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A/N: Tolkien dreamed up all the original characters and plot, not me.
Even in the face of the orcs' approach, Aragorn still would not move and Boromir was beginning to think his feet would leave of their own accord. The Ring wanted to be found, and if Aragorn could not see his folly, then all would be lost. His precious elven lands. Gondor. Especially Gondor. He understood honor, but those thoughts that contradicted his current restlessness seemed dull, as if they belonged to another person entirely. The Ranger was frozen with indecision. With grief, really. Hardly the actions and manner of a king. A king's priority should be to his own people.
Deep down, he supposed, it was true honor, not to leave a friend, and in times past, he himself would have been hard pressed to give up his duty to a companion. But the Ring—Gondor needed it. Even Faramir would not have stood in the way of Gondor's salvation. Even the elf didn't. He was begging the man to leave. For pity's sake, even Gimli understood. The Ring came first. It could not be allowed to fall into enemy hands. That settled it in his mind. Aragorn could catch up. Clenching his jaw against any protests, whether from the others or within his own mind, he began propelling the others southward, and quickly. The orcs would be on the road above them any minute.
The company fled, staying just inside the tree line where it met the embankment that climbed up to the ancient road. They could hear the orcs growing closer on the open road. After a moment, Aragorn rejoined them, but his expression was hidden in the darkening night. Boromir could only glower at him.
The anticipation of battle had a way of making a person forget hurts or weariness, and, though the trees impeded their speed, they also gave shelter. Being down the embankment gave the Company a head start. Even Boromir found that Aragorn's plan to stay off the road to be a sound one—until the dale dropped away into a wide open plain, its tall grasses waving under the starlit sky. They could easily be overtaken on the open plain. The Silverlode divided it, and they were fortunate—had it been spring, the entire plain would have been flooded with the melting mountain snow. To this point the orcs had not yet caught up with them, to his surprise, but they could not avoid the inevitable. He steeled himself to continue on across the plain, folly or not.
"Wait! We will be seen!" Aragorn hissed, grabbing at Frodo's cloak and pulling him back just as the trees fell away. They all stopped instantly and withdrew back to the treeline. More clearly, he said, "We must remain beneath the shelter of the trees until it is safe to move on. We've a better chance of evading them if we wait here until they pass, but we will need to be watchful for any scouting parties."
Now that they had paused, it seemed the orcs grew louder by the second, gaining ground now that their quarry had stilled. No one moved, fearing to make the slightest sound, or to even breathe. Through the sparse trees, they could make out their grotesque shadows on the road in the darkness. Boromir guessed there were at least one hundred. They went on and on in disorganized companies until finally, they had passed.
The Fellowship left the dale then, continuing onto the plain a bit more assured of their safety. With relief came a clearing in Boromir's mind. He gazed up at the stars for a moment and felt the weight of shame at his desperation. Yet a part of his mind saw no dishonor, and was still adamant that the Ring must be protected at all costs.
They had not been jogging on the plain for even five minutes, when an orc horn sounded in the distance. Perhaps a mile away, two at the most. Boromir's head snapped up and back to the North
"Get down!" He commanded.
At his warning, the others dove into the grasses beside him. He hoped the tall grasses would be enough to conceal them, and that the orcs would only be concerned with answering the call. At first there was only silence, but he didn't dare give the all clear. To his relief, it seemed Aragorn agreed. Just when he was beginning to wonder if it had been a false alarm, the orcs rumbled past them, barreling down the road in the direction they had come. A few scouts even came from the plain, rushing past within several feet of them. His hand went to his dagger, prepared to soundlessly cut down any who spotted them.
They huddled down for several more minutes before Aragorn cautiously stood again. It seemed that, despite the folly of their many delays, they had been successful in evading the orcs.
"What was that?" Merry exclaimed softly as he rose, dusting off his coat.
"Likely a scouting party calling for reinforcements," Aragorn answered grimly.
Frodo's eyes snapped to the Ranger. "Do you think they've found Gimli and Legolas?"
"There is nothing we can do to change what is happening behind us," Boromir cut in. "No matter what has happened, this is our chance, and we cannot waste it."
