He searched for close to an hour, but at last he was forced to admit defeat. Boromir heaved a great, shuddering sigh, and sat down heavily on a mossy log. There was little point in searching further; if Frodo still wore the Ring, he could be anywhere by now. No doubt he had returned to the Company, and had told them everything. Boromir's heart quailed at the thought.
I am a fool! Boromir berated himself bitterly. I sought to counsel Frodo, but instead I have driven him away; I vowed to protect him, but see how I have repaid his trust in me! I was angry that no one was listening -- but I was the one who did not listen.
Putting thought to action, Boromir raised his head to listen. All was quiet; there was no sound but the distant thunder of Rauros, and the creaking of branches as the wind sighed in the trees. The silence was so complete he could hear his heart beating loudly in his ears. Slowly it dawned on him that he no longer heard the pulsing, the whispering, the Voice in his head; his mind was clear, at last!
Boromir felt a great relief at the realization, for he could not recall how long it had been since he had begun to be plagued by that incessant whispering Voice. But his joy was short-lived.
It is gone because Frodo is gone! he realized in dismay. It was the Ring ... the Ring, speaking to me...and I listened! The Ring did its work, and I was taken in, as easily as that! 'True-hearted Men, they will not be corrupted!': so I believed! Yet when it came to the test, I was the one who who failed...so easily! I was certain I could take the Ring and use it for good...but instead it took me, and used me. I believed myself to be strong; I knew my ability to be sufficient to any task! My pride -- my need -- made it right. I called Frodo a fool, but I am the fool, not he. Nothing but a weak fool...
'You are not yourself,' Frodo said to me -- he tried to tell me; and he was right! I was used -- controlled -- yet the blame still lies with me. Why did I listen to that Voice? Why did I not listen to the others? They all warned me! Even a Halfling who knew little of Sauron and the Rings of Power understood more of this matter than I! I am surely to blame! I let it guide me... I let my pride guide me. I allowed Evil to work through me, and now Frodo runs from me in fear...I have failed...
Boromir covered his face with hands and wept; his whole body was wracked with sobs. "What have I done? What have I done?"
His sobs eventually stilled. After drying his eyes with the edge of his tunic, Boromir rose to his feet and began to pace.
So! he reflected solemnly. It seems I was wrong to think I was strong enough -- wise enough -- to use the Ring without harm. Could I have been in error about all the rest of it, as well? Have I then been wrong all along in believing that the Ring should not be destroyed? Is there a chance that this absurd plan to carry the Ring into the heart of Mordor might actually succeed? Is it indeed the only way?
He sighed heavily as he recalled his impassioned warning at the Council. 'One does not simply walk into Mordor! Its black gates are guarded by more than just orcs. There is evil there that does not sleep, and the Great Eye is ever watchful...a barren wasteland, riddled with fire, ash and dust. The very air you breathe is a poisonous fume. Not with ten thousand men could you do this! It is folly!'
Folly? Boromir repeated to himself. I believed it to be folly then, but now? I do not know -- !
The memory of the Council meeting brought to Boromir's mind another warning, one that had been spoken by Aragorn, and echoed by Gandalf and Frodo: "You cannot wield it! None of us can! The Ring answers to Sauron alone. It has no other master!"
Boromir shook his head and angrily struck his open palm with his fist.
Now I understand, but too late! The Ring cannot be used, least of all by Men -- least of all by myself! Any attempt to use it against its Master instead turns to Sauron's benefit.
There is nothing left, then; all is ruined! There is no help for my City now; the weapon I hoped to bring them will instead bring only harm! But how can we possibly succeed in putting the Ring out of the Enemy's reach? How can we possibly succeed in destroying it? Sauron's power is too great, even without the Ring! Surely he will stop us...
Boromir bowed his head and fought with despair. The future looked bleak indeed. There seemed to be no hope left; the Ring could not be used to save his City, but to take it to the Fire meant to risk it being retaken by Sauron. Was there even any point in continuing such a useless struggle against such a powerful enemy?
