But here it is at last, the next chapter in the tale of Boromir's return to Gondor:
The air was heavy with the murk of Mordor, and the darkness under the trees was thick and close. As he picked his way carefully forward, Boromir found himself thankful for the lantern he carried. Even though it was partially shrouded to obscure the light as much as possible, it was stilll sufficient to prevent him from stumbling over tree roots or the uneven ground. He was cautious as he moved through the surrounding gloom, as he also remained alert to the danger of possible attack; word from the scouts that the enemy had taken the road west of Amon Dîn and that evil Men and Orcs were approaching to within a few leagues of their camp was grim news. Boromir knew that an assault could come at any time, and it would not do to let down his defenses simply because he was now surrounded by a host of Rohirrim warriors.
Even so, when the attack came, he was unprepared.
Out of the darkness flew a small form, grabbing him tightly about the waist. Stifling a shout, Boromir dropped his lantern and clutched at his attacker. But his grip quickly turned into an embrace when he realized who it was that held him.
"Merry!" Boromir cried, his voice suddenly hoarse with emotion. "Merry...."
"Boromir!" Merry laughed, his voice muffled as he pressed his face against Boromir and tightened his arms around him. "I'm sorry if I startled you, but I couldn't wait another minute! I saw your lantern and knew it was you. I couldn't stop myself running to you to surprise you!" Merry drew back suddenly and pulled away. "But I forgot, you were wounded by those Orcs. I didn't even think about your wounds, are you all right? I didn't hurt you just now, did I?"
Boromir laughed in reply. "Fear not, Merry! I am not so fragile as that. In any case, a hug from you can bring only healing, not hurt. I assure you, I am well, and my wounds do not trouble me. Come, fetch me that lantern you made me drop before it sets the undergrowth ablaze, and you shall see for yourself. I want a good look at you, as well!"
Stooping, Merry grasped the lantern and handed it to Boromir who held it high. The silence between them was long as each one drank in the sight of the other.
"You do look like you feel all right," Merry said, relieved. "I'm not sure I quite believe you, though, that your wounds don't trouble you! But I guess you wouldn't really admit it if they did, would you?"
"I would not!" Boromir laughed, and Merry grinned at the sound.
"Your laughter is more proof of your healing than the look of you," Merry commented. "You sound happy, and it shows in your face, too."
"My heart is lighter than it has been in a long time, little one," Boromir replied. "Much of that is due to seeing you whole once again, of course! It has been less than a month since our parting, yet it seems as though years have passed since I saw you last; I feared the worst when you were taken by the Orcs. I am glad to see you escaped them, though they seem to have treated you roughly. I like not the look of that scar on your head! But the rest of you looks surprisingly well, considering the ordeal you had. You seem taller somehow, or is that my imagination?"
Merry grinned. "Taller? Well, it could be so. Lots of interesting things happened after our escape, which was largely thanks to Pippin's quick thinking, if you believe it. I don't suppose you've heard the tale of any of our adventures as yet, have you?"
"No, I have not. Éomer has given me as much news as he could in a short time, but I doubt he knows everything, even if he had time to tell it. But such a tale would not be a proper one unless it comes from your lips, so I hope we will have the opportunity to speak together of your adventures. I am eager to hear of Pippin's cleverness, and yours as well, since I am certain you played no small role."
Merry beamed proudly. "Well, it's a long story, but worth the telling! Say, did you hear about Gandalf coming back? He's the White Wizard now!"
"Indeed, I only just heard of Gandalf's return. I still find it difficult to believe he is not dead! So he has gone to Minas Tirith with Pippin, has he?"
"Yes," answered Merry, suddenly sad. "I wish he was here, Boromir! Pippin, I mean. I miss him so much...."
Boromir drew Merry close in a comforting embrace. "Yes," he said softly. "It does not seem right to see you here alone without him. I miss him, too, and wish I could see him. But do not be afraid, Merry. If he is with Gandalf in Minas Tirith, then he is as safe as anyone can be in these days. My City will not fall easily, not even if the whole host of Mordor comes against it! We will see him soon. We shall go to him and make certain that he remains safe."
Merry nodded and scrubbed at his eyes, dashing away tears that had sprung up at the thought of Pippin far away. "Can we sit together for a bit? There's a lot I don't know about you, either. You have your own story of escape to tell! I suppose you'll have to go take part in plans for battle and such with the King, but it would be nice if there was a bit of time for a few stories."
"I fear I must go, sooner than I want to," Boromir confessed. "There will be a council soon, and I must be present for it. Do you hear the sound of drums echoing in the trees? That is the Drúedain, an ancient folk of wild men who live in this wood. I have never seen them, but those of us who live in Minas Tirith know of them. They have never bothered us, and seem to protect the road, though no one ever sees them amidst the trees. They are not evil, and hate Orcs with a passion, it is said. I do not know what their intention is now, but from what I understand, one of their leaders has requested an audience with Théoden. That is the council I must attend. But there is still time for us, I think; time enough to sit and talk together. I want to hear at least some of your story, and tell you a bit of mine. But truth be told, there are things I must say to you now that cannot wait any longer. Before our reunion can proceed, there is something you should know."
