1. Chapter One
Yet not quickly enough. Not before I catch a glimpse of your soulful blue eyes, eyes that had seen too much.
How could I forget eyes such as those?
Your eyes saw promise in what others would push aside. Your curiosity, your different way of looking at the world -- it was what made me love you.
You had seen more than mere twigs in the bird's nest you brought to me that Yule over twenty years past. "My Halga," you had said as we walked across the field, hand in hand. "Wait here, love, Sméagol has something for you." And you ran ahead to an old rabbit hole where you kept the small treasures you found. A few moments later I heard your padding footsteps approaching again. You were almost to me before I saw what you held in your hands.
I held it in my palm, turning it in the moonlight, trying to decide its worth. 'Twas merely twisted branch and tufts of feather! Yet my love thought it a fitting gift for his Halga.
"Why?" I asked you, probing your eyes for some hint of the answer to this riddle.
You looked at me, confusion clouding your face. "Because it is like us, my Halga." You took my finger and used it to trace as far as you could, probing through the nest. "Little bits, weak on their own, but tucked and turned into something else. Where does one end, and the other begin? They are one and the same. And they make a safe home."
And I kissed you. Our first kiss. My lips touched your cheek, and you turned in surprise. And you smiled.
Your lips were second in my heart only to your eyes, yet least of all for kissing. There was really no need, and we had so many other uses for those lips. We would go deep into the forest together, where the moonlight shimmered through the boughs like silver rain, and you would show me the honeysuckle flowers growing on their vines. You would break the tip off a flower and suck the juice out through the tip, and then show me how to do the same. We would suck all the flowers dry and lie against the mossy hill, watching the caterpillars climb up the trees and the squirrels leap from branch to branch.
Yet for all our moonlit walks, I most missed the sun-drenched afternoons, lying on the riverbank cooling our feet in the water.
The grass grew thick there, at our special spot, and it always seemed greener there than anywhere else. Though I suppose that is probably just the imaginings of a reminiscent heart. That bank was ours. It was there that you gave me my pennywhistle, just like your own.
Just two simple pieces of wood, or so you might think. But I knew better. You had traded for them with the Big Folk. When you were younger you had often played with the sons of Men who lived nearby. You had trusted them, which was more than most hobbits did, and you each learned something from the other. You were always curious about things others just couldn't be bothered with.
You taught me to play, or tried to. You would place your hands over mine and move my fingers over the holes. But I only ever played to make you happy. I would much rather lean back against the bank and listen to your tunes. When you played the old songs you seemed to breathe new life into them. It was as if you poured your very soul into those songs, finding some way to share those parts of you that no one ever saw.
Yes, those lips proved quite talented indeed. Good for sucking eggs and teaching songs, good for asking riddles -- you knew more riddles than anyone else I had ever known! But still, your eyes were always more dear to me. They shone with a curiosity rare even among us river-folk. Such wonder and depth! Maybe I was imagining that, seeing things that weren't there. Love blinds, they say. But somehow I don't think so.
"Mama." A small hand grabs my finger, tearing me from my daydream. I pick her up and swing her around, her brown curls bouncing as I jostle her up and down. "Have you had a nice afternoon, Merbliss?"
She smiles at that, nodding. "I made a hat for Frum," she says and points over to her brother walking along the bank further upstream.
I cannot help but giggle at that. The sight of nine-year-old Frum, a ring of daisies adorning his ruddy face and unruly hair, is a sight to behold indeed. And as I smile at my son, I catch another look at you, a silver fish gleaming in the late afternoon sun as you hold it above your head. Crack. You snap the fish in two; it stops wriggling.
I run my hand through Merbliss's silky hair. This might have been yours, my love, I think to myself, wondering if you ever think the same thing. Do you regret the path you chose? Raw fish scavenged from river-bottoms, no hole to call your own, always alone? I sigh. You wanted something more, once. We wanted it. But they called you thief. Murderer. They threw you out.
Déagol had always been everyone's favourite. He was very generous, the only one I ever knew who was more giving than you. And for every girl Déagol danced with at Yule, three more wanted a turn in his arms. Not so with you. You were always mine; no other girl envied me you. But you and Déagol liked each other well enough, and you would often go off together.
One bright summer morning you two went away by yourselves, off to the Gladden Fields. It was your birthday, and your grandmother had had Déagol take you fishing to get you away from the hole so we could prepare the celebration. I spent most of the afternoon with her, baking and cooking, tying ribbons on presents, and doing whatever else was needed. The family, not my family. But that might change soon enough. I expected a proposal from you any day, and could sense in your grandmother's questions that she was trying to get to know me better, this girl who had so stolen her Sméagol's heart.
