'Pippin, we're lost' said Merry when he had got his breath back. They had run and walked for nearly an hour and were now almost spent, and had no idea where they were. All around them the late autumn woods stretched away, thick drifts of golden leaves and mottled grey and black tree trunks. Every direction looked the same. They knew downhill led to the river, but where was the landing stage?
Pippin said nothing, but Merry felt him draw closer as if for comfort. It was Pippin who had run off into the woods when they had realised Frodo was missing, but Merry had not had the heart to blame him for getting them lost, as he had run off after him. He had heard Aragorn shouting to them to come back but he had wanted so desperately to find Frodo he had not heeded him. What would Aragorn say to them when he found them, if he hever found them? What would Gandalf have said, if he had been here? Fool of a Brandybuck, probably.
They had lost their bearings quickly. The land was deceptive, broken up into hollows and dry streams, with stands of trees growing so thickly they had to skirt a long way round. There were ruins,long flights of stone steps that led nowhere and walls half buried in the ground. The light was fading, it was getting on for late afternoon. There was no sign of the others.
'What will we do?' said Pippin when he had got his breath back. He was smaller and faster than Merry, but the ground was broken with hidden masonry and roots and fallen branches, and they were both footsore and Pippin was limping.
'Well it is downhill to the river, we'll just go that way. When we get to the bank we can go along it till we find the camp....' even as Merry spoke, he thought he could hear some noise, a sort of din of voices and crashing through the trees, but uphill not towards the river. Pippin could hear it too. They fell silent and strained their ears. The sound came and went as if in and out of the trees. They both knew it was not their friends and as it grew louder Merry said 'Let's get under cover, Pip, I don't think I like the sound of this...' the ground where they were was very broken, there were fallen stones and trees all about. They took refuge under a fallen trunk so deeply covered in leaves it looked like the ground around it. It was a narrow gap, but enough for hobbits. They could only see downhill, however and as the sounds gradually grew louder they found themselves wondering with alarm what was happening beyond the hill; there were the unmistakable sounds of battle, the ring of blade on blade and shouting. It came nearer and they heard hoarse voices they recognised from Moria. 'Orcs!' Gasped Pippin. Merry gripped his arm firmly and motioned him to silence. Then they heard someone running down the hill, but it was not the shod feet of an orc. Suddenly Frodo hurtled past their hiding place, running wildly and hardly seeing where he was going, his grey elven cloak streaming out behind him. He stumbled and fell in a shower of leaves. There was a thunder behind Merry and Pippin's hiding place and Frodo scrambled on all fours to the shelter of a tree just as a pack of orcs charged past.
Pippin stared at them in dismay; these were not the crouching, scuttling leprously pale orcs of Moria, but great dark-skinned powerful creatures, taller than men. They called to each other in their hoarse voices as they galloped down the hill like a pack of great black hounds on the hunt of some wounded deer.
Somehow they missed Frodo. With his grey-green elven cloak wrapped around him and crouched among the roots of the great tree he was almost invisible. He leaned against the tree and closed his eyes.
'Frodo!' called Merry 'Frodo!' Frodo raised his head and looked about in alarm, then looked up the hill and saw them. 'Hide here, hide here!' The tree was no shelter, he would be found. Merry gestured impatiently to him 'Hide here!'
But Frodo stayed where he was. He looked at Merry for a long moment, his face full of pain. 'Is he hurt?' Merry thought to himself. Then Frodo shook his head and Merry understood. 'What is it?' said Pippin to him 'What is wrong?' Merry looked for words but it was hard and bitter to say. 'He's leaving' he said. Leaving us, after all that has happened. Leaving us behind, going on alone. A suspicion Merry had had, and he knew Sam had as well, was dredged out of his memory just then, Frodo was going to Mordor and he did not want to take them with him. 'But that's why we came!' thought Merry. Beside him the same thought came to Pippin, but he could not bear it. Jumping up he shouted 'No!' and ran down the hill to where Frodo was. Merry shot out a hand to stop him but his fingers brushed the silvery material of the elven cloak and slipped off it, and Pippin was out in the open in full sight of the orcs at the top of the hill.
Merry jumped after him and seized his arm. Pippin stopped for now he saw the orcs all along the ridge. They had not seen them yet but they would. Frodo was looking at them in horror. They would give him away as well as themselves. Merry took a good hold of Pippin's arm. This was their chance to do something that was not foolish for a change, help Frodo instead of hindering him. They had nothing to lose. Merry raised an arm and shouted at the orcs 'Hey, over here!'
The orcs stopped in their tracks. Heads turned to look in their direction. They could not understand what the hobbit was saying, but there were the halflings they had been sent to hunt. And the little rats were taunting them. With a roar of anger and anticipation they swept down the hill after Merry and Pippin. They could easily make them out despite the elven cloaks, Merry's yellow waistcoat was like a beacon.
In the heartbeat before they took off in flight, Merry looked at Frodo. 'Run, Frodo!' he said and that was the only farewell they had time for. They did not see the look of grief and gratitude on Frodo's face. As the orcs pursued his cousins Frodo said a silent and heartbroken goodbye and slipped away down the hill to the river.
Merry glanced back once then just ran on as fast as he could. He knew the orcs were gaining on them. Pippin, usually faster than him, was stumbling and tripping. He gripped his arm and hauled him along, as far as they could get away from Frodo. 'It's working!' gasped Pippin 'I know it's working!' Merry answered. Pick up your feet, Pippin!