The hobbits bristled at this command, and he was surprised, and gratified, when Aragorn finally voiced his agreement. "They've at least discovered our trail. That does not mean they've found Legolas and Gimli, and neither would want us to return for their sake when we have no way of knowing for certain that they are in any danger. They are resourceful. We should not doubt them. Boromir is right. Our paths have diverged from the others, and this night, our duty is to the quest, to reach the safety of Lothlórien-and we have need of haste. If they have found our trail, we will be pursued all the faster."
"Keep an eye out, there may yet be orcs scouting ahead." Boromir cautioned. They had been granted a reprieve, but he felt deep in his gut that before the night was out, they would have to stand and fight. The little folk were no warriors, and while the two men would defend them to the death, if necessary, they would not provide a lengthy protection against such a large party of orcs. Yet, if they could not, the mission would fail. He could see now that the Ring must be taken to Minas Tirith, if it was not already too late. He must persuade Aragorn of that.
Aragorn led the Company on for nearly three more hours. Their pace was quite urgent, and Boromir was glad to give speed to his restless anxiety, though their pace was yet too cautious to be frantic. He'd never been patient. That was Faramir. Faramir was the patient one, who plotted strategy and read books. He himself was more appreciative of brute strength and the decisive handling of a conflict. Why complicate matters unnecessarily?
Mist rose in the hollows and settled low over the plain. The hobbits were almost impossible to see amidst the tall grass. In the deepening night, guilt began to weigh on Boromir. The more he wrestled with his thoughts on leaving the elf, he found he both admired and cringed at Aragorn's reluctance to leave him behind. And thinking of the elf raised another worry. How was Aragorn so certain they would be allowed to enter a forbidden realm without the elven part of the Company? It had been clear from the start that it would be their destination after their crossed the Misty Mountains, but Gimli had spoken truthfully—and Boromir found it likely they would be hard pressed to be met as friends. They had heard in Gondor of that perilous land, and it was said that few come out who once went in; and of that few none escaped unscathed. Yet Aragorn spoke of it as a refuge. Now, like his protestations about Moria, it seemed that they'd given themselves only one option for retreat. A plain road through the swords of orcs seemed more certain—and more preferable-than this Golden Wood.
Aragorn's frequent backward glances as they traversed the plain had more to do, he suspected, with worry for the elf than worry for their pursuers, since they would likely hear the orcs before they ever saw them.
All they had heard for hours was the pounding of his and Aragorn's boots bruising the grasses of the plain, and the Silverlode gurgling beside them. The hobbits' feet were surprisingly quiet. There was a good chance they could sneak away undetected in the tall grass when the time came. The Company stumbled frequently over the unfamiliar and uneven terrain due to their speed, but they had not still not sighted the forest. He wasn't sure, if it were light, if he would see it looming or not. Above them, many clear stars had begun to twinkle, but the fast-waning moon would not be seen till late. It would be a dark night, and Boromir was again beginning to feel restless and exposed on the plain. He and Aragorn could be easily seen if they did not have a care, and the road lay to their right, unrolled like a carpet on the plain, the embankment now only a slight slope as the land flattened.
It was Sam who first heard the orcs' return, and to his credit, he did not stop to listen, instead picking up his pace and puffing, "They're coming, Strider." No one needed to be told to move more quickly-they all seemed to find a faster speed despite the many hours of running they had already endured. It was fortunate they had been able to ease Sam and Frodo at the dell, for there was no time now to cater to the injured.
It was some time before Boromir could hear their pursuers. Apparently hobbit ears were more sensitive than his own. Yet, after several minutes, he began to hear their movements, and as they drew closer, he could hear them talking excitedly in their guttural language. It was then Boromir realized the orcs were coming from behind them, not the road where they might pass them by a second time. They had indeed picked up their trail. The hobbits could go no faster, and the distance between the orcs and their quarry was quickly lessening. He could hear their metal armor grating from their fast pace, aided by darkness and malice.
He sensed the change in the orcs' pursuit and knew the instant they'd been spotted. There was nowhere to hide, no defensible position. He'd begun to spot a lone tree here and there, but that meant little. The wood was still an unknown distance away. Their only chance was to keep moving. If they stopped, they would be surrounded.
Retrieving his shield from its place over his pack, he slid his arm through its braces and held it at the ready. Its weight was reassuring and grounding. Already, his mind scrambled to find a strategy. Aragorn had no shield. Even if the hobbits had been seasoned warriors, by stature alone, they would be hard-pressed to defend themselves. There was a reason dwarves were so heavily armored and chose axes over swords. In trousers and coats, the hobbits were completely vulnerable, with the exception of Frodo.