They sat side by side upon the log of a fallen tree, the lamp between them at their feet. Merry looked up at Boromir, waiting for him to begin. He seemed to realize that what Boromir wanted to tell him was more than just a simple tale of his adventures.
Boromir was silent for a long moment, then he sighed deeply. "Do you remember that day when our Fellowship was broken?"
"As if I could forget it!" Merry exclaimed. "That's the day Frodo left without us, and the day you were hurt trying to rescue us from the Orcs."
"It is of Frodo that I wish to speak," Boromir said gravely. "Our fellowship was broken in another manner that day. I speak of my fellowship with Frodo. While you waited patiently for him to make a decision, I met him in the forest and pressed him to decide in my favor. Worse than that, I became angry and threatened him...."
Boromir faltered and his voice trailed away.
"It's all right, Boromir," Merry said gently. "Tell me what happened."
Merry was quiet for so long after hearing the tale of Boromir's betrayal of Frodo, that Boromir began to be afraid. It had been as difficult as he had imagined to tell Merry of what had passed between himself and Frodo, but it was also a relief to have it done. Whatever the result, having spoken of his guilt to Frodo's close kin and friend was almost like speaking to Frodo himself. He craved forgiveness and Merry's continued friendship, but he wondered if that would even be possible. Boromir was surprised when Merry suddenly leaned against him and put his arms around him.
"I'm sorry, Boromir," Merry said, his voice filled with tears. "I should have been more aware of what was going on with you. I knew you were upset about things, but I didn't even think it had to do with the Ring! But I should have known, shouldn't I? Frodo was always warning us about it being evil, how it could twist even strong people to its will, and he was careful not to let any of us touch it for fear of us being affected. I never even thought of you being hurt by it! I'm so sorry!"
Merry looked up at Boromir, and now he was scowling angrily. "But you should have said something!" he scolded. "We're friends. You could have told me and I would have tried to help you. Well, maybe it wasn't the kind of thing you could talk about. I suppose you didn't really know what was happening yourself, until it was too late. But I wish I had realized. Maybe I could have helped, somehow...."
"Ah, Merry," sighed Boromir, resting his cheek on Merry's head. "It amazes me to hear you blaming yourself for this, rather than me! You have every right to hate me for trying to harm Frodo, and yet here you are, filled with regret that you couldn't do more to help me!"
"Boromir!" cried Merry, aghast. "How could I ever hate you? Of course Frodo is kin and a friend, but you -- you were ready to die for us! And almost did, too. Do you think that counts for nothing just because you behaved badly once? Aren't you my friend, too? Of course you are! Don't you go thinking for one minute that this is enough to make me stop being your friend! It was a bad thing, I don't deny that, but you're sorry about it, I can tell, and that's good enough for me."
"Thank you, Merry," Boromir said gratefully. "Forgive me for doubting the strength of your love for me!"
Merry hugged Boromir hard. "So, are you all right? I mean, it must have been pretty grim for you...."
"I am at peace for now," Boromir assured Merry. "I have spoken of this to Aragorn and the others, and have their forgiveness. Your loving words and vow of friendship have soothed my heart, as well! But I will not be fully reconciled until Frodo himself absolves me of my crime -- if he will do so by forgiving me and extending his hand to me once more as a friend."
"Oh, don't worry about that, Boromir." Merry was unconcerned. "Frodo is the most generous of hobbits and is really bad at holding grudges. He's probably already realized it was the Ring working on your desire to help your people, and he'd know better than anyone how hard it is to resist that kind of temptation. Besides, it worked out for the good in the end."
"What?" Boromir stammered, confused. "How could such a thing work for good?"
"Well, you see," Merry said confidently, "I know Frodo well, and I know for a fact that he was afraid to go to Mordor on his own. I've been thinking about it for a while now, and I figure he probably thought he had to do just that, eventually. Once he made the decision, he would have insisted on going alone, to keep the rest of us safe. It would take something big to push him to make the decision, though, because he was that frightened! Back when we first were leaving the Shire at the beginning of the journey, it was all I could do to keep ahead of Frodo and prevent him from going alone, he was so determined not to bring harm on anyone. But this time, he really wanted to make the decision to go to Mordor alone, and he couldn't screw himself up for it. So you see, you helped push him to make that decision and that's why it worked for good. Not that it's really good that Frodo went to Mordor alone, not by half -- but I think it was what he had to do, in the end. At least, that's how he probably saw it. I heard from Aragorn and the others that Sam ended up going along with Frodo, so that makes me feel better about the whole thing."
"It makes sense when you explain it that way," Boromir marveled, "but I still cannot quite bring myself to believe that my harmful intent resulted in something good!"
Merry patted Boromir on the arm. "Trust me, Boromir. It's true. Frodo will tell you the same when you see him again. I just know he will!"
Thanks for reading!