The hill was steep, and strewn with moss-covered relics of Gondor from days of old. Boromir spared no glance for them; they meant nothing to him now except as obstructions in his path, hindrances to his progress. Fear drove him up the hill; fear that he would be too late to do anything but take his revenge. He no longer thought of redeeming himself in the eyes of his companions, or of fulfilling his vow to the Ringbearer; his only thought was for Merry and Pippin, and for their safety.
Aragorn had been right to fear Orcs on the Western shore; Boromir had already met a few of them, in his search for the wayward hobbits. They had proved no match for his fierce anger, fueled by despair, but the little ones would have no such protection, if they even realized their danger. They sought Frodo, and would be oblivious to all else, until it was too late.
He paused only once, briefly, to listen for sounds of pursuit. All was quiet; he could hear nothing on the breeze. No, wait...what was that? He jerked his head up and tried to catch the elusive sound; could it be light feet running on matted leaves? A cry of "Run!" -- ?
Whatever the sound, it was swallowed up by another, which quickly grew in intensity as it came ever closer -- the sound of myriad Orcs, grunting, growling, and squealing hoarsely, and the crashing of heavy feet under the trees. Boromir leapt forward and ran with all his might, grimly pushing away the thought of what he would see when he topped the next rise of the hill.
Suddenly, the trees opened up, and he could see clearly ahead; his worst fears were realized. Merry and Pippin stood at bay, watching stunned as hundreds of Orcs swarmed towards them, down the hillside from one direction, and through the trees from another. They were trapped and had nowhere to run. The hobbits stared helplessly as a huge Orc ran straight towards them, brandishing an ugly axe with a long curved blade.
Boromir's heart gave a great leap of fear as he realized he would not reach them in time -- but he must! Though his muscles burned and his breath caught in his lungs, he lengthened his stride and pumped his arms in a great effort to close the gap between himself and his friends.
He was closer now, close enough to see the hobbits' faces, and the fear in their eyes. Pippin stood as if mesmerized, hardly believing he was about to be sliced in two by an Orc blade; Merry stood irresolute, as if he wanted to act, but did not know what to do. Merry's eyes darted this way and that, looking for a way out. His eyes met Boromir's, suddenly, unexpectedly, and they widened; then Merry looked away quickly, so as not to give Boromir away.
Feet pounding, cloak snapping behind him, Boromir ran; his face was implacable, set with determination. He would reach them in time -- he would not fail! As he drew level with Pippin, he tossed his blade aside; it stuck quivering in a pile of leaves. He reached out with both hands just as the Orc swung the axe downwards, blocking the blow. All his pent-up fear and anxiety rose in his throat, and he gave a great bellow of defiance as he wrested the axe away from the Orc. At the same time, he brought his knee up sharply and kicked out with his foot. The Orc fell back with a cry, and twisted sideways in pain. Boromir swung the axe up and down again with all his might, striking the Orc squarely in the back. Air rushed from punctured lungs with a strange sound like wind, and the Orc fell dead.
Boromir dropped the axe, and, crouching, scooped up his sword. As he came out of his crouch, he reached behind and beneath his cloak, where his knife in its sheath was fastened. Drawing it quickly, he took aim and threw hard; the knife flew straight and true, impaling an Orc full in the throat.
Merry and Pippin had not been idle; they had their swords drawn and leaped to the attack. Their skill and ferocity was unexpected and took the Orcs by surprise. In a matter of moments, the Orcs in the first wave of the attack lay dead around them, and the rest were fleeing through the trees. They had a moment of peace in which to catch their breath.
Boromir laughed, suddenly and unexpectedly, and the forest rang with the sound. His laughter broke the tension that had gripped him since the moment he had come back to the waiting Company to find that Frodo had not returned, and realized that there would be no opportunity now to seek forgiveness from him for what had passed between them. Aragorn had then sent him after the little ones, and he had gone willingly, his fear for them choking him; against all odds, he had found Merry and Pippin in the vast forest, and had rescued them from certain death. It was not much, but it went a little way towards easing the fierce knot of shame that burned in his heart because of what he had done to Frodo. Nothing would make that shame disappear, nothing short of death, but this small victory was enough to give him some passing relief from the pain.
