11. Chapter 10
Gimli turned to Legolas. “I wonder if they know." he said.
The Elf looked confused, but intrigued. “If who knows what?"
"Females--of all kindreds," the Dwarf replied. “I wonder if they are aware of the capacity of a man’s heart. Do they begin to comprehend the devotion we bear them? Can they understand all that we would lay at their feet, or cast aside for their sake? Do they know the perfect happiness that we are granted at such feelings?"
Legolas thought for a time, and then answered with heaviness in his voice. “I believe they do, Gimli. They know because that devotion is returned to us in kind." He eyed the medallion on his quiver. “Yes, they know." Gimli nodded and turned to face the rolling water. For a long time, they said nothing further.
Gollum sprang up and tried to jump back into the water. Ethuiel then spoke to him in the common speech. “Halt creature! The Archer of Gondolin is at your back!" At that he fell to the ground writhing and began to weep, beg and curse at once. “Don’t kill usssss! Pleasssse don’t kill us! Nasty, horrible, vicious Elveses! We knew they would get us! Just a matter of time it was! Just a matter of time." As he said the last words he looked up at her with his haunting, desperate eyes. Then he buried his face in his arms and wept with his body flat upon the ground.
Ethuiel lowered her bow. No, she would not kill him, not yet. Strangely, she felt that she needed a reason. Things were different for her now. She marveled at her own resistance and the obvious transition in her thought. She would never have hesitated, before now, to kill something so apparently malevolent and who clearly had no love for Elves. She thought it would be wise to keep her distance. As sickly and lean as he was, she could see a malicious strength in this being and decided that she, unquestionably, did not care to scrap with him. An archer she was, a brawler she was not.
“Stay precisely where you are, creature, and you may be the first to survive such a meeting. But do sit up so that I may look on you." she said in a reassuring voice. Gollum slowly sat up and hunched over, looking terrified and bewildered. “Now tell me your name and your business in this land. You are far too close to the Golden Wood for my liking. Why do you follow this river? What is your destination?"
Gollum lifted his eyes and stared down stream. He was afraid that he would not be able to catch them after such a delay. In his mind he considered springing an attack so that he might be free to pursue. As he did so, The Archer perceived his thought and, once again, raised her bow. He knew he was caught, and finally, with resignation, he spoke. “We are poor Gollum." he said, and shook his head. “We follow the thieves who took our precious! Tricksy, tricksy thieves!" When he said this he whined and threw his arms into the air. Again, he began to cry.
Ethuiel tried to calm him. “Who is your precious, and who are these captors? We do not take kindly to such rogues in Lórien. If you can point them out, I will dispatch them for you and save your precious." She looked at him keenly and wondered what female might be inclined to keep company with him. “Whoever she is." she added, and shook all over. Gollum cocked his head to one side and nearly laughed.
He contemplated her mistake. Perhaps he could use it against them all and at last have the precious for his own once more. In a moment though, he thought better of it. There was an Elf in that band. If he attempted what he was considering, the plan could easily recoil--around his own neck. He began to choke out his rattling cough. “Gollum, gollum!" In a moment, he contained himself. "Cannot catch them now. Must be patient, must be wise, yesss. Need no help from cruel Elveses besides." He shrunk down pitifully.
“I see now how you acquired this name ‘Gollum'" Ethuiel said quietly. “It seems to me a hateful thing and I do not care for it. Even weeks ago, I would have thought it amusing, but then again, weeks ago I would have killed you before I learned it." She stared at him solemnly from under her hood. “I do not wish to kill you now. I feel that I wish to help you. Why I do, I know not, but nevertheless, that is my thought. Tell me now your name creature and perhaps I will tell you mine. Tell me of your love and how it was that you lost her, that we might find a way to retrieve her."
He was genuinely moved by her kindness. “We doesn’t remember our name." he replied sadly. “We are Gollum now. And we have no precious."
Ethuiel moved a bit closer to him and sat upon the ground. “You must remember. You should not go about with such a name any longer. What did your mother call you? Surely you remember your own mother."
The mention of his mother brought the memory of his grandmother into his mind and he suddenly became angry. “She doesn’t care about us! Never cared! Nasssty, nasssty wretch! We don’t wants to think of her. Hates her! We hates her very much!"
Ethuiel was startled by his venom. “We need not discuss her then." she said trying to ease him, but he had been provoked and he went on.
“‘Sméagol!'" she said to us, "‘Leave my house and my land, and NEVER COME BACK!' She cast us out! We were so young. We needed her then, yes; needed her very much." Then his eyes grew dim and sad again. He looked as an amputee, who has just received a grim reminder of his loss by its occasional, maddening itch.
