Vigil: Chapter 2 - Shadows in the Night
Chapter 2 Shadows in the Night
From that day on Sam began keeping a closer eye on Frodo than he had before. To his shock and dismay he noticed many things he had not seen, or perhaps had been unwilling to see. He noticed that the tremors were not just that one day, but in fact many.
Some days Frodo's hands would be still at the supper table but on other days he would notice them trembling slightly. On still others it would be as bad as it had been that first day he had noticed, violent and debilitating. On those days Frodo would excuse himself from supper, politely stating that he was not very hungry, and he would close himself off in his room for the remainder of the evening. In general Frodo no longer spent the evenings in the sitting room by the fire with them. He would either withdraw to his room or lock himself away in his study directly after supper.
His master looked tired. Although it seemed as if Frodo was sleeping often enough, the dark circles under his eyes never seemed to disappear. Sam knew he had begun writing the tale of the War of the Ring in Bilbo's great red book; he would find pages of notes strewn about the study whenever he was brave enough to enter on the pretense of searching for a book he wished to read. Maybe Frodo was staying up into the night to write?
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Sam was startled from sleep by a high, piercing wail. He sat still for a moment, attempting to get his bearings, but a heartbeat later he leaped from his and Rosie's bed as he heard muffled cries from down the hall. His heart froze in terror. The voice he heard was Frodo's. He flew down the hallway, past Frodo's room, to the chest sitting in the parlor. Without hesitation he flung the box open and drew out Sting, unsheathing the blade with a low metallic whine as he strode purposefully back up the hallway.
He paused for a second outside Frodo's door, steeling himself for whatever lay ahead as fear and fury battled to consume him. At the sound of Frodo's voice rising in another scream of denial, Sam burst through the doorway, heart hammering in his chest, and stopped dead on the threshold. Frodo was alone. There was no motion in the room save the flicker of a single candle playing off the walls, and his master struggling with an unseen foe born of hallucination.
Sam dropped Sting with a loud clang, which startled Frodo into stillness. His master was sitting bolt upright in the middle of the bed, drenched in sweat, still held in the iron grip of some demon memory. Frodo began struggling again, lashing out with fists and fingernails and trying to shift himself backwards on the bed and away from the invisible danger.
Sam stood there, struck dumb by the sight before him. The anguish that welled up in him as he watched Frodo suffer was almost more than he could bear. He had to do something to stop it. He approached Frodo warily, slowly sat down on the bed beside him. He embraced his master, holding his slight form fiercely, whispering words of love and comfort until Frodo stopped struggling and collapsed in wrenching sobs against his shoulder. Now that the shock and panic were over, Sam's own tears mixed with Frodo's and they held each other that way, one in pain from within and one in pain for the other, until both were still.
Sam pulled Frodo back and held him by the shoulders, gazing deeply into his eyes for some sign that the nightmare had faded, that Frodo was again with him and the terror had passed. Although he met Sam's eyes, Frodo's gaze was still laced with pain and fear, as if whatever he had seen still played in his mind and was interfering with reality.
"Shh, Frodo, it was only a nightmare. You're safe now," he muttered softly.
Frodo nodded numbly. Sam gently eased his master back down onto the bed, wiping the sweat from his forehead and straightening the blanket over him. He sat there on the side of the bed and clasped his hands over Frodo's, to reassure him that this was reality and that nothing would harm him here, not anymore.
But his reassurance was a lie and he knew it. He could not protect Frodo from this anymore than he had been able to protect him from the effects of the Ring during their journey. He could not stand between Frodo and this enemy, for the foe was within Frodo himself. All he could do was watch...that was the most painful thing of all. He would have gladly faced down any enemy for Frodo, no matter how ominous and powerful, as opposed to witnessing the battle from a distance and having no weapon to lend to the struggle. He was struck by a feeling of utter uselessness, and wondered how long Frodo had been struggling with these phantoms alone. He kept vigil there until Frodo's tremors ceased and he was claimed by sleep once again.