Bitterness over not being able to see the ring to Minas Tirith kindled an anger within him. He'd had no intention to go to Mordor, but this was not how he wanted things to end. He wanted his city restored—the might of Gondor restored.
"Get behind us. Keep us between you and the orcs at all times."
He slowed so the stragglers would be behind him when the orcs reached him. They were innocents in all this. He wasn't happy they had been permitted to come, but he bore them no ill will. They carded through the grass until they were to his south. He and Aragorn a rear guard, they would fend the orcs off as long as possible so the hobbits could flee. Shadows approached, gradually becoming clearer in the starlight.
They stood several paces away, sizing them up. Two broke ranks to challenge them, sacrificed for a test of their strength. The clash was fierce and quick. They hardly stopped, just deflected and kept moving backward. Stop. Engage. Break free. The rage grew in his chest. They would soon be surrounded and it would be over. He could only deflect and parry. There was no time to keep track of the hobbits, even Frodo. They would have to take responsibility for staying out of the way.
A glance as he ran revealed Merry with his sword drawn. Apparently the Halflings needed to be brought up to speed on the plan. "Don't fight! You cannot win. You cannot help. Run!"
The orcs kept coming, one after the other, and-while they had no real talent with the blade-they certainly weren't laying down their lives so easily.
"You cannot mean to stand alone!" Boromir wasn't sure to which hobbit belonged the indignant and horrified voice, and for a moment rage at his failure clouded all his thoughts. Did no one understand that the orcs could not be allowed to have the Ring?
The forest loomed ahead suddenly, both sheltering and unknown. All misgivings fled at the sight of refuge, and relief unclenched in his chest as hope filtered through his anger. It was chaos. Orcs littered the ground in front of him. Aragorn kicked and parried and whirled next to him. Behind him, even Frodo got in a good jab now and then when an orc got too close, but the hobbits still weren't fleeing as they should. The tall grasses began to fade away, and with them gone, the hobbits would be sheltered no longer. A shadow dove at him from his left and he whirled his shield around to deflect the blow—that one had come from behind. Any minute they would be completely surrounded. With each pause to deflect, the orcs gained ground and more swarmed around them to take the place of those that had been slain.
Then, to his dismay, he could hear Merry and Pippin shouting over the fray and making a racket with their swords like there were ten of themselves. Boromir wanted to turn and scold them, and to see what they were up to, but he dared not divert his attention from the onslaught in front of him. He could hear them shouting. Their jesting tone perplexed him. Where those…insults? An orc horn blew again, and, to his horror, at least half of the force ahead of him broke off and gave chase to something to his left. His gut churned in horror.
"Merry?! Pippin?!" He still couldn't spare a look over his shoulder, but the silence told him all he needed to know.
He cut down another orc. They would be dead. Two helpless hobbits against fifty orcs.
"No!" Frodo's anguished cry was cut off as Sam, he supposed, clapped a hand over his mouth. Boromir's eyes stung, but the heat of battle was no time to give in to grief. Merry and Pippin had charmed him with their smiles and banter, and he could not fathom their end at the hands of orcs. From the corner of his eye, he could see the blue glow of Frodo's sword. Sam had all but tackled his master to keep him from racing after them. At least someone was keeping his head. As it was, several orcs had turned and pursued the sound. Aragorn lunged to the right and blocked them, hacking them down with a furious growl, buying the two hobbits time to slip out of sight.
The orcs had almost completely surrounded them now, and Aragorn realized it, too. If Frodo and Sam did not go now, they would be caught in the ring of orcs encircling them. If they could just get to the forest, maybe they would have a chance of evading them, but they needed to slip through before the gap closed.
"Run! Due South! Follow the Silverlode. There is another stream-cross it and keep running until a marchwarden stops you." Aragorn's words were breathless and urgent.
"And be silent, for pity's sake!" Boromir muttered, jabbing at an orc trying to slip between himself and Aragorn. Suspicion grew in his mind, and then anger. The Ranger knew far too much about this Lothlórien. He spoke as if he had been there before, yet he had not volunteered his knowledge to any of them. Boromir could only hope these strange elves would aid the Ringbearer. His thoughts darkened-and that they would not try to keep the Ring for themselves.