The land sloped down to a dry water course. There were many canals and porterages along this part of the bank of the river, once busy with traffic but now overgrown and fallen into ruin. This watercourse was crossed by a little bridge, its stones covered with moss. Merry and Pippin ran blindly across it. Pippin glanced back to see the orcs nearly at the bottom of the hill. Then he stumbled to a halt behind Merry, who had stopped. On the far side of the bridge were more orcs, running down the slope to cut them off. They had nowhere to go, they were surrounded. Merry seized Pippin and held him tightly. Pippin clung to Merry. One orc drew ahead of the others, wielding a longhandled axe. Saruman's conditioning had not reached into all the dark recesses of his limited consciousness and in the excitement of the chase he had fogotten the order not to harm the halflings. With a snarl he swung the axe up but the blow never landed; a grey shape fell on him like a great wolf and wrenched the handle of the axe from his grip and swinging it up clove down through helmet and skull and he pitched off the bridge into the river bed.
It was Boromir. He looked back over his shoulder at the hobbits. His face was white and his eyes blazed. He did not look like the man they knew. 'Run!' was all he said to them. Merry looked behind him. The orcs on the far side had drawn back. This tall man was not their idea of sport, but no escape lay that way. Merry drew his sword and so did Pippin. The light falling through the trees caught the red letters on the barrow-wight's blade. The orcs pursuing Merry and Pippin caught the glint of weapons and swerved to a halt at the end of the bridge, running into each other and trying to back off, but not before Boromir had laid into them two-handed with his sword, like a boy beheading thistledown in a summer field. The orcs scrambled away and regrouped, yammering at each other and at Boromir, swinging their own straight-bladed swords at him as they advanced again in a rush.
At the end of the bridge there were the ruins of an arch and the hooded statue of a king. The hands had been knocked off and the face defiled by orcs but now Boromir took a stand with the statue on his left and the hobbits on his right and fought off the orcs as they charged him. Unable to get around his guard they were hewn down until they could not advance over their own fallen. Tripping and retreating, they attacked again and again, and all the time over the top of the hill more orcs came. Boromir looked around and the enemy were everywhere. Taking one hand off his sword he raised the horn slung at his belt and blew on it, once and then again. The sound rang through the woods.
Then Pippin, with his sharp hobbit eyes, saw a figure advance over the top of the hill, silhouetted against the winter light. It was an orc, larger than all the others, moving slowly and with determination towards the sound of fighting. He paused on the top of the hill. He had a white mark on his broad flat face, and carried a great bow and a quiver of black-feathered arrows. When he saw the fight and the dead orcs lying around Boromir he bared his tusks in a snarl. Then suddenly he raised his head and seemed to smell the air. Pippin realised that he had seen them, the hobbits. The creature turned his head and hissed at the orcs behind and beside him, and they shrank away. Then he began to walk slowly down the hill, stopped and reaching back took out a black arrow and notched it to his bow, drawing a bead on it with his yellow wolf's eye.
Boromir was still fighting two-handed. Then he realised that the orcs had drawn away from him. Exhausted, he let his sword tip fall to the thick carpet of fallen leaves. With a warrior's sudden misgiving, he looked up the hill but the sunlight slanting through the trees blinded him and he did not see the orc raise his bow or loose the arrow with a snarl.
The hobbits standing behind Boromir did not see the arrow strike, but they saw Boromir stagger backwards and fall to his knees. To Pippin's horror he saw a black-feathered shaft sticking out from Boromir's chest. A sudden silence fell as the orcs gauged their quarry. Thinking it was safe, they ran forward but Boromir was on his feet again before they could reach him and beat them off. Then that dull whistling sound and another arrow came winging down the hill.
This time Pippin did not think Boromir would get up again. He fell at the foot of the statue, the old king's stone face unseeing and unmoved. The orcs drew off into a circle, not moving or making any sound, just waiting. Boromir looked up at Merry and Pippin. The wild look was gone out of his eyes and he was the Boromir they had known. A memory flashed into Pippin's mind of the first time he had seen Boromir, in Rivendell, standing beside Aragorn, just as proud and tall as the king. Merry remembered him laughing when they wrestled him to the ground at the camp on the mountain. Now he looked at the hobbits as if asking something of them, but no words came. There was a rustle in the leaves behind him and Boromir turned as quickly as he still could to parry the blows of two orcs stealing forward to finish him off. As they fell and scrambled away Pippin raised his eyes to the figure in the hill and saw it take careful aim and loose another arrow, and knew it was the end.
Merry could stand it no more and picking up his sword from where he had dropped it on the mossy bridge he gave a cry and charged wildly up the slope towards the crowd of orcs. Pippin hesitated for a moment then took up his sword and ran after him.
The orcs briefly parted when they saw them then closed in with a roar. One blocked Pippin's way but swung his sword aside and tried to seize the hobbit instead. Pippin stabbed his hand with his barrow-wight blade and the orc snatched it away from him with a howl. Then from behind an orc grabbed Pippin around the neck and picked him up off his feet. He dropped his sword and held onto the sinewy forearm, fighting for breath. In the corner of his eye he saw Merry bring his sword down on an orc's wrist and cut off its hand. There was a fury of screeching and another orc batted Merry on the side of his head with an armoured fist, knocking him down then snatching him up.
With his face pressed against the orc's stinking leather armour, Pippin realised they were being taken captive. Over the creature's shoulder he could still see Boromir, on his knees. The orc captain had advanced to a few paces in front of him, his yellow eyes gleaming and his fangs bared in a snarl of triumph. With a great effort Boromir raised his head and met the orc's gaze with his grey eyes. For a long moment Saruman's dark lieutenant and the son of the Steward of Gondor looked at each other in silence. Then the orc slowly raised its bow again.
Trees came between them then and Pippin saw Boromir no more.