In her mind, Ethuiel was certain that he had been cast out for good cause, but how ever it had happened, she sympathized with him. She knew only too well how it was to be suddenly torn from all one loved and needed. Somehow, she felt a peculiar bond with him. They could have an understanding between them, she felt sure. She again attempted to change the tone of the conversation.
“There now, see! You have remembered! You are Sméagol. It is a fine name, ‘Sméagol,' it suits you well." Sméagol showed his unnerving smile. She had given him a compliment--a real one. He did not remember if he’d ever received one previously. “Tell me then Sméagol; tell me of your beloved."
In his heart he wanted to tell her, but found that he could not. He tried to find another topic. He did not wish to offend or make her angry. Not because he feared her, he no longer did, but because he honestly wished to stay and speak with her longer. For a moment, he forgot all about the Company bearing his precious away from him. He said, “There are tasty fishes in your river. Allow us to fetch you one. Sméagol is a crafty fisher, yessss, crafty he is! Lovely, fat fishes there are. Are you hungry uhhhh..." He did not yet know her name.
She chose to tell it to him. “Ethuiel. I am Ethuiel, daughter of Ecthelion. I am the Archer of Gondolin, a captain of Lothlórien, and a champion to Galadriel, Lady of Light." Sméagol had indeed heard, and remembered, the story of Ecthelion and the fall of Gondolin. Everyone knew that tale. He knew also that the name of Ecthelion had been a war cry of the Eldar. He was amazed at his company and all the more touched at her kind attentiveness.
Ethuiel was suddenly deep in thought. It was the first time she had spoken the name of her father without sorrow. It was the first time she had ever spoken of all that she was aloud, and to her deep astonishment, she felt proud. Under her hood she wore an awkward, little smile. The little creature was cunning indeed. He had managed to distract the Elf from her query.
Then she realized that she was, in fact, hungry; quite hungry indeed. She had not eaten in nearly two days, so she allowed Sméagol to fish for her. It did not take him long before he returned with two nice looking fish. He even waited for her to clean and cook hers before he devoured his own. His manners somehow bothered her less than they had before. She offered him lembas from her pack and he took a small bite. It was clear that he did not care for it even slightly, but he chewed it and swallowed all the same. He declined to take more. “It is entirely your option!" She said to him with a laugh.
The two ate and talked. Each time the Elf tried to inquire about his mission, he managed to find a way to steer the conversation aside. Behind the mantle of clouds, the sun climbed and rode the sky westward. Sméagol told her his riddles and she sang him her songs. He delighted in the exquisite beauty of her Elven voice. He wished to see her face. As he wished it, a strong wind gusted and again blew Ethuiel’s hood from her head.
For a moment Sméagol sat staggered by her loveliness. Then, abruptly, he began to laugh in a high, screeching cackle and he rolled upon the ground. Ethuiel shot him a stern glance and said, “What it is that you find so amusing, I know not, but if you care at all for me you shall explain at once, for I am feeling rather cross with you now."
When he finally stopped laughing enough to make himself understood he told her his mind between choking gasps of hilarity. “If you only knew! If they only knew! This is the hideous, fierce Archer of Gondolin! ‘He’s got six bows and twelve arms to nock them!' they said to us, yesss!" He fell onto his back in a laughing fit, but finally continued. “Not only is he not a he, but a beauteous she! And small too, yes very small for her kind at that! This is the monster they fear! Don’t you see how it is so funny, Ethuiel?"
Ethuiel was glowering at him with anger, for she mistook his meaning. “You find me comical do you? Well, would you like to hear a tale that will make it clear to you that the monster they fear is a monster indeed?" Sméagol stopped laughing and stood motionless before her. She gave a tremulous sigh and began. “My guardian left me at the start of the second age. I had sworn an Oath to seek vengeance against the Evil One and his servant, Sauron, the Dark Lord for all that they had stolen from me. I did not know how much more I would allow them to take in so doing." Sméagol shrank in horror at hearing the the name of his former torturer.
“I wandered the wilds of Middle Earth hunting the orcs they had made. I killed all that I saw and it was a deep delight to my heart. I did naught but eat, rest and kill; the latter more oft than the others, to be sure. My grace of immortality allowed me to pursue my fascination for thousands of years, without great consequence to my body. But the spell it cast upon my heart, I did not know—until it was far too late. All I felt at that time was pain and hate. It did not hinder me though for I had become quite accustomed to it.
“It was five hundred odd winters ago when my own wrath nearly carried me away beyond The End. One night I was stalking a small band of Orcs in southern Mirkwood. Six there were, or so I thought. When I felt sure I could take them by surprise and best them, I loosed upon them a rain of darts. When all six lay dead or dying I approached, as I always did, to gloat at them and take my--cavernous--satisfaction.
