The Elves who had so suddenly surrounded the Company moments before were just as quickly gone again, in pursuit of the orcs. There now remained only three: the tall Elf lieutenant who had sent his warriors after the enemy, and two others who stayed at his side. He looked at the Company gravely for several moments. They were silent and waited for him to speak.
"It is fortunate," he said slowly and carefully, as if unused to speaking in the Common tongue; "fortunate for you that we have been on guard in recent days, fearing an attack from Moria. Ever since we saw a great troop of orcs going north along the skirts of the mountains, many days ago, we have been keeping watch on the two rivers." He glanced dispassionately at Aragorn. "It is also fortunate that you have with you one of our northern brethren, and that you, Aragorn, son of Arathorn, are known to us; if it were not so, you would not be allowed to pass, though you were pursued by all the orcs in Moria. We do not permit strangers in our lands in these days, and especially not those accompanied by Dwarves."
Gimli rumbled in his throat and stepped forward, but Boromir stepped in front of him and held him back.
"Not now!" he said between his teeth.
"He is from the Lonely Mountain," argued Aragorn, "and was chosen by Elrond himself to be one of our companions; he has been brave and faithful."
"We do not have dealings with Dwarves; they are not permitted in our land," repeated the Elf with a frown, and paused. "But...if what you say is true, I will allow you to continue. However, you will have to answer for him, and for the rest of your companions who are unknown to us."
Aragorn shot a glance at Gimli, then nodded.
"Go swiftly then, straight on, beyond the clearing. You will be met by our main guard detail. You must state your business to them before you can continue. We have other business -- the orcs that have entered the Wood will not leave it alive!"
"Thank you," said Aragorn, with a bow.
"Have an eye on that Dwarf!"
With that, the Elves turned and melted into the trees. Aragorn turned as well and beckoned to the others.
"Follow me!" he cried.
Though it seemed likely there would be no more orcs following, they were cautious as they ran forward. Aragorn led the way, and Boromir brought up the rear; Legolas kept watch on all sides even as he ran. They came to the clearing and crossed it quickly.
The wood on the other side of the clearing was denser than before, and the trees were taller. The wind stirred in the trees and rattled the leaves on their branches, but the sound was strangely muffled. The Company slowed to a walk and looked around them apprehensively; only Aragorn walked forward with confidence.
Boromir moved forward to walk near Aragorn. "You are certain these Elves will aid us?" he asked.
"They will aid us," replied Aragorn. "They should have received messages from Elrond about our coming; I know Gandalf planned to come this way."
No sooner had he spoken than they were all brought up short by the sudden appearance of many Elves, all around them, bows drawn and aimed. The wind sang in the taut bowstrings. Legolas was quick to draw his own bow, and he did not flinch, as he faced another Elf bow to bow.
Boromir made a conscious effort to keep his hand away from his sword, though he was sorely tempted to reach for it; his eyes darted back and forth between the faces of the Elves and Aragorn. Aragorn had an odd expression on his face: was he irritated? upset? Boromir could not decide. Aragorn held up his hands slowly, then dropped them again as a tall, broad-shouldered Elf appeared from behind a row of archers.
"The Dwarf breathes so loud we could have shot him in the dark!" the Elf said calmly. Gimli growled and muttered as he eyed the archer before him.
"Haldir!" exclaimed Aragorn, and spoke some words in Elvish. He glanced sideways at Boromir, then away, and his gaze came to rest on the arrows that were pointed at him. "We need your protection!"
Boromir noticed Aragorn's glance, but he kept his eyes straight ahead and his mouth closed tight. It would not do to look at Aragorn now; he might say something he would later regret. He had been hopeful at first that the Elves might indeed aid them, in spite of his misgivings, but now...
He watched the Elf, Haldir, closely. It was obvious he knew Aragorn, but his face was expressionless as he listened to Aragorn's pleas. As Haldir opened his mouth to speak, the Elven archers lowered their longbows, but their arrows remained set to the bowstrings.
"You have entered the realm of the Lady of the Wood," replied Haldir, looking around at the members of the Company. "We do not willingly have dealings with other folk. You cannot now go back, but I am not convinced that you should go forward." Haldir held up his hand before Aragorn could interrupt. "We cannot debate this here, there is still danger; you will come with us to a place of safety, where it will be decided what is to be done with you."
Aragorn nodded and fell in behind Haldir. Haldir turned aside from the path and led the Company under the shadow of the deeper woods westward, away from the Silverlode. The grey-clad Elves walked silently alongside. They went at a brisk pace, which the hobbits found hard to match in their weariness. They stumbled several times, but Boromir and the others were quick to give them a hand to keep them from falling.
