey garments that kept them from being seen unless they moved suddenly. They were armed with long bows, and many still had arrows set to the bowstrings. At a word from their leader, they moved off swiftly and silently in pursuit of the orcs.
So Aragorn was right, thought Boromir, as he slowly sheathed his sword. And I am not sorry to see it! The Elves will aid us, it would seem, at least in this. It is enough...for now.