In that moment of dark despair, something in Boromir rebelled at the possibility of giving up. He still had an oath to fulfill; he still had a responsibility to see things through to the end, whatever end that might be. He had fought too long and too hard to give up now.
No! he said firmly to himself. I must carry on -- I choose to carry on! My people lose hope, but I cannot. It is not yet time for the final despair, for the ending is still in doubt; while we have breath, there is still a chance we may fight this Evil! Such a small chance, but a chance, nonetheless. Perhaps...perhaps it is not too late. I can still accomplish some good, now that my mind is clear, now that I understand the truth...
My pride is broken, but there is still honor to be answered. There is still work I can do, to save my oath. Now that I understand better, perhaps I can aid the Quest...I see now that the Ring cannot be used.
Boromir stopped his pacing and looked up through the trees at the sky above. It was approaching midday, and the sun was now filtering through the leaves of the old forest all about him. He took a deep breath and resumed his pacing. There was much to ponder, much to consider...
There is so little hope that Frodo will succeed in destroying the Ring -- yet at the very least he must try. This thing cannot come to Minas Tirith; it would destroy her! Would even my father, whose pride and care for our City is greater than mine, be strong enough to resist its power as a weapon? I think not! I cannot allow him to be put to that test.
Boromir shuddered at the thought of his father falling to the lure of the Ring. No! It would be better by far to see the Ring gone forever, than to see his father or his brother reduced to this madness!
He halted once more in his pacing, and turned to look back down the hill towards the shore.
I must return to the Company, Boromir decided, even if Frodo has told them everything. I shall confess what I have done. They will be angry with me, but I shall do what I can to make amends. I will repair my evil, if I can. Frodo will forgive me...surely he understands the madness...
He started down the hill, moving slowly at first, then quickening his pace until he was almost running.
I hope I am not too late...I hope they have not gone without me...
As Boromir approached the shore, he was relieved to hear the sound of voices; he could distinguish Pippin's clear voice above the others. They had not left without him! He paused hesitantly, and tried to hear what was being said.
"...the fate of the burden is on him," Aragorn was saying. "It is not our part to drive him one way or another, nor would we succeed if we tried. There are other forces at work here, far stronger..."
"Well, I wish Frodo would come back and let us get it over!" Pippin interrupted. "This waiting is horrible. Surely the time is up?"
"Yes," said Aragorn. "The hour is long passed. The morning is wearing away. We must call for him."
Frodo had not yet returned?
Boromir was suddenly dismayed and his resolve wavered. If that were true, the others would not be so understanding. It would not be so easy to confess what he had done. But he would not turn back now. He would face them.
Boromir drew in a deep breath and stepped forward out of the trees. He tried to school the expression on his face, but he had no doubt he looked grim and sad, for that was his present mood. He walked towards the others without speaking. As they looked up at him, he paused, as if to count those that were present. It was true; Frodo was not here. He sat down aloof, with his eyes on the ground, and waited for someone to speak.
"Where have you been, Boromir?" asked Aragorn. "Have you seen Frodo?"
Boromir hesitated. "Yes...and no," he answered slowly. "Yes...I found him some way up the hill, and I spoke to him. I urged him to come to Minas Tirith and not to go east. I grew angry and he left me."
Boromir shook his head at the memory of Frodo's sudden disappearance.
"He vanished!" he said in wonder. "I have never seen such a thing happen before, though I have heard of it in tales. He must have put the Ring on. I could not find him again. I thought he would return to you."
"Is that all you have to say?" said Aragorn, looking hard and not too kindly at Boromir.
"Yes," Boromir answered quietly, after a long pause. "I will say no more yet."
"This is bad!" cried Sam, jumping up, and eying Boromir angrily. Boromir looked away. "I don't know what this Man has been up to! Why should Frodo put the thing on? He didn't ought to have; and if he has, goodness knows what may have happened!"
