He gave them no time to recover from their mistake. Without checking his forward motion, Boromir crashed into the group. Those Orcs which were not knocked to the ground fell back at the unexpected attack. One of them, an archer, had raised a black bow to shoot an arrow at Boromir, but not quickly enough; Boromir slammed his shield into the Orc's face as he passed, forcing it back. He swung his sword in a wide arc in front of him, and an Orc fell headless at his feet.
Boromir turned quickly, and struck again, before the stunned Orcs could recover themselves. A stab and a thrust were sufficient to kill another, and a backhanded swing of his blade found the throat of a third. The Orc that had taken Boromir's shield to the face now rose to its feet and attacked from behind, but Boromir was ready. He ducked and turned sharply, parrying the Orc's blow. Ramming the hilt of his sword into the Orc's face, he then reversed his sword and stabbed downwards, and the Orc fell heavily. Boromir twisted the blade free and turned to meet the next attacker.
Only one Orc remained, wielding an axe; Boromir was barely able to get his shield up in time to ward off the blow. The massive axe struck the shield with a dull thud that made Boromir's ears ring, and sent a shock of pain up his arm. The axe blade stuck fast; the sudden added weight of the shield threw him off balance, and he stumbled. The Orc growled in triumph, but Boromir turned his fall forward into a lunge, and bringing his sword up in time, he drove the blade straight through his enemy. They fell together. Boromir rolled aside and scrambled to his feet, yanking his sword free for another strike, before he realized the Orc was dead. This skirmish, at least, was over.
Boromir stood for a moment, panting, catching his breath. He flexed his arm and his hand to relieve the pain from the blow to his shield, and sighed with relief; his arm was undamaged. Even now the pain was receding. He picked up his shield and uttered a sharp oath. The heavy axe had pierced the metal-bound shield and was firmly embedded in the wood beneath, so firmly that it would take time and effort to dislodge it -- not much time, perhaps, but every moment was precious if he were to find the hobbits and protect them from harm. The shield had served him well through many a battle and was an heirloom of his house; but he had no time to struggle with it, and now its strength was compromised.
Boromir threw his shield aside with an exclamation of regret, and ran on up the hill without a backwards glance. He felt a sense of urgency, and wondered if he would be in time. It seemed certain the Orcs he had just killed had been part of a group pursuing the hobbits. Merry and Pippin were not here; he had heard their voices coming from further up the hill. Even now they might be captured or killed...
He must go to them, quickly.
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, a hindrance to his progress. Fear drove him up the hill, fear that he would be too late to do anything except 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.
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? Boromir 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 pinned down 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, Boromir 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! He saw as he ran that his sword would be of no use in stopping the Orc with the axe. 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 Boromir 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 they had a moment to catch their breath.
"Well done, my hobbits," panted Boromir, sparing a quick glance and a proud smile for each of them. "We fight well together, I think. But I fear we will need help if we are to take on any more of these foul creatures."
He grasped his Horn and drew it to his lips. He blew three great blasts which rang among the trees, and echoed like a shout that could be heard even above the roaring 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, 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."
Boromir 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."
These were no ordinary Orcs, like the ones they had fought in Moria. These were Uruk-hai, a formidable breed of Orcish warriors bred by Sauron; tall as men and exceedingly strong, they fought ruthlessly by night or by day, for they did not fear the sunlight. He had met them before, many times -- in fighting on the bordors of Gondor, and at the line of defense in Osgiliath.
But what were they doing here, on this side of the River? Was the Enemy now in Rohan as well? Was the wizard Saruman involved in this attack somehow? Boromir felt a thrill of fear at the thought of Gondor caught between two enemies; threatened upon two sides.
Forget such thoughts! Boromir reminded himself sternly. There is little I can do now for Gondor, and the task at hand is quite sufficient! I will need all my wits about me if I am to save the little ones. These Uruk-hai shall not harm the hobbits, if I can prevent it! I have fought this foe many times in the past and this time is no different; I have been outnumbered before, and I have prevailed.
