Summary: Sam takes an unexpected trip to Minas Tirith’s lower levels. A tale written as a series of double drabbles.
Category: Lord of the Rings
Word Count: 3617
The night watch was not yet past when the Perian trudged into view. His head was down, his steps heavy. He weaved as he walked, uncaring or unaware of the broken city over which he passed.
“He is one of those who went into Mordor.” Derethal, guard of the second circle, followed the Halfling’s progress. “He seems … confused.”
Túril, his fellow watchman, was less concerned. “He seems drunk. And who can blame him, after what they suffered in that cursed land?” The Perian stumbled over part of a downed wall, yet continued on. “Still,” Túril allowed, “perhaps we should not let him wander as he wills. The Periain are as yet unfamiliar with our city.” He cast a wry glance at the shattered stones glistening in the pale moonlight. “Such as it is.”
“I shall call someone to escort him back.”
“Nay,” Túril demurred. “He has surely earned the right to drink to excess without all knowing, if he so wishes. Let us simply guide him to a safe resting place.”
The Perian took no note as he was steered to a sheltered niche. He only huddled into it, murmuring as a litany, “The sky, Mr. Frodo. The sky.”
The morning sun was bright. Minas Tirith had labored beneath rain and gloomy skies for much of the week, but that seemed to be at an end. Sam was happy to feel the sun on his face—not much rebuilding or replanting could be done in the wet, and it was difficult to coax Mr. Frodo out of the house when naught but puddles and damp clothing awaited. Strider insisted that gentle exercise would aid the Ringbearer’s recovery, but lately the weather had conspired against them.
He’ll have no excuse today, Sam thought, then opened his eyes to an utterly unfamiliar scene.
He was tucked against a stone building, surrounded by rubble. Nothing but the foundation and lower steps remained, and as Sam peered about he saw little that looked any better. His heart beat faster and he stood, rubbing at his wet trousers. If he remembered aright from their tour of the city, it was the lower levels that had been leveled so by Sauron’s invading forces.
The last he remembered, he had been settling into his snug bed in their comfortable home, after finishing a nice bedtime snack.
Where was he now, and how had he come there?
Men scrambled as the last stones fell, and Calamin grunted with satisfaction. This tavern had been the final structure on the block in need of demolition—he and his crew were surrounded now by mostly bare foundation, though two buildings up the way had escaped massive damage and still stood. It was difficult, tearing down rather than building up in the aftermath of the great battle, but they all understood. The city must be made safe, quickly, to prevent further injury and loss of life. Rebuilding would come after.
“Excuse me, sir?”
The voice was close, at elbow level. Calamin turned, and cursed when he found himself staring at one of the Periain. Who had brought them into this chaos? He had heard tell that the new King honored them greatly and would deny them little, but surely the man would not be so foolish as to allow them to wander freely through the ruined city. That could only invite disaster.
“What are you doing here?”
The Perian offered a diffident shrug. “I’m a bit confused about that myself, and I aim to go.” He grinned bashfully. “Just as soon as I can find which way is out.”
“The second level!” Sam shook his head, dismayed. “Of all the times to start sleepwalking, Sam Gamgee, and all the places to go while you do it! It’s a good thing I talked about going to the market today, or Mr. Frodo would be all worked up with needless worry by now.” He continued along the main thoroughfare, muttering. It was inconvenient, is what it was. The second level was a long way from their house, and it would take him a good while to get back.
That level was behind him, at least, and a good bit of the third. The morning was passing, although so was the sun that had seemed so promising. The sky was again darkening, tinged a heavy iron grey.
His stomach had been rumbling for a good while now, and his mouth was dry. He had yet to see any public well. His feet scraped over grimy stone and barked against scattered debris. Somehow, he had bruised his left sole. The road stretched before him, the dull sky pressed down upon him.
His pupils contracted, and his breathing settled into familiar rhythm. The road bent away from him, but unseeing, he shuffled on.
“Mama, there’s a Periman in your garden!”
What on Arda was a Periman? Galia left her scrubbing—sometimes it seemed as though she would never be done—and joined her small daughter at the rear door. “What is it, Tindála?”
The child pointed. “In your garden.”
It was grandiose to call the small patch a garden. It had, however, miraculously survived the destruction, and Galia was protective of it. She stepped out, ready to run off an herb thief as she had done often since the fighting ceased, and stopped.
A Perian stood at the center of her little plot, breathing deeply of the sharp fragrances. For a moment she froze, and then the small figure swayed. Shaken from her surprise, Galia went to him.
He looked up, but it was a long moment before his eyes focused upon her. That accomplished, he seemed as startled as she. He looked about the little garden, and red splashed his cheeks.