He drew in a great gulp of air to settle his labored breathing and turned to the hobbits, who were gazing in wonder at the Orcs that lay dead around them.
"So, I have found you, my hobbits! And in the nick of time, it would seem! You should not have run off so quickly, without Aragorn's leave; but you fought well, and did not forget the lessons I taught you."
Boromir's face grew suddenly grave.
"Come quickly now; let us return before we are set upon once more. I fear we have not seen the last of this enemy. Follow me closely; let us not become separated again."
They had only gone a short distance on the way back to the lawn of Parth Galen, when the Orcs were upon them once more, in even greater numbers than before. Boromir did not hesitate; he leapt to the attack, and the woods rang with the sound of clashing swords. The forest floor was soon littered with the black bodies of Uruk-hai soldiers. He fought fiercely, and as more and more of the enemy entered the fray, he fought more and more desperately.
We will never make it through this press of enemies, thought Boromir anxiously, as wave after wave of black warriors advanced through the trees. There are too many...
At last a break in the onslaught gave him the opening he needed; grasping his Horn, he blew three great blasts which rang among the trees, and echoed like a shout that could be heard even above the thunder of Rauros. The Orcs were dismayed, and drew back, but only for a moment. As the echoes of the Horn died away, and no help came, the Orcs advanced, grinning and growling fiercely.
Boromir's face set grimly.
"Listen to me, Merry, Pippin," he said, without taking his eyes from the advancing enemy. "We shall prevail if we do not panic. Do as I say; if I tell you to stand, then stand. If I tell you to run, then run. If you run, do not look back."
He turned to face them. "Do you understand me?"
The hobbits nodded wordlessly.
"Good." Boromir looked each hobbit in the eye. He nodded once, briefly, before turning back to face the Orcs, now approaching at a run. "Then we are ready. Let them come."
Aragorn sat in the high seat atop Amon Hen, and strove to see something -- anything -- that might help him better decide his course, but there was nothing; nothing but a darkened sun and distant hills, and a great bird like an eagle on the horizon.
He sighed and rose from the stone chair, but before he could step down from it, his attention was caught by cries in the wood below, and he realized he had been hearing the sound for some time. With cold fear in his heart, Aragorn recognized the harsh sound of Orc voices.
Orcs! he thought. Orcs on the west side of the River! I feared something was amiss; alas, that I am proved right!
Suddenly the deep shout of a horn's call rang out, rising above the cries of the Orcs to echo in the surrounding hills.
"The horn of Boromir!" cried Aragorn aloud. "He is in need!"
He leapt down from the high seat and ran like the wind down the path. As he ran, the cries of the Orcs grew louder, but the horn's blowing sounded more and more faintly, until abruptly it ceased.
Aragorn quickened his pace, fearing he would come too late, dreading what he might find as he came to each turning in the path, and as he passed through each clearing in the trees. But he saw no one, not even Orcs; the sound of them was always ahead of him, diminishing into the distance, until finally the forest was silent again, but for the pounding of his feet and the ever-present roar of the Falls.
The council chamber began to grow dark as the late afternoon sun set behind the mountains, and the shadows lengthened over the city of Minas Tirith. A chamberlain brought lamps and set them upon the long table, where Denethor sat bowed over maps of Gondor and Ithilien. Faramir stood beside his father's chair, leaning forward to look at a map, as he listened quietly to his father's instructions. He nodded to the chamberlain, and reached out to pull a lamp closer to the map they were studying.
"What think you of the garrison at Cair Andros?" asked Denethor, seeming not to notice the appearance of the lamps.
"It will do," replied Faramir. "The fortifications there are strong and well-manned. Boromir left the garrison there in good stead; the men are as stalwart and as ready as any of our forces. I wish we could spare some of them to strengthen the troops at Osgiliath..."
At the mention of Boromir's name, Denethor's head lifted, and he looked out across the room to a tall window that looked to the north; Faramir's words fell on deaf ears.
"Ah, Boromir!" Denethor said gruffly. "Why do you tarry? You should have come by now! We have such need of you!"
"You speak as if you have had word of him, Father. Have you heard of his coming, and said nothing to me? Is there news of him, then?"
Denethor looked sidelong at Faramir, then shook his head.
"No, there has been no word, but for the feeling that I have in my heart that he is near."