In a sudden flash of memory, Boromir heard his brother's voice, as if Faramir were there beside him, speaking words from another battle, another time:
"...always we are outnumbered!"
"But we fight nevertheless," had been his own resigned response. "We can do nothing else."
"Be safe, brother!" Faramir had told him fondly. "Return to me whole! Remember that you are indestructible..."
I will do what I can, my brother! Boromir thought with a grim smile. May I prove indestructible once again! He came back to the present with a pang of sorrow, feeling keenly once more his long separation from Faramir.
He leaped forward with a shout, even as a large Uruk descended the hill onto the path before him, swinging a rough sword with a hooked tip. Boromir ran to meet the attack, and the two blades met with a great ringing clang. They were both thrown back by the force of the clash, but the Uruk recovered first, pressing the attack again with broad, hard strokes of the sword. Boromir parried each cut and thrust, but he could not gain the advantage. The Uruk suddenly ducked under Boromir's blade, grabbing him in an iron grip like pincers. Boromir struggled fiercely, trying to kick himself free; they grappled together for a long moment, before Boromir was finally able to free himself from the crushing grip. He smashed the guard of his sword into the face of his foe, and then swung his blade quickly around as the Uruk lurched sideways, cutting deep into its leg. The Uruk toppled, and a downward stab of Boromir's sword finished the fight.
Boromir was given no time to catch his breath, however, for more Uruk-hai had advanced to the attack. The woods rang with the sound of clashing swords, and the forest floor was soon littered with the black bodies of Uruk-hai soldiers. Boromir fought fiercely, and -- as more and more of the enemy entered the fray -- he fought more and more desperately.
For 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?
Boromir 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, 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.
He sounded the Horn again, but the call was cut short as a black form lunged at him. Boromir dropped his Horn, and knocked the Uruk's blade back with a powerful blow from his own sword. Bringing his blade up and over, he cut downward sharply, slicing cleanly through the Uruk's arm. Black blood spurted as the arm fell away. The Uruk staggered sideways, and fell; Boromir thrust his sword in as it rolled on the ground, and his foe did not rise again.
But as his back was turned, a second Uruk ran forward and jumped him, knocking him to the ground. Boromir's sword flew out of his hand and stuck in the ground a few feet away. Boromir twisted in the grip of his foe and grabbed at its sword arm before the blade could be brought down. They struggled and rolled in the leaves and bracken. The Uruk soldier was strong, but Boromir was desperate, and fear at the thought of the hobbits' danger lent him strength. He kicked his way free and managed to wrest the black blade away, turning on his attacker and killing it with a thrust to the throat.
He saw a flurry of movement out of the corner of his eye as he scrambled to his feet and looked frantically about for his sword. It was Pippin, leaping out of nowhere, straight at the throat of a huge Uruk fighter. It had come up behind Boromir, and had been about to stab him in the back. Merry ran to the aid of his kinsman, and between the two of them, the Uruk was quickly killed by deft thrusts of their small swords.
Boromir had no time to praise them for their timely rescue, for another adversary was coming at him; seeing his sword, he caught up it up with barely enough time to parry the thrust aimed at him, and knocked the Uruk back with a punch to its helmet. The Uruk fell backward, and before it could regain its feet, Boromir attacked. Reversing his sword, he gripped the hilt with two hands and stabbed downwards, impaling the Uruk and pinning it to the ground. He felt a moment of panic as the blade stuck in the body, and he struggled to free it.
It came free at last, and Boromir turned, ready for the next attack. As he pushed his dripping hair from of his eyes, the hobbits were suddenly there beside him.
"Boromir, are you all right?" said Merry, the question sharp in his voice. "You're bleeding!"
Boromir looked down, and saw with surprise that there was indeed fresh blood on his tunic and his sleeve, glistening red in the sun.
"It is nothing, Merry," replied Boromir, shaking his head. "A cut or two from a black sword... it is nothing. I am not in pain."