They came to a cutting between two low hills and passed through; when they came out again they saw before them a battlefield: many dead orcs lay there, stretched out, pierced by many long arrows. Elves were walking among them, retrieving the arrows from the bodies.
"These are some of the orcs that pursued you here," commented Haldir as they passed by. "The others will meet a similar fate."
It was dark when they halted in a cluster of tall trees; their great grey trunks were of mighty girth but their height could not be guessed. 'Mallorn' was the word Boromir had heard Legolas and Aragorn use...a strange kind of tree; he had not before seen its like. Haldir called out in the Elf language and out of the shadows a ladder was let down. The ladder was made of rope, silver-grey and glimmering in the dark. It looked very slender, hardly strong enough to bear the weight of a hobbit, let alone a full-grown man.
Yet it proved to be strong enough. Haldir climbed up, and the others followed. Boromir looked up and around into the surrounding trees as he climbed the ladder, waiting patiently behind Gimli, who stopped at intervals to catch his breath and to grumble angrily. The climb was not difficult for Boromir, whose legs were long and strong, but gripping the rope and pulling himself up was painful to his wounded hand, in spite of the cloth he had wound over his glove. He saw in the dim light that the bandage was stained with blood.
As he looked around, he saw that the branches of the mallorn tree grew out nearly straight from the trunk, and then swept upwards; but near the top, the main stem divided into a crown of many boughs, and among these he saw that there had been built a wooden flet. Far above him he could see where the ladder passed through a round hole in the center of the platform.
He passed up through and stepped out onto the flet, noticing as he did so that there were many other such platforms in other trees nearby upon which hundreds of Elves sat or stood, their grey garments shimmering in the light of many lanterns, longbows in hand.
Boromir's heart sank. So many! he thought. If they are against us, what then? He felt a stirring of anger as he remembered his reluctance to set foot in Lorien, and Aragorn's insistence that there was no other way. He quelled it before it could master him, and looked to Aragorn. He was quiet, but seemed at ease, and there was no doubt on his face. I will trust you in this, though I do not like it, thought Boromir; we are committed now and cannot go back. I hope you can persuade them! He fingered his bandage doubtfully.
When they were all standing on the platform, Haldir stepped forward. "We are now in a secure place," he said, "and we can speak freely." Haldir turned to Legolas and bowed slightly. "Mae govannen, Legolas Thranduilion."
"Govannas vin gwennen le, Haldir o Lorien," answered Legolas.
"A Aragorn in Dunedain istannen le ammen," continued Haldir, turning towards Aragorn.
"Hennaid," replied Aragorn, inclining his head.
During this exchange, Boromir could hear Gimli muttering at his elbow; now Gimli pushed forward irritably.
"So much for the legendary courtesy of the Elves!" he protested. "Speak words we can all understand!"
Haldir coolly looked Gimli up and down. "We have not had dealings with Dwarves since the Dark Days," he replied. "I had forgotten they have their own form of courtesy."
"And do you know what the Dwarf says to that?" answered Gimli angrily. "Ishkhaqwi ai durugnul!"
Boromir raised an eyebrow; though he did not know what Gimli had said, he could imagine the meaning from his tone. Haldir's face did not change, but there was a brief flash of anger in his eyes. Aragorn leaned forward and turned Gimli about to face him.
"That was not so courteous!" he snapped. He looked up at Haldir, as if about to say something, but Haldir was looking beyond him at the hobbits, who stood ill at ease behind them, waiting anxiously.
"We have not heard of Halflings for many a long year," said Haldir, "and we did not know that any yet dwell in Middle-earth. You do not look evil." Haldir gave Frodo a hard look, and frowned. "Yet I sense that you in particular bring great evil with you." His face set and he spoke abruptly. "You can go no further!"
They all turned to Frodo in dismay; he stood silent, a frozen look on his face. He was half-expecting this, thought Boromir, but now that the rejection has come, it is a shock. Haldir turned his back on them and walked away; Aragorn stepped quickly after him. They stood together on the other side of the flet, Haldir listening impassively while Aragorn argued their case.
Boromir stood and watched them for a time; then, stepping forward, he unslung his shield and propped it against a tree limb protruding from the platform. He sat down, his back to Aragorn and Haldir, and leaned back against the silvery trunk with a sigh. The others followed his example and found their own places to sit and rest; only Legolas remained standing, looking out over the forest.
