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Riding the Nightmare  by Budgielover

Disclaimer: The Lord of the Rings and all its characters and settings are the property of the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien, New Line Cinemas, and their licensees. These works were produced with admiration and respect, as fan fiction for entertainment purposes only, not for sale or profit. This story and all my others may be found on my website, http://budgielover.com.  My thanks to my dear Marigold for the beta.

Riding the Nightmare

Chapter One

Sam knew there was nothing he could do but he couldn’t sleep, even though the watch would alert them if anything came at the camp, and Sam trusted Merry with his life. And with Frodo’s life. Sam could see his master’s cousin now, if he squinted against the dim starlight and sliver of the new moon, the small form sitting knees-tucked-under-chin for warmth and enveloped in blankets. He’d chosen a perch on a large boulder, which afforded him a good view of the desolate landscape around the sleeping Fellowship, but Sam was sure that rock was right cold to sit on. Merry’s head turned alertly from side to side, tracking each night-twitter of birds or rustle in the bush, and Sam knew he had naught to fear.

No, lack of trust in the watch wasn’t what kept him awake. Beside him, protected against the cold night by all of his blankets (and two of Sam’s that Sam had slipped in when Frodo wasn’t looking), his master tossed in uneasy slumber, his breathing irregular and strained.

Frodo groaned in his sleep and Sam saw Merry’s head instantly pivot towards them, the faint light bleaching his bright hair silver-grey. Merry shifted as if he would rise, and Sam hastily pushed himself up on an elbow, letting the younger hobbit know he was awake. Neither could make out the other’s face in the dark but Sam’s unspoken reassurance was enough; Merry relaxed with a faint sigh, resuming his guard over them all.

Frodo murmured something and Sam leaned closer, wishing that Frodo would confide in him, as he used to. He had tried again that afternoon as he brought his master a plate of ‘taters and sausages and what greens he could find, hoping that Frodo would eat this time. Sam had done the best he could, sprinkling the food with a little wild parsley in an effort to make it look more appetizing. But Frodo had just glanced at the steaming plate and shook his head, silent and withdrawn. He’d hardly said more than two words together since … since they’d left Lothlórien behind them, and with it their last link with their leader and guide …and friend. Sam’s vision blurred and he dragged a corner of his blanket up to wipe his eyes. Gandalf, wailed a voice in Sam’s heart. He hushed that voice sternly – Mr. Frodo didn’t need Sam’s anguish to deal with, not with the load of grief and guilt he had already piled upon himself.

This time Sam had persisted, trying to manoeuvre the plate into Frodo’s hands. His master needed to eat, even if he didn’t feel like it. One can only refuse food for so long, and it had been too long – Frodo had climbed shakily out of the elven boat, walked inland the few steps to their camp, and sunk to the ground trembling and ashen-faced. He had dropped his pack and then rested against it, his face averted from the others. Legolas and Gimli had been watching him covertly, even as was Sam, and they started towards him in concern. But Aragorn, too, had been watching and he quickly shook his head at the Elf and the Dwarf. With worried glances between them, the two obeyed and did not approach Frodo.

Sam wished they had. Sam knew that Frodo would pull into himself like a snail, not spreading his grief to the others but also not allowing them to comfort him. Even Sam. That hurt, that did.

Frodo had done the same when old Mr. Bilbo left, but Sam and Mr. Merry had refused him the right to wall himself up in Bag End and brood. Mr. Merry had put an end to that; he had sent for young Master Peregrin, and the exuberant eleven-year old racing through the smial had kept all three of them too engaged to mourn the old hobbit’s absence. Sam, Merry and Pippin had made sure that a steady parade of friends and relatives tromped through the old hole (with the exception of the Sackville-Bagginses, of course), keeping Frodo so busy playing host that he could not immerse himself in melancholy.