“Begging your pardon, mistress.” He ducked his head and tried to depart, but Galia put out a hand.
“Hold, Master Perian. Are you well?”
The red deepened, but she saw too anxiety in his eyes. “I’m not … sure.”
He had been walking toward the fourth level gate, and now … he was in a strange garden, with an unfamiliar Woman. How? He remembered passing broken structures and knots of workmen, women hurrying into the remaining shops and stalls, a pile of abandoned Orc gear in the center of the…
There was no Orc gear in the roads of Minas Tirith. The remains of the Enemy’s army had been cleared away and burned early on. So what…
Mordor. Sam’s heart pounded, and his ears rang. He had believed he was still in Mordor, trudging along the road toward Mount Doom.
This was no sleepwalking. He had been full awake.
What was wrong with him?
The scent of herbs on the breeze had drawn him, so out of place in that desolate land. It had tickled his memory, alerted him that something was perhaps not as it seemed. And now here he was, gaping like a fool, bothering this lady and the little girl peeking around the door.
Congratulations, Sam Gamgee. That’s a good day’s work, it is…
He forced a smile, hoping to ease her worry. “Would you have a cup of water, before I go?”
“Garthen, have you been to visit your father yet today?”
Garthen straightened, gritting his teeth. He had made a habit, since the wounded had returned from Cormallen, of going to the Houses of Healing to share lunch with his father, who had lost a leg before the Black Gate. Today, however, his aunt had prevented him.
“Gather all the smaller stone pieces and bits of wood from the back of the house and cart them down to the disposal site this morning. Do not argue! No one will come to clear the larger debris until they have firm ground to stand upon. Work quickly, and you may yet see your father today.”
“No.” He flung a fist-sized rock into the wheelbarrow with extra force. “She made me stay to haul rocks.” Garthen turned his scowl upon Galia, his aunt’s near neighbor. “How is that more important?”
Galia smiled faintly, patting his shoulder. “I will speak to Lenia.”
That was unexpected. “You will?”
“Aye. I have a guest that would like to walk with you, if he may.”
Garthen looked past her, and his jaw dropped to behold the small figure that he had only ever seen from afar.
The lad was a talker, and no mistake. Even after Sam had overcome his shock at being recognized—by name, no less—he had trouble keeping up with Garthen’s questions about all things Perian.
“Hobbits, lad. We call ourselves Hobbits.”
It was just as well. The chatter distracted him from worry about the morning’s events. Sleepwalking was one thing, even if he had never done so in the past.
“Our land is the Shire.”
This … waking trance, though, frightened him. What had caused it? And what if it happened again when Mr. Frodo was feeling poorly and needed him?
“Aragorn—Elessar, sorry—is our King now. We have a mayor too, though, and a Thain.”
He couldn’t allow that. Mr. Frodo counted on him, and he couldn’t be drifting off like that without warning.
“What was Mordor like?” Briefly, Sam glanced up at the oppressive sky. “You don’t want to know, lad.”
Maybe the sleepwalking was the key. If the healers could give him a draught to make him sleep better—he’d been tossing and turning lately—surely he’d see the end of it. If not… He shivered. No, indeed. He didn’t like to think about it happening again.
Healer Beretain slipped out of the ward, into the walkway between the Houses. He was, he reminded himself, fortunate to be here. Many healers had been sent into the city, to succor those too injured to come or not enough injured to warrant a bed. It was necessary for some healers, therefore, to sleep at the complex, and to be available at any hour. Beretain did not begrudge the wounded his care, but he was bone-weary and wished for nothing more than a few hours’ sleep on a free cot.
Behind him, he heard the light step of youth. Gethil’s son had arrived to lighten his father’s spirits. As Beretain greeted the boy, a small figure lingered in the archway.
“Master Perian.” He hurried forward. “May I be of assistance?”
The Halfling shifted, awkward. “I’ve not been sleeping well. I was hoping for a draught to help me.” As he moved, Beretain saw fresh blood printing the floor.
“Of course.” He bowed. “One brief moment, please.” He hurried to a nearby room, scrawled a quick note, and hailed a passing page. “Take this to the King at once.” The boy darted away, and Beretain returned to guide the Perian within.
Sam perched on the edge of a cot, awaiting Beretain’s return. The healer had brought him to a private room, attentive while Sam made his request.
“I hate to ask it, but I’ve just been tossing and turning these past nights.”
“I see.” Beretain gestured. “And your feet?”
