They made their camp by the shore of the lake and set a watch for the night. There was neither sight nor sound of their enemies, but Legolas remained ill at ease. At Aragorn's request, Frodo drew Sting from its sheath; to the dismay of the Company, the edges gleamed dimly in the fading light.
"Orcs!" Frodo exclaimed. "Not very near, yet too near, it would seem!"
"Perhaps they are not on this side of the River," said Aragorn cautiously. "The light of Sting is faint. It may mean no more than spies of Mordor roaming on the slopes of Amon Lhaw. I have never heard of Orcs upon Amon Hen, though Celeborn spoke to me of creatures that now patrol the western shore. Who knows what may happen in these evil days, now that Minas Tirith no longer holds secure the passages of Anduin?"
"We do what we can with the few men left to us," said Boromir in a level voice, then turned away before Aragorn could reply.
"We must go warily tomorrow," said Aragorn, after a moment. "Let us sleep now, and rise early. Tomorrow our decision will be made."
The day came like fire and smoke. Low in the East there were black bars of cloud like the fumes of a great burning. The rising sun lit them from beneath with flames of murky red, but soon it climbed above them into a clear sky. When they had eaten, Aragorn called the Company together.
"We come at last to the day of choice which we have long delayed," he said. "What shall now become of our Company that has travelled so far in fellowship? Shall we turn west with Boromir and go to the wars of Gondor? Turn east to the shadow of Mordor? Or shall we break our fellowship and go this way and that as each may choose? Whatever we do must be done soon. We cannot long halt here. The enemy is on the eastern shore, we know; but I fear what may happen if Orcs have reached this side of the water."
There was a long silence during which no one spoke or moved. Boromir opened his mouth to speak, then shut it again tightly.
"Well, Frodo," said Aragorn at last. "I fear that I must lay the burden of choice upon you. You are the Bearer appointed by the Council; only you can choose your own way. In this matter I cannot advise you. I am not Gandalf, and though I have tried to bear his part, I do not know what design or hope he had for this hour, if indeed he had any. Most likely it seems that if he were here now, the choice would still wait on you. Such is your fate."
"I know that haste is needed, yet I cannot choose," answered Frodo slowly. "The burden is heavy. Give me some more time, an hour, perhaps; then I will speak. Let me be alone!"
"Very well, Frodo," said Aragorn, looking at him with pity. "You shall have more time, and you shall be alone. But do not stray far, or out of call; come back when you are ready."
Frodo sat for a moment with his head bowed. Sam watched him with concern. Presently Frodo got up and walked away. Boromir followed Frodo with his eyes, until he passed out of sight among the trees at the foot of Amon Hen.
The others remained long by the river-side, silent, moving restlessly about; but gradually they came together in a circle and began to talk. At first they made efforts to speak of other things, of their long road and many adventures together; and they questioned Aragorn concerning the realm of Gondor and its ancient history, and the remnants of its great works that could still be seen in this border-land of the Emyn Muil. Boromir sat silently on the outside of the circle and took no part in the discussion.
Why do they not ask *me* about Gondor? he wondered. Look at them; they are hanging on Aragorn's every word, and I have been forgotten! Will any of them come with me to Minas Tirith, or will they all follow Frodo if he chooses against me?
A sudden feeling of being trapped assailed him.
I must get away from all this talk, he thought desperately. I need to be alone for a while, to think...
Boromir stood abruptly. "I am going for more firewood," he announced to no one in particular, and strode away.
It felt good to be out alone, away from the discussion that did not include him, and eventually Boromir began to relax. He walked for some time, making his way slowly up the hill, aimlessly letting his feet go where they would. He could not stop thinking about Frodo, and about the Ring; he was consumed with doubt about what the hobbit might decide.
If only I could have had time alone with Frodo...to persuade him, Boromir lamented. Where there are so many, all speech becomes a debate without end; but two of us together could have perhaps found wisdom. I wonder why he hesitates so? I wonder if he might have listened to me, where Aragorn would not? No...I fear I have lost my chance. Even now he may have returned to the Company, and their course has been decided...without me...
Boromir stopped short, and looked back down the hill. He realized he had gone farther than he had intended; he had better be getting back. Stooping, he picked up a piece of wood, then another and another. He began to work his way back downhill, picking up more wood as he went.
He had not gone far on his way back when, looking ahead, he saw Frodo. The hobbit was walking slowly beside the crumbling remains of a stone statue, lost in thought. Boromir stopped, wondering if he should speak; Frodo did not seem to notice him, so he continued on his way. But as he passed, Frodo turned slightly and saw Boromir.
"I was afraid for you, Frodo," said Boromir, as he stooped to pick up another piece of wood. "If it is true that Orcs might be near, then none of us should wander alone, you least of all; so much depends on you."