That strategy wouldn’t work here, now. Instead of a great, loving circle of family and friends, there was only himself and his master’s cousins. Merry and Pippin had been unable to be much help these past few days since leaving Lothlorien, not that Sam faulted them. Pippin had been ill with a bad cold brought on by the cold and damp of the river, and Merry had been doing what he could for the lad, both of them making light of Pippin's illness in front of Frodo and the Big Folk so as not to cause any worry. The lad was nearly well now, thank goodness; the Wild was no place to fall ill, as they all had reason to know.

That left Legolas and Gimli and Aragorn and Boromir. Boromir. That was a jar of worms Sam didn’t want to open. It had been the Man that had carried Frodo, screaming hysterically, from the Bridge where Gandalf had fallen into shadow and darkness. The Man had been nothing but respectful since, but Sam found himself stiffening whenever the soldier of Gondor was close to Frodo, nervous and ready to defend his master – against what? One of their own Company? Against one of the Fellowship sworn to protect the Ring-bearer? Sam’s unease had increased each time he saw the Man’s eyes on Frodo, watching as his master struggled against weariness and pain and increasing despair.

Mixed in with Sam’s fear was simple exasperation. Frodo had looked at the carefully-prepared plate in Sam’s hands as if the food were something offensive. He had shaken his head wordlessly, turning away from it, and desperate, Sam had tried again.

“Have some food, Mr. Frodo. You’ve not eaten anything all day. You’re not sleeping, neither. Don’t think I haven’t noticed.” Frodo had not looked at him, just continued staring blankly into the gathering darkness. “Mr. Frodo!”

At last Frodo met his eyes, and Sam’s heart caught at the weariness and blank hopelessness he saw reflected in their brilliant depths. “I’m all right.”

“But you’re not. I’m here to help you.” Sam’s voice quivered, his grief suddenly bubbling to the surface. Down to his last resort, he tried the only thing he could think of that would sway Frodo. “I promised Gandalf that I would.” Silence stretched between them, then:

“You can’t help me, Sam. Not this time.” Frodo turned away from him, quiet dismissal in his tone. “Get some sleep.”

Sam had almost gone to Aragorn, to ask him to force Frodo to eat. Only the knowledge that Frodo would not forgive such an intrusion stopped him. Frodo had wrapped himself in his cloak and lain down in the blankets Sam had prepared for him, falling asleep long before the rest of the Company. At least he was sleeping peacefully. Or had been, until now.

Frodo moaned in his sleep again and the sound tore Sam’s heart. He leaned forward to peer into Frodo’s shadowed face but his master had his head turned to the side and the faint starlight did not illuminate the fine-boned features. Was Frodo having a nightmare? Should he wake him, then? If he did, would Frodo be angry at being robbed of what little sleep he had managed to snatch? Time was when Sam would never have feared he might be snapped at, but Frodo’s normally sweet temper was sore tried by the Quest and exhaustion, and his reaction was uncertain. Nevertheless, it was Frodo’s need for rest that kept Sam from waking him, not fear of being growled at.

Frodo was thrashing restlessly, and on his far side, Pippin muttered, “Leave off, Cousin,” and rolled a little farther away with a snore. Bless him, thought Sam, that tweenager could sleep through anything.

Sleep thoroughly abandoned now in his worry, Sam dragged himself all the way up and sat tailor-fashion, pulling his blankets around him. Merry immediately stood up on the boulder, peering at him. He waved a hand and the other hobbit settled, letting them be. The watch would be changing soon, Sam thought. Wasn’t Boromir next? Aragorn had assigned the watches after Frodo had fallen asleep, and with a long look at the Ring-bearer, had skipped over Frodo in the rotation. There would likely be words about that on the morrow, Sam thought dismally, then wondered if Frodo would even notice, the state he was in.

His master was so tired now. Sam had never seen him so tired, not even during those rough first few days after as the Company struggled out of Rivendell, marching during the night and resting wherever shelter from the biting wind could be found. He’d been tired then, but not ground down, not worn to the bone, exhausted beyond what a few good nights’ sleep and some nourishing food could restore. Sam was certain that Frodo shouldn’t be this tired, not after the rest they’d had in Lórien. Almost as soon as they had left the borders of that magical place, Frodo had become silent and withdrawn, his gaze turned inward, as if the need to keep himself moving required all of his strength.