His feet? Sam looked down and was surprised by their state. He hadn’t felt the cuts or bleeding, but he supposed he wasn’t surprised. You’ve been tripping over rocks and rubble all night, Sam Gamgee. What did you expect? He offered an apologetic grin, embarrassed at being caught in a half-truth. The Gaffer always said truth was the simplest. Then again, the Gaffer had never been in this situation. “I might of did some sleepwalking, too. Ended up outside, didn’t notice where I was.”
Beretain nodded gravely, then left him. Sam wasn’t certain what the healer was doing or why it was taking so long, but now that he realized about his feet, they surely hurt. He swung them gently, and looked up in relief when the door opened.
The Man who entered, carrying pitcher, basin, and bandages, was not who he expected. Sam’s face flushed hot, and he looked away. “Strider.”
“What are you doing here?”
Sam was dismayed. Aragorn took no hurt—private was this Hobbit, and unaware of his great worth. The King smiled. “It is my doing, I fear. The healers here have instruction to contact me should any from our fellowship require aid.” He sat on the floor before Sam. “Professional jealousy, perhaps. I do not easily hand over my patients.”
Sam huffed, but sat still as Aragorn examined one bare foot, then the other. Sam tensed as toes were manipulated and various sites pressed gently, but Aragorn sensed embarrassment rather than pain, and wondered at it. He worked silently, then soaked a cloth in warm water. When he reached out again, however, the Hobbit resisted.
“You oughtn’t to be doing this.”
Aragorn sat back on his heels, puzzled. “Why not?”
“You’re the King.”
Dear Sam. “And you are Samwise Gamgee, who braved the perils of Mordor.” The Hobbit blushed. “Am I not still Strider, who gained your trust in the northern wilds? Did you not accept succor from me at Cormallen?” Silence. Aragorn lifted the bare foot, and this time Sam did not protest. “Be at ease then, my friend, and tell me what has befallen.”
The sting as Aragorn cleaned his feet was a blessing—it kept his mind focused on something other than his own words. Haltingly, Sam described his experience of waking in strange territory. Strider’s face was hidden, bent over Sam’s feet, but his voice was calm.
“Do you have a history of such nighttime adventures?”
“No!” The denial burst forth, and Aragorn looked up. Sam growled softly. No use getting worked up, no matter the night’s events. “Never.”
“I see.” Aragorn began to spread ointment with gentle hands. Sam’s poor feet protested. “You say you’ve not been sleeping well.” Sam nodded. “For how long?”
“A week or so, I guess.”
“Has anything been concerning you? Beyond the usual, that is?”
Sam shrugged. “Don’t think so. But I’ve been … down, I guess. Tired.” He flushed, ashamed. “I … I snapped at Mr. Frodo the other day.”
“That is not like you.” Aragorn frowned, his hands busy with bandages. Sam sighed, reluctant to delve into the rest. He didn’t think it could be avoided, though. In for a bushel, in for a barrel, his Gaffer always said.
“The thing is…” Sam shivered, suddenly afraid. “I think something might be wrong with me.”
The fear in the usually cheerful, matter-of-fact voice tore at Aragorn’s heart. He rose quickly and sat beside Sam. “What troubles you?”
Sam sighed, looking everywhere but at his companion. “I was walking home from the second level, and then I was … in Mordor.” The Hobbit shrugged self-consciously, cheeks flaming. Aragorn rendered his face impassive, though he knew both relief and deep anger at such news. A single instance of such an event was not necessarily serious, but surely this little one had been through enough. He nodded, encouraging. Sam, obviously surprised that his dire report had received no stronger reaction, continued. “I saw Orc gear, I felt the dust and heat and sweat.” Sam trembled, and Aragorn put a firm hand on his shoulder. “Then I smelled green. I knew that was wrong, and next thing, I was in the middle of a garden, with a lady and her little one staring.” He uttered a humorless chuckle, and turned pleading eyes upon Aragorn. “What’s the matter with me?”
Aragorn sighed, then offered a smile. “Nothing entirely unexpected, Sam, and nothing that, on the surface, gives me reason for great concern.”
Hope crept cautiously into the Hobbit’s dark eyes.
“This is normal?” Sam couldn’t quite believe it—the whole city would be filled with folk trapped inside their own heads. Strider, though, only shrugged.
“Not if by ‘normal’ you mean it occurs often, or to everyone. But it is not unknown for one who has been through a traumatic occurrence to experience these interruptions. I have seen it.”
“And what … happened to them?”
The King’s grip was comforting. “Most often, nothing. Our minds are marvelously complex, Sam, and this may be simply some part of its process for coming to terms with all that has happened.”
Strider sighed. “I have seen it twice where the interruptions continued, eventually interfering with normal life.” It was an awful thought, and Sam’s heart beat faster. Aragorn seemed to sense it, or perhaps he had been watching. “Other factors were involved, and I do not anticipate it here.”