"But he wouldn't keep it on," said Merry. "Not when he had escaped the unwelcome visitor, like Bilbo used to."
"But where did he go? Where is he?" cried Pippin. "He's been away ages now."
"How long is it since you saw Frodo last, Boromir?" asked Aragorn.
"Half an hour, maybe," he answered. "Or it might be an hour. I have wandered for some time since. I do not know! I do not know!" Boromir put his head in his hands, and sat bowed with grief.
"An hour since he vanished!" shouted Sam. "We must try and find him at once. Come on!"
"Wait a moment!" cried Aragorn. "We must divide up into pairs, and arrange -- here, hold on! Wait!"
It was no good. They took no notice of him. Sam had dashed off first. Merry and Pippin had followed, and were already disappearing westward into the trees by the shore, shouting: Frodo! Frodo! in their clear, high hobbit-voices. Legolas and Gimli were running. A sudden panic or madness seemed to have fallen on the Company.
"We shall all be scattered and lost!" groaned Aragorn. "Boromir! I do not know what part you have played in this mischief, but help now!"
Boromir rose quickly and stepped forward to stand before Aragorn, awaiting his orders in silence.
"Go after those two young hobbits, and guard them at the least, even if you cannot find Frodo. I fear for them, there may be Orcs about."
Boromir caught his breath in sudden fear.
It is my fault! he thought wildly. I cursed them to death and darkness! I will be the death of them!
"When you find them, come back to this spot," continued Aragorn, not noticing Boromir's terror. "And look for any traces of Frodo; bring him here, if you find him. I shall return soon."
Boromir nodded wordlessly, and leaped to obey. Dashing into the woods, he ran in the direction taken by Merry and Pippin.
Ah, my little ones! he lamented desperately as he ran. What have I done to you? Let me not be too late ...
What was I thinking? Why did I not tell them what I had done, as I had intended? Why did I hide the full truth about my attack on Frodo? I should have spoken plainly and been done with it. When shall I again have a chance to explain? They will think the less of me for not speaking plainly at the outset.
Despite his despair and his anger at himself, Boromir found himself automatically checking his gear, thinking ahead, preparing himself mentally and physically for possible battle. He wondered if it were possible for Orcs to have managed somehow to cross the River without being seen. He remembered the wary unease of Legolas, and the flickering light of Sting that had been revealed the evening before; proof enough to Boromir that the danger was very real.
Boromir suddenly pulled up short.
Fool! he thought, and cursed himself angrily. I have forgotten my shield! What use will I be to anyone if I go off unprepared?
He hesitated, but only for a moment, before dashing back to the lakeside to retrieve the shield.
The campsite was deserted; Aragorn had already gone in search of Frodo. Boromir caught up his shield and slung it onto his back. Glancing quickly round the campsite, he noticed no one had thought to put out their small fire, in the frantic rush following his announcement that Frodo was missing. Boromir grabbed a pan of water and dashed it on the flames, then kicked sand over the wood to keep it from smoking. If Orcs should be on the hillside, they would eventually find the campsite, and then it would not matter; but until then, no smoking fire would call attention to the presence of the Company. Then Boromir wasted no more time in setting out after the hobbits.
His legs were long and strong; Boromir knew without any doubt he would be able to catch them up quickly enough. He kept his ears open as he ran for any sound of the hobbits or of the enemy; at intervals, he could hear a call of 'Frodo!' floating down the hill on the wind, but he could not yet see Merry or Pippin.
Boromir tried not to think of Frodo, but as he neared the spot where he had met and struggled with him, an image unbidden arose in his mind of the look on the hobbit's face and in his eyes when Frodo had first realized Boromir meant to harm him.
For I did mean to harm him, admitted Boromir. I would have done anything at that moment, to have the Ring... All my years of service to my people, and my talk of duty and honor, valor and stewardship! It led me to this -- that I was prepared to murder a defenseless friend -- yes, as defenseless as a child, even with his sword -- whom I had sworn to protect!