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Frodo awoke with a start, drenched in sweat from the heat of the late summer morning and a bit disoriented. He looked blearily about the room. One of Bilbo's books was lying on the floor beside the bed and his reading candle was burnt down to the metal rim of its holder. He had fallen asleep reading. Had it been early? As he rose from the bed he found he had some difficulty untangling himself from the sheets, and a great weariness settled over him as he made ready for the day. It couldn't have been early when he fell asleep; he felt like he hadn't slept at all.
As he made his way from the bedroom, he could already hear Sam bustling about, laying out first breakfast for him and Rosie. He was about to enter the kitchen as a silver flicker caught his eye from down the hall. There, leaning in the corner next to Sam and Rosie's door, was Sting. The mere sight of the travel-worn weapon sent an icy shiver down his spine. What was Sting doing out in the hallway? He padded down the hall and retrieved the sword, a bit annoyed that Sam would take it out and have it lying about after everything that had befallen them while they carried it.
He strode purposefully into the kitchen, hilt held in one hand, scabbard tip in the other, and paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts on how to discuss the matter. At that moment Sam turned from the counter.
"Good mor...." the words died on Sam's lips as he took in the sight of Frodo in the doorway, Sting held out questioningly in his hands.
He gazed levelly at Sam, his face almost expressionless. He did not want to let on that he was irritated, but holding the elven blade in his grasp was having more of an effect on him than he had anticipated. The fire and darkness of Mordor seemed to be reflected up at him from the smooth surface of the hilt, the flames tickling at the dark void within his mind. Already a dull ache was forming at his temples, threatening to engulf him in a haze of torment. He covered the distance to the table in two steps; the sword impacted the surface with a loud clang.
Barely containing the rage that had mounted alongside the darkness, his eyes now glazed with wrath and pain, he managed to grate out between clenched teeth, "Why?".
Sam retreated a step, his hands gripping the counter behind him, his face a study in confusion and guilt.
"Mister Frodo I..."
But Frodo was suddenly not willing to wait for an explanation. Arms now braced on the table for support, he leaned forward towards Sam and demanded, "Why would you bring this out in the open? To remind us of our past?".
The anger still blazed in Frodo's eyes, and seemed to have quickened even more. Sam realized that there were only two ways out of this situation: to lie to Frodo, which his master didn't seem very inclined to take to, or to tell him the truth, no matter how painful.
Sam stood up straight, back still pressed against the counter, and met Frodo's gaze with equal intensity. "To protect you, sir," he stated evenly, as if this were the most rational explanation.
The mask of fury seemed to crumble a bit. The voice remained changeless and penetrating.
"You had a nightmare last night, sir, an' I heard you scream, an' I ran t' the chest and got Sting `fore I came t' your room, because I didn't know you was alone an' it was just a dream." The words tumbled out in a husky rush of sound as Sam took a hesitant step towards the table.
The anger drained from Frodo's features abruptly. His eyes turned dazed and vacant, his arms trembled slightly now not from tension but outflow of emotion.
"Yessir", Sam replied, closing the distance between them, his hand gently brushing Frodo's shoulder. "You don't remember me bein' in your room?"
"No..." he whispered. His arms suddenly unable to hold his weight, he turned slightly and sank down onto the bench he had been leaning over.
"Do you remember the dream? It seemed like you were fightin' with Gollum..."
He was barely aware of the motion, the ash, the fire, the rocks...everything was eclipsed by the pain. And the desire.
The Ring burned with white hot fire at his throat now, pulsing, altering the rhythm of his heart to keep time with its dreadful cadence, allowing him to breathe only when It wanted him to, controlling every aspect of his existence save his hands, clasped at Sam's throat by his friend's fading strength.
There was nothing left now, nothing stood between him and the Ring. The desire consumed his thoughts, his dreams, he ached with it, was suborned by it, was united with it.
He no longer sought strength to resist it, his only wish was to live long enough to reach his destination. Once there he did not know what would befall him, he only knew he had to live until then.
Suddenly he was crushed from above, a shrill cry torn from his chest. Waves of pain radiated through him as he crashed to the ground, quickly forgotten as the creature landed atop him.
Lean, sinewy fingers grasping, struggling, extending with relentless and insatiable desire...to match his own. The Ring seethed in protest, searing into his flesh, into his mind as it screamed denial, demanded protection...and yet he heard it calling...to Gollum, suppliant and betrayer.