"What shall we do, Boromir?" Pippin cried, as he gripped Boromir's arm and pointed up the hill. "Look!"
Boromir looked where Pippin was pointing, and caught his breath in a gasp of dismay. Hordes of Uruk soldiers were flowing down the hillside like a flood of black water. There were so many! So many!
He grasped at Pippin, then 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 -- but still they came on.
Have Merry and Pippin gotten free? he wondered as he fought, for he had no chance even to glance back for an instant. Please...let them be away, let them be safe!
Boromir 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.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, he was free of the press of the enemy, and had room to move. Uruk soldiers were falling all around him, as if stricken, but he had not had a hand in it. Boromir swung round quickly and saw to his dismay that the hobbits were there, close by; they had thrown down their weapons and now stood behind him with stones in their hands, throwing them at the Uruk-hai.
A great wave of fear and anger threatened to overwhelm Boromir. I told them to run! he raged helplessly. Why have they disobeyed me and put themselves in danger? They could have gone free...
Just as suddenly, his anger died, to be replaced by weary sadness. Tears stung his eyes.
They would not have gotten free, he realized. There was no escape. Even if they reached the lakeshore, they would be followed and trapped there; even if they took to the boats, the current was too strong for them to return up the River, and there was no safety on the Eastern shore.
Boromir's heart swelled within him with love and pride for Merry and Pippin. The hobbits had not run in fear, but had chosen rather to remain with him; they were defending him, as they were able, in the same way that he was defending them. They did not want to see him overwhelmed, even as he could not bear to see them taken by the enemy. And they were good marksmen! Their stones were helping, giving him the breathing space he needed to be able to recover his advantage.
All these thoughts flashed through his mind in the briefest of moments, as his jaw set and he faced the advancing army again with renewed determination.
Their valor shall not be wasted! Boromir vowed. I can do this! We may yet win free...
He attacked again, swinging his sword mightily with both hands. Uruk-hai fell back, as Boromir sent shields flying, and knocked the blades from black hands with the fury of his attack. Merry and Pippin continued to pelt the Uruk army with stones, aiming always for the face; Uruk soldiers fell, stunned by the shock of the rocks on their helmets and in their faces, and Boromir was able to finish them off with a stroke and a stab of his blade.
Somewhere in his heart and mind, Boromir knew he could not sustain such an effort for long. He began to tire, and his limbs felt very heavy. He bellowed in defiance at his weakness, and fought all the harder, as if to deny the fact that he was growing weary. The noon sun beat down on him through the trees, and it was hot; the sweat rolled down his face, soaking his hair the more and stinging the cuts and bruises on his face.
He shouted again, and pressed forward, and another Uruk soldier fell.
Boromir paused in a desperate attempt to catch his breath.
A moment, one moment is all I need... All I need, to take a deep breath and rest my arms...
He did not lower his sword, but he relaxed his grip slightly on the hilt, and the release of tension brought relief to his aching muscles.
Sensing Merry and Pippin behind him, Boromir turned slightly as if to speak to them, but what he had been about to say was lost, his words cut short by a sudden rush of sound and a blow to his chest, the sheer force of which knocked him back so that he staggered and almost fell.
What is this? he thought numbly, and anger swirled within his shock. An arrow? An arrow, out of nowhere!
Boromir could not keep from crying out, for the pain was intense. He staggered again, stunned, gasping for breath that would not come.
No! Boromir protested desperately, but he had no breath to speak it aloud. No... this cannot be happening... Not now...
He choked, and another groan of pain escaped his lips before he could stop it. His sword began to slip from his fingers, but he clenched them tight so the blade would not fall, even as weakness overwhelmed him and he dropped to his knees.
In the deep, heavy silence which now blanketed Boromir's world, only two sounds reached his ears: the fierce, triumphant growl of an Uruk soldier somewhere above him on the hill, and the soft moaning of small hobbits who did not even realize they wept.