And for what? For a magical trinket, a piece of jewelry! No matter that I thought it a weapon of great power, that I thought it would give me what I needed to save my City and cast down Sauron! At what price that power?
Another image flashed clear before his eyes, as if he were seeing himself as Frodo must have seen him in that moment -- his eyes burning with desire for the Ring, his face twisted with anger and hate.
I saw myself as a ruler of men, benevolent and wise...but a ruler of men must protect his people, not harm them! What is the good of it, if I am changed into something I do not wish to be? I wish to be a leader...a good leader. Always I have expected to one day take up the Stewardship, always I have prepared for the time when I would take my father's place. It is what I have wished for, what I have trained for, fought for. I am strong, even masterful; it will take such a man to rule Gondor in these troubled times. I would have ruled well...I would have done right by my people.
But now what have I done? In my pride, and convinced of my right, I have used my strength to try to gain the advantage over a small one, one who trusted me!
Boromir's pace slowed to a jog, and then to a slow walk, and finally, he stopped and stood still, lost in thought.
I have seen death and defeat and fearsome battle, but nothing compares to that look of bewilderment on Frodo's face... and the terror in his eyes!
Boromir shook his head, as if trying to shake free that image.
He trusted me, and I failed him... I have failed as a steward, for it is the steward's part to care for those entrusted to him -- for their good, and not for his own. I would do anything, now, to erase that look of fear, to make it as if it had never been. If only...
Boromir passed his hand over his face and sighed heavily.
No...it happened; I cannot change that. I hurt him, and the others. I cannot restore the trust we had before; I can only do my best to make it up to him...to all of them...by doing what I can now to serve.
Boromir set his jaw and squared his shoulders as a sense of resolve grew within him.
I shall find Merry and Pippin and keep them safe, he vowed. And, if I am permitted, I will find Frodo and tell him how sorry I am...
A sudden noise in the trees startled him; Boromir whipped around, his hand on his blade, but it was only a falling branch, dislodged from a tree by the wind. As the echo of the branch's fall died away, Boromir listened carefully for any sound of voices on the breeze. Was that Pippin's voice, calling, further on up the hill to the west?
Boromir leaped forward through the trees and sped towards the sound.
Enough debate, he said firmly to himself. My course is now clear. Though they reject me for what I have done, I am bidden to protect the hobbits. If I can succeed in that, at least, I shall have accomplished something worthwhile.
The terrain grew rougher, even as the trees grew thinner. Boromir ran swiftly but with care, watching for signs of the hobbits' passing. He was not the tracker that Aragorn was, but he could read the signs well enough; hobbits traveled almost silently, but their feet still left a mark on twig and leaf. They had passed this way; he was on the right path...
The sound of Rauros was loud behind him, but now he began to hear faintly from above him on the hill the sounds of battle. Though he had been expecting it, Boromir was still startled, and suddenly afraid for his friends. He heard the harsh cry of Orcs, and distantly, the clash of sword on shield. He stopped to listen. It was hard to pinpoint the direction from which the sounds were coming. It was imperative that he not make a mistake now; if he ran to the battle, and missed the hobbits, he might be leaving them to their deaths instead of saving them.
The battle was above him, it seemed, near the crown of the hill; yet something else was approaching as well, from straight ahead. He could hear a crashing in the trees and the hoarse grunting sound of Orcs in pursuit of prey.
From further up the hill came the call of Merry, drifting through the trees ahead of him. It seemed far away but clear:
"...you! Here...over here!"
Then Pippin's voice: "This way!"
Were they calling to him? Were they being pursued by Orcs? Boromir's heart caught in his throat as he ran towards the sound. He cursed as he turned his foot on a mossy stone and stumbled, but he caught himself and hurried on. He heard no more from Merry or Pippin, but the Orc voices were louder, drawing closer. He thought he could see dark shapes moving towards him through the trees.
Drawing his sword, and gripping his shield, Boromir ran to meet them.