Boromir was at Aragorn's side in an instant, peering out into the darkness. The howling of the wolves came to them distantly on the wind.
"How close?" he said quietly to Aragorn.
"Not close...not yet. But they are coming."
Boromir's face set grimly.
"Need we wait until morning then, to decide on our road?" cried Gandalf. "The hunt is up! Even if we live to see the dawn, I do not think any of us will wish to journey south with the wild wolves on our trail!"
"How far is Moria?" asked Boromir.
"There was a door southwest of Caradhras, some fifteen miles as the crow flies, maybe twenty as the wolf runs," answered Gandalf.
"Then let us start as soon as it is light, if we can," said Boromir. "The wolf that one hears is worse than the orc that one fears!"
"True!" agreed Aragorn as he loosened his sword in his sheath. "But where the warg howls, there also the orc prowls."
Boromir felt a tug at his sleeve. Looking down, he saw Merry looking anxiously up at him. Boromir smiled encouragingly at him.
"It will be all right, Merry," he said, trying to put more confidence in his voice than he felt.
"I'm no good here," he heard Pippin mutter behind him. "I feel wretched! These howls freeze my blood!"
"My heart's right down in my toes, too, Mr. Pippin," responded Sam. "But we ain't eaten yet, and there're some stout folk here with us. Whatever may be in store for old Gandalf, I'll wager it ain't a wolf's belly!"
"You are right, Sam," said Boromir, turning and laying a reassuring hand on each hobbit shoulder. "Do not fear, Pippin. You will come to no harm as long as I am with you, and can prevent it."
Boromir turned to the others.
"Come!" he commanded. "We must set up a defense before the wolves reach us. Let us move to the crown of the hill and light a fire; there is no hope of remaining secret in the darkness. The hunting pack needs no light to find our trail."
He suddenly realized he had taken charge without thinking, and he turned quickly to Gandalf.
"Go on, then!" said Gandalf before he could speak. Gandalf gently prodded the hobbits, who seemed to be frozen in place. "Boromir is right. Get your things, quickly now!" They sprang away, and Gandalf turned to Boromir.
"Do not regret your words," he said quietly. "You are a warrior and leader of men; you have fought wolves in the wild and you know what you are doing. Order our defenses as you see fit."
Boromir nodded gratefully. Without another word he signalled for Legolas and Aragorn to keep close to the hobbits, and to Gimli to join him in gathering firewood.
The top of the hill was crowned with a few old and twisted trees, around which lay a broken circle of stones. They lit a fire in the midst of the circle, and sat around it in silence. The howling was all around them, sometimes sounding near, sometimes further off. Bill the pony started nervously and trembled where he stood. Sam tried to comfort him, but to no avail.
As the night drew on, the hobbits dozed. The others took turns patrolling the hilltop. Boromir sat with his sword drawn and laid across his knees.
Wargs! thought Boromir as he poked at the fire. He had heard tales of such things from the old men who had fought many hard battles against Sauron and his orcs. The soldiers said they were evil spirits that took the shape of large wolves. They were intelligent, viscious, and very formidable. And here we are, he thought, caught in the wild with only a few stones between us and the evil creatures.
Boromir looked over at Aragorn and saw that he was watching him. Aragorn seemed to know what he was thinking. Then he glanced back at the hobbits to be certain they could not hear him before he spoke.
"I suppose it is too much to hope that these are ordinary wolves and not Wargs?" he said in a low voice.
"I do not know, but I fear the the worst," answered Aragorn.
"Can they be harmed by normal weapons?"
"I have heard that it is possible to kill them, though I have no experience first-hand." Aragorn cocked his head at a fierce howl that sounded particularly close. "We shall know soon enough."
"We must say nothing to the little ones," said Boromir. "It is hard enough for them to think of wolves in the dark. If they knew what they were facing, they would be terrified."
"Yet they have faced worse evil in the dark, and lived to tell the tale," Aragorn added. "Little ones, yes, but brave when bravery is needed."
In the dead of night, without warning, many glowing eyes shone out, peering over the brow of the hill. One pair of eyes advanced to the edge of the stone circle; a great dark wolf-shape could be seen dimly in the firelight. He gazed at them, unblinking, threatening and silent. Suddenly, a shuddering howl broke from him, as if he were the leader calling his pack to the kill. The hobbits started awake at the fearful sound.
Gandalf leapt to his feet and advanced. He swung his staff around and pointed it at the wolf.