Boromir unwrapped the bandage, carefully removed his glove, and had a good look at the knife wound on his hand; it was messy, but not too bad. He would need to get it cleaned soon. He could hear Aragorn's voice behind him, talking, talking, trying to convince the tall Elf of their need and their trustworthiness. He refolded the cloth on a cleaner section; as he carefully rewound the bandage on his bare hand, Frodo came and sat down heavily nearby, leaning back wearily against another limb of the tree. He looked utterly dejected and alone.
It is hard for him to come so far carrying the Ring, only to be turned back, thought Boromir. He recalled the time back in the snow at Caradhras when he had picked up the Ring. It had felt strangely heavy for so small a thing; he wondered if the weight of it bothered Frodo.
Thoughts of the Ring made his mind wander. A fruitless quest, he thought, if we cannot continue...they should have listened to me and claimed the Ring for use against the Enemy; then we would not be sitting here at the whim of these Elves, waiting for them to decide if they will risk getting involved. Someone strong should have taken it to use, to throw down Sauron and be done with the job. Gandalf could have done it...but Gandalf had not wanted it. Just as well, perhaps; he was gone now, lost to them...
Boromir glanced over at Frodo. The weary hobbit had lifted his head and was looking in turn at each of his Companions; Boromir followed his gaze. One by one they turned from him, lost in their own thoughts of worry and despair over what would happen if they could not continue. Frodo's face grew long and drawn and his eyes were pinched with pain as his friends looked away. He dropped his head and stared at his hands. Thoughts of the Ring were forgotten when Boromir saw the forlorn look on Frodo's face.
He thinks they are blaming him, Boromir realized. He is a sensitive fellow; he will blame himself if we are refused passage. No doubt he mourns Gandalf as well; more than any of us, perhaps...He would take the blame for that most of all.
Boromir stirred, and Frodo looked up at him; Boromir met his gaze and did not look away.
"Gandalf's death was not in vain, Frodo," he said kindly; his voice was suddenly thick with emotion at the memory of that loss. "Nor would he have you give up hope."
Frodo listened, but he said nothing. He seemed grateful that Boromir was willing to speak to him with kindness, instead of recriminations.
"You carry a heavy burden, Frodo," he went on earnestly. Frodo swallowed hard, but continued to look at him. Boromir paused, then went on. "Do not also carry the weight of the dead."
Boromir sighed as he thought of all the death he himself had seen in this war against Sauron. It was impossible to carry all those deaths with him; they had to be put aside. Frodo must see that or he would never be able to bear it.
Frodo's eyes widened, but then he looked thoughtful, as if he were considering Boromir's advice; his face gradually cleared. His face is so expressive, thought Boromir with an inward smile. He seems to have taken some comfort, at least; he looks a little less sad now. Hearing soft steps behind him, Boromir glanced back. Haldir approached and held out his hand towards Frodo.
"We will allow this," he said, "though it is against our policy. Aragorn has convinced me that this is a great matter; perhaps the Lord and Lady have had word of your coming and it has not reached me here." He turned and addressed the rest of the Company. "We will rest here tonight. Tomorrow you will follow me and I will take you before the Lord Celeborn and the Lady Galadriel. They will give you what aid you need."
Haldir bowed low to each one of the travelers in turn. "Put aside now your fear and your weariness; we will bring food and drink for you to refresh yourselves."
The news that they would be allowed to go forward was met with great relief, as was the promise of a meal. Boromir smiled at the look of eagerness on the faces of Merry and Pippin at the mention of food; he looked up as Aragorn came over and knelt beside him.
"It was not so easy to convince them, I gather," commented Boromir.
"Their rules are strict when it comes to strangers," responded Aragorn; "especially in these dark times. I know Haldir; he is only obeying the law of the Galadhrim. It is indeed something that he has bent this much, to allow us to go forward without word from the Lady."
Boromir nodded; he understood about obeying orders, at least. He looked at Aragorn's tired face and smiled.
"You must be in great need of a drink, after so much talking," he observed.
"And you are in need of a wash," retorted Aragorn. "And some clean water for that hand."
"A wash would be welcome," mused Boromir, wiping his face with his hand; it came away dirty. "Though I do not expect I will get the full wash I need here in the treetops. It will be enough for now to have my wound cleaned and tended."
Aragorn clapped Boromir on the shoulder and moved away, in search of water. Boromir looked over at Frodo, and saw that Sam had come forward and was drawing Frodo over to sit with Merry and Pippin.
Good! he thought. He should not sit alone, not when he is so sad. Better to be with friends at such times, to keep evil thoughts away.
Alone......came a whisper on the wind, but it died away as Aragorn came with the water, and kneeling, took Boromir's hand in his.