An instant more and the orcs had closed the circle and were pressing towards them. He couldn't see if Sam and Frodo had slipped through, and had no time to seek them out. He settled back to back with Aragorn. There was no thought, only instinct. Deflect. Parry. Deflect. Jab. He lost himself to the rhythm of the fight, and it became as if he was fighting his way out of another scrape with Faramir-Soldier of Gondor and Ranger of Ithilien.
Even with his shield, he was hard pressed to deflect the many blows. The orcs were pressed in so closely now that they were cutting each other in their attempts to breech his defenses. He barely had space to use his sword, so many were the enemy pressing against them. His left side relied entirely on his shield, and his right on his sword arm.
It would only take one jab, one false parry in the dance of battle for it all to be over. They could manage ten, twenty even, with better light, but here they'd been forced to their defenses, and they couldn't hold forever. He still hadn't caught a glimpse or heard anything of Frodo and Sam, or of Merry and Pippin. But the orcs pursuing them had yet to return to handle the men. Still, the sheer number of orcs overwhelmed them. The only saving grace was that he and Aragorn were far more accomplished in swordplay than these savages, who were neither particularly bright nor cunning.
Without room to properly swing his sword, he had to put power behind his deflections, using the force of his shield to propel the orcs backward while slashing to the right with his sword arm, but it was not enough to push them back completely…and it was causing him to tire quickly.
They need an opening to break through the orcs surrounding them. The trees were their only option if they wanted to live until morning. No words were exchanged, but singlemindedly they kicked and slashed, throwing all their weight behind each blow-putting all their strength into pushing the circle of orcs out. Separating slightly was risky, but they needed to force the orcs to spread out. The footing was difficult in the dark. Dead orcs littered the ground beneath them. One stumble, and it was very likely they wouldn't get back up.
"We must break through. Do not stop!"
An orc blade made a deep cut into his sword arm, and his sword was almost wrenched from his grip. This could not go on. Behind him, he could hear the frenzied ring of steel on steel. Aragorn had no shield, and his movements were beginning to slow. He was in real danger of being run through. There was no more time for defenses that merely knocked back one's opponent. If they were to break through, the orcs needed to go down and stay down. Maybe they would die either way, but if they didn't try, they surely would. Boromir's back was protected only as long as Aragorn's defenses held.
The orcs in front of him were quite startled when he dropped his shield, but with their pause, he was already drawing his dagger and slashing at the closest one. With a roar, he thrust his sword into the closest orc and stabbed with his dagger at the one coming up on his far left. He narrowly missed a blow that came from his right as another orc stepped into the gap. This one he also slew, leaping over its body and knocking another to the ground, and then another and another.
The risk had bought their freedom, and they both swept past the orcs encircling them and into the tree line, twisting and parrying. They couldn't stop. The orcs had thinned, unable to see them so easily, instead following the sounds of the fight as the men ran from trunk to trunk. The great gray trunks hid them in the moonlight.
If they could just get ahead enough, they might yet evade them. His lungs burned with exertion, but renewed hoped chased away his weariness.
In silence, he sprang from tree to tree. He could no longer hear Aragorn, but when he caught a glimpse of him, he saw that the man had sheathed his sword and was moving stealthily along, dagger in hand. The man had experience fighting in the trees, and Boromir found that he trusted it in the same way he trusted Faramir's skills in the woods.
His own sword handle was slick with the blood running down his arm, but he dared not stop to tend it. Though the battle was less frantic, their foes still outnumbered them, and the enemy could come on them from any direction in this wood. They would have to rely on stealth. He could only hope these strange elves that Aragorn apparently knew might hear their plight and come to their aid. Even if they were not friendly toward the men, surely they wouldn't allow orcs to roam freely over their lands? Legolas had not given him that impression when he had spoken of the plight of Mirkwood.
Following Aragorn's lead, he sheathed his sword, using his dagger to silently dispatch any orcs who stumbled in to him, never stopping long enough for them to detect him. His heart still raced from the heat of battle, and his mind was flooded with the pleasant disbelief that they might actually live.
The deeper into the forest they went, the fewer orcs they encountered, but he could see no sign of the Halflings. Under the night the trees stood tall before them, arched over the road and stream. In the dim light of the stars their stems were grey, and their quivering leaves a hint of fallow gold.
Thank you so much for reading! This chapter was difficult to write, and really stretched my skills. Any feedback would be quite welcome!
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