Frodo did not speak. Boromir paused and looked at him, surprised.
The hobbit remained silent, and looked away. Boromir hesitated. This is my chance, he realized. Why not speak to him, now that I have found him? Perhaps he will listen...
Even as this thought came to him, Boromir thought he could hear the beginnings of a strange rhythmic sound; a dull, pulsing beat that was just on the edge of hearing. Frodo did not seem to hear it, so Boromir tried to ignore the sound.
"I know why you seek solitude," Boromir said, coming forward. "You suffer. I see it day by day. My heart, too, is heavy; perhaps it would comfort us both if we could talk for a while."
"You are kind," answered Frodo. "But I do not think that any speech will help me. For I know what I should do, but I am afraid of doing it, Boromir: afraid!"
Boromir stood silent. The wind murmured in the branches of the trees and the roaring of Rauros was loud in the distance. Yet he could still hear the pulsing sound, louder than before.
"Are you sure you do not suffer needlessly? I wish to help you. You need counsel in your hard choice. Will you not take mine?" Boromir hesitated awkwardly, then shrugged and licked his lip, before pressing on. "There are other ways, Frodo; other paths that we might take..."
"I know what you would say," said Frodo resolutely; "and it would seem like wisdom, but for the warning in my heart."
"Warning?" said Boromir sharply, and he frowned. "Against what?"
"Against delay," answered Frodo with a sigh. "Against the way that seems easier. Against refusal of the burden that is laid on me. Against -- well, if it must be said, against trust in the strength and truth of Men."
"Yet that same strength has long protected you, far away in your little country, though you knew it not," responded Boromir. He paused for a moment, then went on. "Will you not come to Minas Tirith? At least for a while? My City is not far now; and it is only a little further from there to Mordor. We have been long in the wilderness, and you need news of what the Enemy is doing before you make a move."
Frodo looked down at his feet.
"Come with me, Frodo," Boromir persisted. "You need rest before you venture on to Mordor, if go there you must. Come with me to Minas Tirith; you shall be safe there."
"I do not doubt the valour of your people, Boromir," replied Frodo heavily. "But the world is changing. The walls of Minas Tirith may be strong, but they are not strong enough. If they fail, what then?"
Boromir felt a flash of irritation.
"Everyone speaks of failing!" he exclaimed. "Do you not realize that we will only fail if we persist in doing nothing?" He struggled to regain his composure. "If Minas Tirith fails, then we shall fall in battle valiantly. Yet there is still hope that we shall not fail..."
"There is no hope while the Ring lasts," said Frodo, shaking his head.
Boromir shook his head impatiently. The sound of pulsing seemed to him to grow louder and more persistent.
"Always we come back to this!" he said crossly. "You seem to think only of the Ring's power in the hands of the Enemy; of its evil uses, not of its good. Minas Tirith will fall, you say, if the Ring lasts. But why? Certainly, if the Ring were with the Enemy. But why, if it were with us?"
"Were you not at the Council?" exclaimed Frodo. "It is because we cannot use it, and what is done with it turns to evil!"
"So you go on!" Boromir cried impatiently. "Gandalf, Elrond -- all these folk have taught you to say so. For themselves, they may be right. These Elves and Half-elves and Wizards, they would come to grief, perhaps. But true-hearted Men, they will not be corrupted! We of Minas Tirith have been staunch through long years of trial. We do not desire the power of wizard-lords -- only strength to defend ourselves; strength in a just cause. And behold! In our need chance brings to light the Ring of Power. It is a gift, I say: a gift to the foes of Mordor! It is mad not to use the power of the Enemy against him! What could not a warrior do in this hour, with such power at his command? What could not Aragorn do? Or if he refuses, why not Boromir? Yes, why not Boromir? How I would drive the hosts of Mordor; and all men would flock to my banner!"
Boromir had forgotten the wood in his arms, forgotten Frodo, forgotten the strange pulsing sound that grew ever louder as he spoke on and on. He hardly knew what he was saying; his talk dwelt on walls and weapons, and the mustering of men. He drew plans for great alliances and glorious victories to be; he cast down Mordor, and became himself a mighty ruler, benevolent and wise; and with a touch of his hand, he healed his father and restored the glory of the White City.
"And they tell us to throw it away!" he cried, turning to Frodo. "To destroy it might be well, if reason could show any hope of doing so. It does not! The only plan that is proposed to us is that a Halfling should walk blindly into Mordor and offer the Enemy every chance of recapturing it for himself. Folly! Surely you see that, my friend?"
Boromir advanced towards the hobbit, and Frodo stepped back cautiously.
"It is only natural that you should be afraid; we are all afraid, Frodo," Boromir said earnestly. "But to let that fear drive us to destroy what hope we have... Do you not see? It is madness!"
