The Son of Gondor

by Linaewen

Chapter 38

Boromir could scarcely believe what he had just heard. Frodo alive? How was that possible? He stepped quickly forward to where the Company had gathered around the prostrate form of Frodo. Looking over Gandalf's shoulder, he saw that Frodo was sitting up, holding his hand to his side; he looked dazed, and slightly surprised, but he was indeed alive.

"I'm all right," he said breathlessly. "I'm not badly hurt; bruised, but it is not too bad."

Aragorn stared at Frodo in amazement.

"You should be dead!" he exclaimed. "That spear would have skewered a wild boar!"

"Well, it did not skewer me, I am glad to say," replied Frodo, drawing a deep, careful breath. "Though I do feel as if I had been caught between a hammer and an anvil!"

"You take after Bilbo," said Gandalf with amusement. "There is more to you than meets the eye, as I said of him long ago."

A sound in the hallway behind them caught Boromir's attention. He laid a hand on Gandalf's shoulder.

"They are coming," he said quietly. "If we do not run for it now, we will lose our last chance to escape."

Gandalf looked back towards the hallway for an instant, then met Boromir's glance and nodded.

"To the Bridge of Khazad-dum!" he cried.

Gandalf sprang forward and led the way out of the chamber, through a gaping hole in the back wall near the place where Frodo had lain. Legolas was at his elbow, and Boromir followed close behind. Aragorn and Sam had helped Frodo to his feet as the others passed by; Boromir spared a glance for the hobbits as he ran, to be certain they were following. They were right behind him, with Gimli, and Aragorn came last as the rearguard.

As they ran, Boromir saw with dismay that orcs by the thousands were coming after them from all sides. They bounded up out of gaping cracks in the floor, and swarmed down from the ceiling, leaping down the stone pillars from the roof like a legion of spiders. Gandalf seemed to know where he was going, and he led the way with confidence, yet there seemed to be little hope that they could outrun the host that followed.

Gandalf slowed, then stopped; the way was cut off. They were surrounded. The Company formed a circle, swords and bow at the ready. Though they were only nine against a multitude, they would not give up without a fight. Grinning orcs growled and shrieked at them as they slowly drew in the circle. There was no escape. Boromir tightened his grip on his sword and tensed himself for the attack that would surely come at any moment. He wondered how many orcs he could kill before he was himself killed...

A sudden, strange sound filled the cavern, like the sound of sliding gravel or dragging chains, or the growl of some huge beast. The Company drew closer together and looked about with uncertainty. The orcs shrieked and gabbled, shuffling their feet fearfully. Boromir was startled at their reaction. What was this that brought such fear to the enemy? The sound came again, and off to the left at the far end of the cavern, a red fiery glow could be seen. It waxed and grew, as it moved towards them. Something was approaching.

The orcs shrieked again in fear and agitation, milling about anxiously. Without warning, as if they had received some silent signal, they suddenly turned and ran, leaping over one another in their haste to get away. Gimli shouted out in exultation at the retreat of the horde, but Boromir was apprehensive; though the orcs had fled, he knew they were still in danger. He turned slowly to watch the approaching glow over Gandalf's shoulder.

"What is this new devilry?" he said in a low voice. Gandalf hunched his shoulders and leaned on his staff. Boromir's throat went suddenly dry and he swallowed hard; beside him, Legolas slowly lowered his bow. Aragorn turned and looked at Gandalf with growing fear in his eyes.

"A Balrog," replied Gandalf heavily, when at last he spoke. "A demon of the ancient world. What an evil fortune! And I am already weary."

Boromir's heart sank at the flat tone of Gandalf's voice. He sensed Legolas tense suddenly at the name, and Gimli muttered under his breath; they knew what this thing was. Gandalf raised his head and looked down the length of the room towards that which approached.

"This foe is beyond any of you!" he cried suddenly. "Run!"

Boromir and the rest of the Company sprang after Gandalf, who led them away from the Balrog to a doorway at the opposite side of the hall. Boromir reached the doorway first and paused for a moment, to be certain the others were following. He held up his torch; the passage descended to a flight of steps, that went sharply downwards, to a small landing and a turn. Boromir took the lead now, descending the steps as quickly as he could, sometimes two at a time, stepping sideways so as not to trip and fall headlong. He could hear the others behind him as he came to the landing and turned, following the stairs down.

He came to another landing where the stairs seemed to go in two directions. Boromir glanced to his right briefly as he continued running straight ahead; he looked forward just in time to stop himself at the edge of a precipice where the stairs ended suddenly. He shouted in fear as he swayed on the edge; his torch flew from his hand and hurtled down, down into the depths. Far below, another chasm opened, on the edge of which many fires were burning. Heat from below smote Boromir in the face as he teetered on the brink of the chasm.

