Aragorn would kill him for this, if he knew Merry reflected ruefully. But he was Master of Buckland, Councillor of the North Kingdom, Knight of Rohan and Nazgul Bane and he was damned if he was going to go running to the High King every time there was a problem! Hobbits had delt with the Old Forest before and if necessary could do so again without any help from the King at Annuminas.


Actually he had no intention of starting a battle just now. The score of Hobbits trailing behind him armed with axes and firebrands were just there to intimidate the trees into letting them pass. Merry's intention was to go through the Forest to the House of Tom Bombadil, Old Tom would know what was going on if anybody did - provided Merry could get him to stop singing long enough to answer questions!

The Bonfire Glade was right were he'd left it. Scrubby and dreary but still a welcome bit of open ground after the closeness of the forest. Looking over his shoulder he saw his Bucklanders relaxing visibly as they cleared the overshadowing trees. Not that he blamed them.

"Let's take a breather." he said and was rewarded by twenty grateful looks.

Glancing away to hide his smile a flash sun on metal caught his eye and he took a step towards it then stopped in his tracks. There was a Man stretched out under a scrubby bush. Very tall, even for one of the Big Folk, with mail showing on his arms beneath a red tunic studded with gold and dark leather surcoat. His head was pillowed on a round shield, fair hair falling over his face, hiding it.

Merry's heart began to thud painfully, a name catching at his throat that he didn't dare say or even think.

Cautiously, step by step, he went closer hand tight and sweaty on his sword hilt. And with every step the Man lying there seemed more familiar but it couldn't be - it was impossible. Taking a deep breath he bent, brushed the bright hair off the Man's face with a shaking hand. Blue eyes opened and all doubts vanished.


For a moment the Man stared blankly then recognition came. "Merry!" struggling upright he swept the Hobbit into an awkward one armed embrace.

He was no ghost, there was solid flesh under the supple leather and the pebbly feel of the mail.

Boromir released him, hand still on his shoulder. "It's good to see you, Little Friend, but what are you doing in this horrible place?"

"What am *I* doing!" Merry sputtered. "My dear Boromir, you're supposed to be *dead*! You died twenty years ago and thousands of leagues away! What are *you* doing here?"

Something guarded flashed through the blue eyes. "I asked first."

All but speechless with confusion, joy and indignation Merry managed. "I live here."

Boromir blinked. "Here?"

"Not in the middle of the Old Forest of course, Buckland's just a few miles back that way." Merry pointed. "You're on the borders of the Shire."

"Am I?" The Man frowned past him, apparently thinking hard.

Merry started to absently wipe a stickiness from his left hand then looked down and realized it was blood. Looked back at Boromir in alarm suddenly seeing how the Man's shield arm hung limp and the bloody rents down his right arm and side. Of the Orc arrows that had killed him twenty years ago there was no sign. "You're hurt!"

"I've been fighting." Boromir answered simply.

Merry decided not to ask who or what, not just now. "Can you walk?"

A smile. "I'd better. I doubt you could carry me, Little One."

"I'm not alone." reminded of this Merry looked over his shoulder to see his Bucklanders clumped in a staring, slack jawed huddle. "Don't just stand there," he snapped, "Mingo, Dando, help me get him up, Dickon get his shield."

Boromir did manage to walk out of the Old Forest under his own power, leaning on Merry's shoulder. The Hobbit might have found that encouraging if this weren't a Man who'd kept fighting with two Orc arrows in him. There was no guessing how badly he was hurt this time.

There was a little watch house just inside the hedge. Boromir had to practically get down on his hands and knees to fit through the door and, after taking one look at the low raftered ceiling, didn't even try to stand up once inside. Blankets and sheets were all the wrong size and of course the beds were out of the question. Merry bustled about and got him settled somehow on the guardroom floor, sent for a surgeon then sat down to write two letters.

One, to Pippin, was brief:

Come at once. Urgent!!!

The other had to be rather longer. You can't ask the King of the West to drop everything and come running without some explanation - even if you are one of his best friends.


I know this is going to be hard to believe but I've found Boromir, alive, in the Old Forest. He doesn't want to talk about where he's been or how he got there and he's hurt so I don't like to press but the forest's been very active lately, if you know what I mean, and I think Boromir knows something about it. Please come at *once* he'll tell *you* - even if he won't talk to Pip or me.

P.S. Lady Arwen, if you're reading this please forward to Aragorn as quickly as possible. It really is *very* urgent. M.B.

He sealed the envelope with the running horse in green wax and handed it to one of his shiriffs. "Remember, give it to the King or the Queen in *person* nobody else." he instructed. "If the Big Folk try and give you an argument say those are my orders and the message is personal and urgent."