The sun set behind the hills, and still you and Déagol did not return. We had tea and were about to send some of the cousins out to look for you when the door opened. You stumbled in, water dripping from your matted hair, and pulled the door closed behind you.
"Sméagol," Grandmother asked harshly, "where is your cousin?" You sank silently into the chair by the door and refused to answer. "Sméagol?" she asked again.
"Déa -- Déagol is gone." You swallowed hard, shoving your hands deep into your trouser pockets. "A beast took him, dragged him off."
No one spoke for a long moment. Outside the wind howled mercilessly. And then, awoken from a trance, everyone began moving at once. Your grandmother ran down the corridor and returned with several cousins and uncles. They left as quickly as could be for the Gladden Fields and searched through the night, but without luck. No one ever found Déagol's body.
You were never well-liked, Sméagol, but only after Déagol's disappearance did you become truly despised. Murderer they called you. You were the last to see your cousin. No beast or body was ever found. And you were never what one would call normal. You could have killed Déagol. You must have! Or so they said. I never believed them, though. My Sméagol, you loved all living things. You would never take another's life.
But they called you other names, not just "murderer". Liar. Sneak. Your lips, once so fair, now they made that awful sound. Gollum, they named you. No hobbit had ever made such a noise, but you gollumed when you talked to others -- and when you talked to yourself. That scared me, love. Surely talking to yourself isn't natural, when you have family and friends all around?
Mother had never liked you. She'd always warned me that you would hurt me in the end. Then, I thought she just didn't understand you, didn't see you like I did. And when your cousins started whispering behind your back, saying you had killed poor Déagol, she heard every sneer. She told me to leave you, said you would drag me down with you. Yet I knew she was blinded to your worth, so I stayed by your side.
Those next few months were full of rumours. Dogs disappeared, and some said they saw you pulling scraps of meat from old bones. Things began to vanish -- at first small things, mittens and spoons. But as the list grew longer the family became less willing to look aside. Secrets whispered between friends soon were known throughout the village. And then, on the afternoon before the Yule dance, Grandmother could not find her heirloom pearls.
"I for one have had enough," your cousin Hamwer said. "We all have been putting up with this nonsense for months now. Why, just last Mersday I couldn't find my garden spade and had to go down the road -- a good half-hour walk! -- to borrow one." That didn't make sense; what need would you have for a spade? But by then they were blaming you for every little thing anyone misplaced. "And for what?" Hamwer continued. "We've all talked to him 'bout it, but he don't listen. We know who it is. Who else could it be?"
Now was the moment to act. I knew where you hid your precious things. If I could only slip away and find the pearls, and the other things that had gone missing, I could return them. But what then? I -- I could say that I had stolen them, but that now I knew it was wrong. If I promised never to do it again, they would let me stay. And it would keep them from suspecting you. I didn't know what had changed about you, but I knew you were still good inside, deep down, and that you would be all right in the end if only someone who loved you stood by you.
But I did nothing. Nothing. I knew I was only lying to myself. The Sméagol I loved was gone; you had changed somehow, and something else had taken your place. How could I defend such a one?
"Mama?" Merbliss asked, laying her hand on my cheek. I turned back to her and blew on her nose, eliciting another giggle.
Mothers can be most persuasive, I thought, stealing one last glance at you as you plodded up the river. I am sorry.
Bodham was a good husband, I reminded myself, and he had provided me with a good life -- a comfortable farm, and two wonderful children.
"Mama, who is that?" Merbliss asked me again. Her smile had faded, replaced by a most pensive look. Clever child.
He was Mama's precious, and Mama was his. But that was a long time ago, I thought. But that answer would never do. So I just said, "No one." I smiled down at Merbliss and set her down on the ground. "Come on, let's go find your father."
The names of the characters in this story all come from Old English names. Given that they would have been Sméagol's friends and family, that seemed reasonable. But perhaps some translations are in order:
* Hamwer: "defender of the home"
* Bodham: "command the home"
* Merbliss: "extra joy"
* Frum: "first" (as in frum-cenned, first born)
* Halga: "saint", "saving"
Sméagol and Déagol are of course canonical characters. The rest are original. Thanks to Liz for her help with the translations.
Also, thanks to Ann and Liz for betaing the piece.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.