Frodo's face set firmly, and he spoke with authority.
"There is no other way!"
Boromir stopped short, struggling to contain his anger. He stared down at the wood in his arms, as if seeing it for the first time. He is not listening! he fumed. Why does no one listen? He felt an overpowering need to lash out, to make someone hear him.
"I ask only for the strength to defend my people!" Boromir cried, throwing down the wood.
Boooorrrrroooomiiiiiir.....whispered the Voice urgently, and the pulsing filled Boromir's ears, until all other sound but the Voice and the throbbing beat was dulled.
Frodo stepped back, startled, staring first at the wood strewn upon the ground, and then at Boromir's flushed and angry face. Boromir stood glowering and frowning, as he slowly mastered himself.
"I need the Ring, for my people's sake!" he said plaintively, holding out a hand to Frodo. "Will you not at least let me make trial of my plan? I give you my word that I do not desire to keep it. If you would but lend me the Ring..."
"No!" cried Frodo in alarm, stepping quickly away. "The Council laid it upon me! It is for me to bear!"
"Why do you recoil?" cried Boromir. "I am no thief!"
"You are not yourself!" Frodo responded firmly.
Boromir swallowed hard. He felt strange, and the Voice that had been plaguing him was calling to him, calling his name insistently.
"What chance do you think you have?" he said in a thick voice. He was almost begging now, but Frodo did not seem to understand. "They will find you! They will take the Ring, and you will beg for death before the end!"
Frodo looked at him steadily for a brief moment, then, with a sharp exclamation of disbelief, he turned and walked away.
Boromir was stunned. How dare he reject me! he raged. This small one, this Halfling, does he think he knows better than Boromir, son of Denethor? He has seen evil, yes; he has seen the Eye! But does he not know what I have seen? I know of what I speak! I know the Enemy, I know Mordor; I have seen nothing but death and defeat, and the despair of my people! If he goes to Mordor, he will die, and the Ring will return to Sauron...
All this passed through Boromir's mind in an instant. He watched Frodo's retreating back and the Voice filled his mind, and the pulsing sound his ears. He was suddenly, powerfully, consumed with fury.
"You fool!" he cried, and his voice was filled with loathing.
Frodo swung round, his eyes wide with the beginnings of fear.
"It is by our own folly that the Enemy will defeat us!" cried Boromir. "How it angers me! Obstinate fool! Running wilfully to death and ruining our cause! If any mortals have claim to the Ring, it is the men of Numenor, and not Halflings!"
He advanced on the hobbit. A look of terror crossed Frodo's face and he backed away. Boromir saw his fear as if from far away, and a part of him shrank from it; but just as quickly, it was forgotten as Frodo turned, and began to run. Boromir leaped after him and clutched at his cloak in an attempt to pull him down.
"It is not yours, save by unhappy chance!" he shouted. "It could have been mine! It should be mine! Give it to me!"
They fell together, and Boromir clawed at the Ring around Frodo's neck.
"No!" cried Frodo, struggling desperately to free himself and to keep the Ring from Boromir's grasp.
"Give it to me!" cried Boromir again.
They grappled together, rolling in the leaves, and suddenly Frodo was gone. Boromir gasped, and fell back, momentarily confused. He groped about in the leaves, but there was no one in the spot where Frodo had been a moment before. He must have put on the Ring, thought Boromir wildly. Where can he be?
A blow to his chest knocked him back, and he fell, momentarily stunned. Boromir sat up, panting savagely, and scrambled about, frantically searching for some sign of the hobbit.
"I see your mind!" Boromir shouted furiously. "You will take the Ring to Sauron! You will betray us! You go to your death, and the death of us all! Curse you! Curse you and all Halflings to death and darkness!"
Boromir stood, but in his agitation, his foot turned and he slipped on the leaves that covered the hillside. He fell sprawling and slid down the hill. He lay on his face, silent and still, as if his own curse had struck him down. Suddenly Boromir wept.
He rose slowly, pushing his hair back from his face. He felt weary and empty.
"Frodo?" Boromir spoke haltingly, but there was only silence; even the Voice that had whispered to him for so long had deserted him.
"Frodo!" Boromir choked. "What have I said? What have I done?"
He looked around, but there was no one there; he was alone.
"Frodo...please..." Boromir stood and passed his hand over his eyes, dashing away the tears. He called out in the hope that the hobbit would hear him and return. "Frodo, come back! A madness took me, but it has passed. Come back!"
There was no answer. Boromir drew in a great breath and shouted with all his might.
"Frodo, I am sorry!" The forest rang with his despairing cry. "Frodo...!"
There was no answer but the distant voice of Rauros, and the wind sighing mournfully in the trees. Boromir fell to his knees, and bowing his head, he wept once more.