“As I drew near them, a seventh, who had been following silently behind them, caught up. I turned only in time to see him spring. He swiftly got his hands upon me and threw me, effortlessly, into a tree. My bow flew from my hand in one direction; my quiver fell from my back in another. I still had my dagger, but the blow had been hard and I could not find my bearing in time to draw it before he was again upon me. He took hold of my cloak and lifted me, as if I were the very air, and threw me down to the ground, knocking the breath from my lungs. The earth whirled round in my eyes as a cyclone and he fell upon me with his hands about my throat.
“I felt consciousness leaving me and knew that my end was to be there; alone and friendless, at the hands of this evil spawn. All I could think of was that I did not want to lose my grace. I wanted to live—really live again. I wanted to feel joy just one last time.
“As he bore down with his hands, I felt the ground for anything with which to strike him. I found naught but leaves. I kicked and flailed to no avail; he was far too strong and he was full with deadly rage. He was atop my dagger, thus there was no hope of drawing it. I can only believe that at that moment, the spirit of Ecthelion stole into me that I might be spared.
“As I was dying, I pried my hands under the two smallest fingers on each of his enormous, grasping clutches. I got a firm hold and Sméagol, I did not merely break them; I broke them off. He shrieked with the pain and slid from my body. As I rolled away from him I caught my breath and drew my blade. I fell upon him and stabbed him so many times that his head and body went to wrack and ruin. The thoughts of life and joy that had just moments before filled my head were gone. I was giddy with murderous fury and flung parts of him into the air—laughing."
“It was then that I heard a faint moan. Apparently, I thought to myself, they were not yet all dead. I was correct. One of them still clung to his miserable life. I approached the dying fiend and stood above him expecting him to curse me and finally die. That, however, is not what happened. Do you know what he did, Sméagol?" He slowly shook his head. “He asked me—no, no, that is wrong. He begged me, begged me for quarter. He said that he would renounce the Dark Lord and become a friend and servant to the Elves. He said that he would do my bidding always if I let him live and he said that he would worship the Valar and be healed in his soul. And do you know what? I believed him. I believe him still. In truth I am sure that I would have made the most unlikely friend possible with that wretch. He would probably have never left me, but do you know what I did dear Sméagol, hmmm?"
Sméagol again slowly shook his head and stared at her with pity. She unsheathed her dagger. As she did so the afternoon sun peeked out briefly from behind the clouds. Its rays and the blade shared an ephemeral kiss. “I took this very dagger, and slowly, I carved out his heart." She paused with tears streaming down her face and said in a wavering voice, “Then I took a bite. And I spat it in his dead face. He wished to live, as had I only moments before, but my hate would not give me freedom to grant it. It owned me."
Ethuiel removed her boot to show him the mark. “Do you see this scar?" She asked. He looked closely and saw there the scarlet stain that traced her foot and ended at the ankle. He nodded that he could. “That was the night that this scar climbed to my hip." she said, and a sob escaped her. Sméagol approached her and grasped her hand. She accepted it and held tightly to his. Deeply she stared into his pallid eyes. “It was when I shed my raiment to wash the blood from it and my body that I realized that I was dying. I felt then, and the lord Elrond agrees, that I was, very nearly, the only Elf in Middle Earth to die outside of battle; or in binding to a mortal and willingly accepting that fate." She composed herself and took another deep breath.
“I then heard my sweet mother’s voice come to me and bid me seek Galadriel. I, thankfully, headed her words. I have been with the Lady since, and she has helped me to tame my loathing, but not entirely. I was, until quite recently, still trapped by its strangling net. But my recovery is not yet complete. For many years I felt, for most, nothing stronger than simple like or dislike of varying degree. My hate, though, for the Orcs and all their kind was still well intact and I hunted them, to be sure, though with less fervor.
“Of late, I came upon an Elf that I had not encountered since before the curse took me. He fell in love with me, and he laid his heart bare. He prayed for my recovery nearly unceasingly, and his friends also prayed with him that I might be again made whole. They prayed intensely indeed, but sadly not intensely enough, for it only served to drain me of all without replenishing the vessel. Although I must admit to feeling more myself, yet different, since I have met you Sméagol." Ethuiel smiled warmly at him, but his head was bowed low.
Sméagol was thinking of his own sickness and horrible misdeeds. He lifted his eyes to her and spoke. “We wants to tell you about the precious." he whispered and his breath became labored with sorrow. “We wants to tell the truth now." She nodded her head to indicate that she was listening. “The precious belonged to Déagol. He was our friend and we—killed him for the precious. We thought it should be ours. It told us it should be ours. It wanted us, not him! It told us to kill him. IT MADE US KILL HIM! We squeezed out his life and took it from his hand. It told us to take Déagol’s body and throw it into the river, so that no one would know what we had done. We told them he had drowned and they believed us, Yesss, believed us they did."