Denethor turned on Faramir suddenly.
"Do you not think that I would know when my son, my Boromir, has set foot within the bounds of Gondor, his own country?" he demanded coldly. "He is here -- or near, at the least -- on the borders of our land; he is coming. I know it."
Faramir put up a hand in an attempt to calm his father.
"Forgive me; I did not mean to question you. I was merely surprised to hear you speak so; for I, too, have felt this, that my brother is coming soon. Yet I deemed it only wishful thinking..."
Faramir turned his gaze to the north-facing window and sighed.
If only he would return! Faramir thought. He did not know the same words rang at that same moment within in his father's heart.
They remained thus for a moment, united in their longing for the one they both missed, though they knew it not. Then the moment was gone, as Denethor straightened, and pulled the map closer.
"You were speaking of Osgiliath."
"Yes, Father. The garrison at Osgiliath is..."
Faramir broke off in midsentence, for the room seemed suddenly to be filled with the sound of a horn blowing. It was a distant sound, like an echo in the mind, yet it was no dream; for Faramir could see by the sudden blanching of his father's face that he had heard the sound as well. Though the horn's call seemed to be coming from the north, far away, it was yet clear and unmistakeable. There was an urgency about the call that tugged at their hearts, for there was no doubt in either of their minds what that call meant: Boromir had reached the borders of Gondor, and he was in need.
Denethor stood abruptly, and his heavy chair fell backwards to the floor with a crash. He turned sharply and strode from the room.
Faramir stood pale and trembling, straining to hear the sound of the horn if it should come again. He felt helpless and afraid, for there was little he could do, not knowing where his brother might be. If only there was some way to seek him out -- ! But would there be time...?
The horn call sounded again, dimly, then faded, and was gone.
Boromir was beginning to feel worried. Where were the others? Where was Aragorn? The blowing of the Horn had never yet failed to bring aid in his hour of need. Were they all dead? Was he the last?
He bent quickly down to avoid the swinging blow of an Uruk soldier, then stood upright abruptly with a wordless shout of anger, flipping his adversary over his shoulder. He turned swiftly and thrust his blade through the leather armor and into its chest, twisting his sword to free it.
At last, a moment's peace! he thought, panting, as he saw a break in the advance of the Uruk army. He grasped his Horn once more, and putting it to his lips, blew a strong blast of three long notes. The Horn's call echoed in the trees as Boromir's eyes darted back and forth, seeking for signs of anyone coming to his aid -- but there was no one; only more of the enemy. Hordes of Uruk soldiers were flowing down the hillside like a flood of black water. There were so many! So many!
Boromir grabbed at Pippin, who stood near him with his sword drawn; he pushed him away, turning him towards the only way of escape.
"Run!" he cried, pushing Merry after him. "Run!"
The hobbits obeyed instantly, and with a cry, they sprang away and ran as fast as they could through the trees, in the direction of the lakeshore. Boromir stood in the path between the retreating hobbits and the advancing army. He turned his head and body just enough to keep their retreat in sight as he backed away to follow them. Then he lifted his eyes to the hillside once more, searching for any sign of help; he could see nothing but more and more Uruk-hai, advancing relentlessly.
So many! he thought again, despairingly; then they were upon him, and he was fighting for his life once more.
Stab... cut... thrust... parry... It was a never-ending dance of pain and death, of black blood hardening on his face and clothing. Boromir had no time to think, no time even to feel the pain of his wounds, except fleetingly; he was cut by sword, bruised by blows, and scraped by nail and by teeth, but he refused to give ground. He swung his sword two-handed, and all around him the foe fell back, dead and dying -- and still they came on.
Have Merry and Pippin gotten free? he wondered as he fought, for he had no chance even to glance back, not even for an instant. Please...let them be away, let them be safe!
He felt sudden, sharp fear as he realized he would not be able to hold the enemy back. There were too many of them, and they were coming at him too quickly. But what else could he do? There was nothing else for him but to fight. He could not allow the enemy to get past him, for if even one were to succeed, it could mean the death of the hobbits. The longer he held back the army, the better chance the little ones had of escaping.
So he swung his sword frantically, to and fro, all his long years of training and experience meeting in this moment, and the enemy fell. But more came on, and he was slowly, relentlessly pressed back...
He was surrounded.