"Hound of Sauron!" he cried loudly. "I am Gandalf! Fly, if you value your foul skin! I will shrivel you from tail to snout, if you come within this ring!"
With a snarl, the wolf leapt forward. As he sprang, there was the sharp sound of a bow being loosed; Legolas was on guard. His arrow flew straight and true, piercing the shaggy throat. The leaping shape fell heavily to the ground; the watching eyes were suddenly extinguished. Gandalf and Aragorn strode forward, but there was no sign of the pack; they had fled. The night was suddenly silent, except for the soft moaning of the wind.
The night was growing old, and the setting moon was shining out through the breaking clouds. The hobbits were struggling to stay awake. The attack came suddenly, with a fierce howling and yelping all around the camp. Wargs leapt in from all sides at once.
Boromir and Aragorn sprang to their feet, their swords up and swinging. Gimli stood his ground and swung his axe like a scythe, keeping the wolves from reaching the hobbits.
"Fling fuel on the fire!" shouted Gandalf to the hobbits. "Draw your swords and stand back to back!"
Frodo quickly grabbed a fagot of wood in each hand and flung them on the fire. The fire blazed up; in its light many grey shapes could be seen bounding over the ring of stones. Through the throat of one huge leader Aragorn passed his sword with a thrust; with a great sweep Boromir hewed the head off another. Beside them Gimli stood with his stout legs apart, wielding his axe. The bow of Legolas sang in the night.
The attack had come so suddenly that Boromir had had no time to catch up his shield, though he had laid it ready to hand. He grabbed it up quickly and held it out before him. With shield in hand he now felt more at ease, even in the midst of the ferocious battle. The shield offered him effective protection to the front and to the side, and he was able to fend off the leaping wargs on one hand, while wielding his sword with the other. He entered the thick of the battle with assurance and a cry of defiance.
The fight raged on. Out of the corner of his eye, even as he fought, Boromir noticed with approval that the hobbits were holding their own against the wargs that managed to get past Gimli. Yet more and more came in a never-ending wave. Are they directing their attack at the hobbits? Boromir wondered suddenly.
He had no time for further thought, for a great grey shape bounded snarling up out of the darkness, knocking Gimli aside, and headed straight for Pippin. With a wordless shout, Boromir launched himself at the wolf. His leap knocked the wolf flying; before it could recover, he plunged his sword into its side.
Gandalf seemed to suddenly grow, rising up, a great menacing figure. He stooped and lifted a burning branch from the fire, and strode to meet the wargs. They fell back before him. He tossed the burning wood up into the air, and as it fell, he shouted out in a strange tongue with a voice like thunder. The burning branch flared suddenly bright. The trees above him burst suddenly into flame with a roar and a crackle. The entire hill was ablaze with light that shown brightly on the swords and knives of the Company. The last arrow of Legolas kindled in the air as it flew, and plunged burning into the heart of a great wolf-chieftain. The others turned and fled.
The defenders remained tense and alert upon the hilltop as the fire died slowly and fell to ash and sparks. When dawn gleamed dimly on the horizon, they relaxed. The wolves would not return. The battle was won.
In the full light of the morning they saw that there was no trace of the wolves to be found, and they searched in vain for the bodies of the dead. The only evidence of the fierce fight was the charred remains of the trees on the hill and the undamaged arrows of Legolas lying on the ground.
Boromir and Aragorn shared a silent, meaningful look as Gandalf surveyed the scene grimly.
"It is as I feared," said Gandalf, catching their look, and nodding. "These were no ordinary wolves hunting for food in the wilderness. Let us eat quickly and go!"
They took their meal cold, some sitting and some standing. They were soon on their way; Gandalf led them quickly over the rough hills towards the mountain wall to the southeast. Gimli walked ahead with him, eager to reach Moria, but Boromir fell back so he could walk with the hobbits.
"Well done, my hobbits," he said proudly. "You fought well, and bravely."
Frodo smiled and inclined his head to Boromir; the others grinned with pleasure at his words of praise.
"Thanks for looking after me back there, Boromir," said Pippin.
Boromir smiled at him and laid a hand on Pippin's shoulder.
"I said you would come to no harm if I could prevent it." Boromir gripped Pippin's shoulder briefly. "No doubt we will fight again before this journey is over; rest assured that I will be there again if you need me. Come now, my hobbits, we are lagging behind. Let us catch up with the others.