He was trembling with guilt and anguish. It was the first time that Sméagol had allowed himself to think of what had really happened, let alone speak of it aloud, and he reeled with the realization that he had murdered his own cousin and only friend. With tearful resignation he continued. “Now the precious is lost, but it owns us and will not let us forget."
Ethuiel sat stunned for a moment. It was obvious that "the precious" was not what she had originally imagined. What ever it was, it had made him do what he would not, and it was clearly making him grievously ill. She struggled to refrain from recoiling—or judging him. She wanted to help him still. “Sméagol," she said in a quiet and sympathetic tone, “when I at last found the Lady of Light, I was a creature not so very different from yourself. I came to her a wretched, dying soul. She took me to her heart, though I had less than nothing to offer her." As she said this she felt a tremor in her heart, and a flicker of light, but then suddenly, she understood the blow that she had dealt her queen in abandoning her. She was overwhelmed by feelings of guilt. She had to go back. If he would come, she would take Sméagol with her. “Can you see what Galadriel has done for me? Do you see that I will yet be whole because of her love? She can help you Sméagol. I know that she can, and I know that she will. It is but for you to ask for freedom. Come thither with me now and we may both have hope."
Sméagol slowly shook his head. “Cannot be healed," he said, “never be—whole. We belong to the precious now. We will always belong to it." A sudden flash of anger and deceit came into his eyes and he stood erect and cried out, “AND NOW THE TRICKSY, TRCKSY HOBBITSES HAS IT! THIEVES! THIEVES THEY ARE!" He slumped back onto the ground, panting with distress.
With caution, Ethuiel approached him and sat down. She of course knew that he was speaking of the Hobbits in the company and was clearly following them. She was also quite certain that whatever the precious was, that it was somehow tied to the task to which they had been bidden. “Sméagol, you must tell me now, what is this ‘precious' and why does it torture you so?" She asked as delicately as she could.
He looked at her with icy lust in his face, but spoke nonchalantly. “A ring," he said. She shook her head in confusion. He grew angry with her ignorance and he rose once more and shouted at her. “The Ring, foolish Elf!" he cried, “THE ONE RING IT IS!"
Ethuiel narrowed her eyes for she was suddenly afraid of his words; and angry as well. “WHAT ONE RING?" She said through her clenched teeth. Sméagol began to mutter the verse that all knew so well:
“One Ring to rule them all. One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness…”
“Bind them." Ethuiel finished his sentence. She whispered to herself in horror. She tried to struggle to her feet, but her knees were all that she could manage. If they truly had the One Ring, there was only one thing that they could be attempting; only one place to make that attempt. It struck her like a mace in a troll’s hand. They were going into Mordor; into the fires, the horrific fires of Mount Doom where the balrogs were conceived and the Ring was forged. She tried to cry out, but her voice was stuck in her throat. She breathed heavily; she was dizzy in her head. “Oh Elbereth." She managed to whisper. Then she had a vision of The Walkers, as captives in the tower of Barad-Dúr. In her mind she saw Legolas, a prisoner of the Dark Lord. This was not bearable, not possible. Ethuiel drew in as much air as her lungs would endure and sat up on her knees. “Ilúvatar!" She wailed out into the heavens. With that it happened.
A hot, searing Light enveloped her heart. It shot through her body and pierced her throat, her fingers, and her eyes. She felt the touch of The One upon the scarred foot. For a moment it took her breath completely and she felt that she might be dying at last. Finally, it threw her onto her back with a thud. As she lay trying to catch her breath, it came to her. She loved them. She loved them all; Galadriel and Celeborn, Elrond and Celebrían, Arwen, Aragorn, the Hobbits, Boromir, the Dwarf she loved dearly, and Legolas. Oh, Valinor and the earth--she loved him. Now he would never know. He was going into Mordor. He would not return.
She knew that she had no chance to catch them. They were far away by now, or so she thought. The truth was that they were not so far away. For the rest of that morning Legolas and Frodo felt the tow on their wills grow stronger with each stroke of the oars. They had both become heart-sick and the company was forced to stop to speak to them and to soothe them. Unfortunately, it only allowed Gollum the opportunity to find their path once more.
Ethuiel turned and said, “Follow if you will Sméagol!" But to her chagrin, he was gone. As she had lain upon the ground, gasping for breath, he slipped back into the water and left her. “Wicked fool!" she muttered to herself. “He cannot hope to find them now any more than I can." She gathered her gear and ran back toward Lórien.
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.