Frodo turned on his left side with a gasp and Sam winced – even in sleep, that cursed wound pained him. Sam always managed to be close by when Aragorn insisted on examining Frodo’s shoulder, and had seen that the wound had closed completely, leaving a thin white scar on the pale skin. But it still hurt. Frodo’s face would go white and perspiration start from his brow when Aragorn gently rubbed the white cream Lord Elrond had given him into the scar, leaving it reddened and angry. It wouldn’t ever heal, and that arm and hand always seemed colder than the rest of Frodo’s body. Weaker, too. There was not time to give Frodo the rest he needed to completely recover his strength before the Quest had set out from Rivendell. And the time in Lothlórien hadn’t been near enough.

Frodo shifted onto his back, half-formed dream-words slipping from his lips. “No,” Sam heard him whisper. “No, I won’t. Never.” Sam leaned forward, and with the stars above Frodo now, he could see his master’s face shining with sweat, his features twisted with denial and pain. And oh – this was the worst – his hand was wrapped around that evil thing at his throat.

Ah no, not another nightmare. They were getting worse. Though Frodo would not speak of them, Sam knew they were getting worse. More than once he had been awakened by a flailing elbow in the ribs or a stifled cry as Frodo fought the images of his sleeping mind. Suddenly Frodo sat up and Sam nearly yelped in surprise. He glanced over at Pippin but the youngster had disappeared under his blankets and not even a wayward curl could be seen. Turning back to Frodo, Sam started to ask if he needed help, when the sight of Frodo’s face froze him into shocked silence.

Frodo’s eyes were open but there was no awareness there. His face was slack, hair hanging into his eyes but he made no move to push it away. Before Sam could understand what he was seeing, Frodo was climbing to his feet, moving with a slowness and loose-limbed deliberation that chilled Sam’s heart. His hand was clamped tightly around the Ring. Merry’s head turned again and he leaned forward, but Sam knew it was too dark for the hobbit to make out Frodo’s blank gaze. Sleepwalking, he is, Sam knew, and could not explain why the thought terrified him so.

Frodo stepped over his little cousin’s curled-up body without even looking at him. Pippin snuffled in his sleep but did not wake. Belatedly, Sam shot to his feet, tossing aside the blankets. What should he do? Oh stars, what should he do?

Sam’s hand hovered an inch above Frodo’s shoulder, but Sam let it fall unused to his side. You don’t never wake a sleepwalker sudden, his memory chanted at him. Where had he heard that? Something his mother had said, long ago, sitting with the other goodwives in the garden, gossiping and working on a quilt? Her treasured voice continued in his head, recalled by the memory. “Why, I heard that Tom Bracegirdle’s nephew took ‘ta sleepwalking, and his mam woke him up just before the lad fell in the pigsty. Threw the pig’s breakfast on him, she did. The poor lad took a nasty turn, an’ wasn’t right in the head for months. You don’t never wake a sleepwalker sudden.”  

Frodo lurched into motion, his usual inborn grace absent. He was walking toward the woods, away from camp. Sam’s frantic gaze sought out the watch to find Merry staring in their direction curiously. From his view, Sam realized, Merry could see only their shadowed forms – he would not realize that Frodo was walking in his sleep. Sam gulped a great lungful of air in preparation for a shout, and then almost choked himself when he swallowed it. Silence, they had said. Secrecy. They must pass down the Anduin unnoticed. And he mustn’t wake Frodo that way. Perhaps just calling his name softly would do it, or the lightest touch on his shoulder. Frodo would be mortified and probably angry if he roused the entire camp. Sam waved his arms frantically, sheer frustration for a moment overwhelming him. After a moment, Merry raised a hand and doubtfully waved back, clearly confused.

Frodo was already beyond the perimeter of camp, silent hobbit-feet carrying him past even the keen ears of the resting Elf. A few more steps and he would be lost in the shadow of the trees. There was no help for it. Sam caught up his sword and buckling the scabbard in place, vaulted over Pippin and followed.

* TBC *

 





        

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