He couldn't...fight him...not strong...enough...frenzied hands...tearing, scratching...closer...shrieks of torment...closer still...blinding agony...
Its voice, seductive, insistent, commanding: "Draw strength from Me, my own..."
He collided with reality as the scream died unvoiced on his lips. Sam was crouching on the floor before him, arms yet gripping his shoulders from the gentle shake that must have been given to return him to the here and now. His mind still reeling, he met Sam's troubled gaze as he struggled to breathe normally, fervently hoping his eyes were not at this moment a window of his soul.
Oh stars, all of it was real...
He had been having the nightmares for weeks--images, like flashes of time just beyond grasp that had permeated his peaceful oblivion of sleep and wrested from him the only respite from his ever-present lust for the ring. But as time passed, the fleeting wisps of remembrance had flourished twistedly into hideous beasts of nightmare that haunted and tortured, leaving him shaking like a frightened animal drenched in sweat and bitter tears. He had convinced himself that they were only visions produced by the lingering effects of the Ring. But this dream, this nightmare was vibrant, and...Sam, Sam had known what it was about...it was real. All of it, all of them, were real. They were memories.
Was this how it had been? Insatiable thirst, stabbing pangs of hunger nigh onto starvation, exhaustion to the point of delirium... But this was not the worst of it. The power of the Ring had burned through his mind, producing an agony that was beyond definition. It had taunted him, dared him to try and resist it. It threw all his hopes and dreams and memories down so far that he would never be able to reach them again and replaced them with hideous visions of the future. Darkness covering all the lands, his friends in slavery and tortured, all because he would not claim the Ring. It pleaded with him to end this, to end their suffering and his own by doing this one small task...just put it on your finger, Frodo, and save them all...
And then...as they approached the mountain...and Gollum...
Even though he now had images, memories for some of these events, they were too painful to dwell on because that somehow gave them a reality his wounded soul was not willing to grant them. How does one fight an enemy that strikes when you are defenseless? He could do nothing against the shadows that raped his mind in the night. Sleep was no longer a refuge but a prison--a forced abandonment of the control he struggled to maintain.
He shook his head in an attempt to clear it, but still his mind finished the thought that he had been trying to avoid.
It had tormented him. It had broken him. It had taken everything he was and perverted it to its evil uses, perverted HIM into something evil...and still, still...he longed for it?
He bowed his head under the shame of it as he felt his cheeks heating and tears brimming in his eyes. He sat there for long moments, willing his mind to go blank, willing the memories to be just harmless visions, willing himself to stop thinking of that wretched piece of gold...until Sam gently shook him again.
"No..." he began, voice shaking so badly that he had to break off and try again, "No, Sam...the nightmare was not about Mordor. I don't remember anything of that place."
Sam eyed him quizzically, the doubt and suspicion etched plainly on his face.
The denial seemed to help contain his roiling emotions, but he had to be alone before he lost control...
"Sam I...I find I'm not feeling very well this morning, and it's apparent that I didn't get enough sleep last evening..."
"...I think I'm going to go lie down for a while and rest."
Sam rose slowly, arms still grasping Frodo's, and gently helped his master to his feet. Hazel eyes met his with concern, but also with some sort of understanding that he did not comprehend, as Sam said gently, "Let me help you".
Frodo was grateful for that steadying hold; he surely would have swayed had he tried to stand on his own. Sam led him out of the kitchen and down the hall to his room, one strong hand still encircling Frodo's upper arm and guiding him.
Sam released him at the side of his bed, and as Frodo wearily sat down Sam made for the bedroom door.
"Shall I bring you some second breakfast after while, Mister Frodo?" as he stopped on the threshold of Frodo's room.
"Yes, thank you Sam, I'm sure I'll feel better by then," was Frodo's attempt at an enthusiastic response as he lay back on the pillow, the back of his maimed hand cast over his eyes.
A soft voice carried over the stillness "I have nightmares about Mordor, too...".
Frodo startled and raised his head in time to see Sam slowly closing his door, a look of pity and compassion on his face. Their eyes locked in a moment of mutual understanding that Frodo did not have the will or the strength to deny.