Boromir flailed his arms, struggling to keep himself from pitching into the depths. His shield slipped forward on its strap, and he yanked his arm back to keep it from sliding off, but it threw him off balance. I am going over! he thought in despair.

Just as he knew without any doubt that he was falling forward and over the edge, he felt arms around him, pulling him back. It was Legolas. They fell backwards together, and lay entangled for a moment before scrambling to their feet. Boromir was speechless with relief; he gripped Legolas' shoulder gratefully.

Gandalf came stumbling down the stairs; shaken, he leaned against the wall to catch his breath.

"Well, well! That's over!" he said with an effort.

"Gandalf!" cried Aragorn. He gripped the wizard's arm in concern.

"I must rest here a moment," said Gandalf, "even if all the orcs ever spawned are after us."

"What has happened?"

"I stayed back to see if there was a way to close off the passage behind us," said Gandalf wearily. "but I was prevented by that which follows. I have done all that I could, but I have met my match, and have nearly been destroyed! I have never felt so spent! But do not stand here, go on!"

"I will cover our retreat, you go on with the others."

"No, Aragorn! You lead them on!" gasped Gandalf. "The bridge is near!"

A rattling growl echoed in the stairwell. Aragorn brandished his sword and made to push past Gandalf, but Gandalf pushed him back impatiently. Boromir was as surprised as Aragorn at the wizard's vehemence; Aragorn stared at Gandalf in shock.

"Do as I say!" cried Gandalf fiercely. "Swords are no more use here!"

Gandalf gestured to Boromir, who needed no more urging. He pushed forward and Aragorn followed. The hobbits were in front, but Boromir cut ahead of them at the turn of the stair. Legolas leaped down from above to catch up with him. Together they led the Company down the narrow stairs that led across the fiery depths. Boromir stumbled as he reached the next landing, and fell to his knee, but he was quickly up again and running forward.

Boromir slowed and put his arms out to hold back Merry and Pippin, who were following him closely. Ahead he could see a break in the path, where a part of the stonework had fallen away, leaving a gap some five or six feet across. Boromir stopped, but Legolas did not hesitate. He leaped lightly across and turning, beckoned to Gandalf.

"Gandalf!" he called urgently.

Gandalf hesitated. From behind them came a roar and the thud of heavy footfalls. Stones fell from the roof, and the narrow stairway shook under their feet. Gandalf looked back briefly, then turning, he gathered his robes and jumped. Legolas held out his arms and steadied the wizard as he landed on the other side.

As he landed, there came a whistling in the air, and an arrow shot by close to Boromir's face. He ducked and looked up; far above and across the cavern he could see many orc archers gathered. He quickly sheathed his sword as another arrow hit at his feet. Pippin and Merry both jumped back, startled. Boromir moved to shield them, all the while keeping a close eye on the enemy above.

Legolas put up his bow quickly, and let loose an arrow. An orc archer dropped and fell over the edge. As he watched it fall, Boromir felt the stairway tremble again and shift under his feet. Sudden terror seized him as he realized what was happening. Boromir stepped back quickly and gripped Pippin in one hand and Merry in the other. Shifting his grip, he pulled them to him tightly.

A cry of "Merry! Pippin!" was all he had time for before he sprang forward with a wordless shout of effort in a great leap across the gap. Even as his foot left the edge, the stairs crumbled beneath him and dropped into the darkness. Boromir landed squarely on the other side with room to spare. He released his grip on the hobbits, but Merry and Pippin remained huddled close to him, their faces white with fear at their narrow escape.

"Sam!" called Aragorn; Sam ran up beside him, and before he had a chance to even cry out, Aragorn had picked him up and thrown him across the gap. Boromir caught him and set him firmly on his feet; Sam's eyes were round in his pale face as he turned back to look for Frodo.

Aragorn turned then to Gimli, but the Dwarf held up his hand in protest. He obviously thought it beneath his dignity to be tossed across the gap. He turned, and before anyone could stop him, he jumped across. Gimli's foot slipped on the edge, and he would have fallen back into the abyss had not Legolas reached out and pulled him back up by his beard.

It was only left for Aragorn and Frodo to make the crossing, but before they could make a move, the section upon which they stood cracked and crumbled away beneath them. As he fell, Aragorn pushed Frodo back away from the edge. They scrambled on their hands and knees in a frantic attempt to get back to solid ground.

Boromir caught his breath as Aragorn hung for one tense moment before finally swinging his feet up onto the narrow path that remained. Aragorn stood and looked back across at Boromir. A wide gulf lay between them that was now impossible to cross. Aragorn and Frodo were trapped on the wrong side.