He had to trust Aragorn—the Man knew far more than Sam Gamgee. It was unsettling, though, and didn’t fix his original problem. He was about to renew his request for a sleep draught when Strider tilted his head, eyeing Sam oddly.
“Is there aught wrong with these ceiling tiles, Master Hobbit?”
Sam gaped, but Aragorn did not miss the quick, haunted glance—the eighth, perhaps, since he had entered—that the Hobbit cast upward before catching his eye.
“The ceiling?” He was baffled. “What do you mean?”
Doubtless, Sam had no idea it was even happening. Aragorn was uncertain what this odd new mannerism might mean, but he did know that it was not one he had previously associated with this Hobbit. Somehow, it must be significant.
“Just this. Since I have come, you have often looked up, and have seemed uncomfortable while doing so. It is not a thing I normally see from you.”
“Looked up… ” Sam’s brow furrowed. Finally he shrugged, offering an embarrassed grin. “You know, it’s silly, but I think it’s … well, the sky’s been so dark and heavy lately, with all the rain. It’s put me in a bit of a mood.”
“It’s everywhere, isn’t it? Just hanging so low above us.” Sam shivered. “It’s like I can feel it.”
“The sky! Pressing down. Making it hard to breathe. It’s like… ” Sam trailed off, and stared suddenly.
The King straightened. “Sam?”
“It reminds me of Mordor,” the Hobbit whispered.
Sam was glad for Strider’s calm, even tone. It helped him to control the sweeping embarrassment. How could he not realize?
“Does the sky there look as this one?” Aragorn’s voice was doubtful. “I do not remember it so, but perhaps it has changed since my time there.”
“No.” Sam huffed out a breath. What a ninnyhammer you are, Sam Gamgee. “It doesn’t look anything like this. It wasn’t wet, it was bone dry.” He sighed, feeling suddenly worn and beaten. Would it never be over? It was all in the past now. Why couldn’t it stay there? “But it was just … so heavy. All the time. It was hard to even stand up under it some days. And…”
“And these constant low clouds may not look the same, but to you, so recently returned from another heavy sky, they feel the same.” Strider nodded, pressing Sam’s shoulder. “I deem this likely to be source of your sleeping problems, and your episodes of this morning.” He smiled. “Once the skies clear, I doubt not that you will feel much improved.”
“I hope so.” Sam sighed, then lifted an eyebrow. “In the meantime, what about that sleeping draught?”
“What do you mean, no?”
Aragorn smothered a smile. For all his diminutive size, Samwise Gamgee could truly make his displeasure felt. Instead, he rose.
“I dislike resorting to such measures without need. The effects of such draughts may often be unpleasant.”
“Without need!” Sam started after him, but Aragorn stilled him with a glare.
“Those feet should not take any weight yet today.”
The Hobbit settled once more and scowled, crossing his arms. “I told you, I’ve not had a good night’s sleep in—”
“Perhaps you would be willing to hear me out, Samwise?”
Sam fell silent, mouth still open, then blushed beet red. “Sorry, Strider,” he mumbled. “I told you I’ve not been too easy to live with lately.”
“It is forgotten, my friend.” Aragorn nodded. “I will prepare packets of athelas. Crush the contents of one and sprinkle it into warm water near the head of your bed. You may soak a towel as well, laying it upon your chest while you sleep. I believe this will aid your rest without the use of stronger medicine.” He canted his head. “What say you?”
The Hobbit nodded, returning the King’s smile. “I say thanks, and no mistake.”
“Get that away!” Sam batted his master’s hands aside. “I’m not sleeping with no wet towel!”
“Now, Sam.” Frodo plopped the dripping towel across Sam’s chest and arms. “Remember what Aragorn said. You’re—”
“He said I may soak a towel.” He was already wet. There was no point to arguing. Sam subsided, grumbling, and was almost sure he heard a faint snicker. “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”
Frodo attempted to look wounded by the accusation.
“Sam! How can you think such a thing? I’m—”
“Happy to get back at me for all my fussing, I’m sure.”
Frodo snorted laughter. “Well, now that you mention it…” Good humor sparkled in his eyes, and Sam was glad of it. If this ridiculousness helped Mr. Frodo, he was more than willing. He relaxed, wriggling beneath the weight of the towel. Frodo’s hand on his arm stilled him.
“I regret this has happened, Sam, and I wish for you to sleep well tonight.” His master’s eyes were solemn again. Sam sighed.
“Aye, of course I know, Mr. Frodo.”
“Good.” Frodo patted his arm. “Get some sleep. We’ll see you don’t wander off again.” He turned to exit, chuckling fondly. “Stubborn Hobbit.”