Riding east, Khamul skirted the border of Gondor and found herself along another river. This one, however, was not bordered by potentially sentient trees. It was the Anduin, flowing all the way out to the sea.
Finding a place to cross the Great River was difficult. There were several spots where it had frozen over, but the ice didn't look particularly thick.
Khamul finally found a shallow spot, albeit with a very swift current, rather close to the marshes. In fact, she could see the noisome smog hovering over the swamp from here.
I wonder what I'll find there, Khamul thought. Hopefully it's a damn sight more helpful than that stuff about going to Rohan. I suppose Caradhras was thinking I'd kill the family. Kill the family! I'm a ringbearer, not a monster.
Or am I?
I've killed innocents before. Not intentionally though. They're just causalities of war.
Khamul was saved painful introspection by a slight movement somewhere in the marshes. She was just on the border of the noxious swamp, and somewhere out there something was moving.
"This is no place for a horse," Khamul muttered, dismounting and starting across the marsh. She put her foot in a small pool and cursed, the brackish water splattering everywhere.
The place was riddled with little pools of water interspersed between lumps of moss-covered land. Small, scrubby plants grew here and there as well as long, pointed grasses.
So far Khamul had not seen a single animal here. Not even birds flew over ahead. She suspected that if they did, they'd have dropped from the smell. It reeked. It was even worse than when she'd last been there.
There was a splash not far away. Khamul's hand went to her sword as she strained for a glimpse of the creature.
It's head popped up a moment later. It was a sickly white with stringy hair covering a round head with large ears.
Creeping across the marsh, Khamul soon came close to the creature. It's back was to her as it crouched over something, chortling.
"Ohhh, fish so juicy sweet!" it gurgled in a sort of song. "Loves our fishes, we do! Loves our fishes!"
"All I'm seeing is a grubby little earthworm," Khamul said, glancing at what it was cooing over.
The creature shrieked and jumped to its feet. Sort of. It remained in a crouched position as if it couldn't stand properly.
"What does it wants with us?" it whined, groveling at Khamul's feet. It had seen her sword. "What does it wants with poor Gollum?"
"Gollum?" Khamul asked. The name was familiar. Of course! Primela's deranged nephew. The finder of the Ring.
"It knows our name?"
"I know your name. I'm not sure about this other person."
"Oh, it likes its little jokes, yes it does. What does it wants?"
"Do you have the Ring?"
Gollum hissed. "Preciousss! It wants the precious as well! Well, we hasn't gots the precious, has we? Lost it to the nasty Hobbitses… Nasty Hobbitses!"
"You lost it to a Halfling?"
"Nasty Halfling stole our birthday present! Stole the precious! Gollum, gollum!" He made that awful sound in his throat again.
"Do you know where the Ring is now?" Khamul asked. Was it still with that fellow, Bilbo, or had it moved on? Was Gollum hunting it?
"Hobbitses has the precious, yes he does. Nasty Hobbitses."
"Where is it?"
"Hobbitses has it!"
"Yes, I know that. Where is it?" Khamul was starting to lose patience.
"If you don't tell me where it is, I will take you back to Mordor with me."
Gollum hissed. "It comes from the Dark Lord's land, precious. It's not a friendly one, no it isn't. It wants to take us there…to Him…the Great Eye."
"Sauron's vision isn't all it's cracked up to be," Khamul said. "Now spit out where the Halfing is or I'll haul you to the Barad-dur, and I can guarantee you won't like that very much."
Gollum frowned. "We doesn't remember," he said.
"Yes, you do. Where does Bilbo live?"
A crafty look came over Gollum's face. "It knows the Hobbitses' name. Doesn't know where the Hobbitses lives. Wants to ask us about it, precious. But we doesn't remember! Gollum, gollum!"
"You're a lying bastard!" Khamul snarled, grabbing the deformed creature. For such an emaciated thing, Gollum fought like a goblin. Khamul was bitten several times and had to knock Gollum out with a rock before he stopped struggling.
"Bastard," she muttered, dragging him back to where her horse was placidly waiting, sniffing the grass.
Keeping Gollum bound turned out to be more trouble than it was worth. He writhed and shrieked when he woke up, whining piteously about the bonds on his wrists and ankles. And he thrashed, nearly throwing himself off the horse.
"Hurts us!" he wailed. "Hurts us, precious! Nasty Shrieker wants to kill us!"
"So, you know I'm a ringbearer, huh?" Khamul asked. "You can sense the ring?"
"Yes," Gollum muttered sullenly. "Yes, we cans. All the rings. Elveses, dwarveses, and Menses. And it's one of the Shriekers, yes it is. Nasty, nasty Shrieker. Worse than elveses."
"Can you sense the One?"
"No, we can'ts. We knows who hases it, yes we do! Hobbitses has it! Nasty, nasty Hobbitses!"
"Hobbits live in the north. What are you doing down here?"
Gollum shut up immediately. "Nothing. Wasn't doing nothing down here."
"You better not lie to Sauron the way you're lying to me. He'll have your precious tongue cut out."
"Won't be ables to speaks then, precious. Gollum, gollum!"
"Ever see the Morannon?" Khamul asked as they approached the massive iron gate. It was even bigger than it had been before the Last Alliance. Those men of Gondor. When they put their minds to something, they really made it good. Ironic that it would protect their enemies against they themselves.
"Doesn't want to go to the Black Gate, no we doesn't! Let us go! Let poor Gollum go!"
"Poor Gollum is going to stay right where he is."
Gollum whined and wailed again. Khamul considered hitting him with another rock, but there wasn't one handy.
The orcs on top of the gate had it opened a crack when they saw who it was. Or rather, they had the trolls open it.
"Doesn't like the Black Land, no we doesn't!" Gollum wailed.
"Nasty, nasty Eye! And no fishses! Oh, we misses the fishses!"
"Then you shouldn't've gotten the Ring in the first place. What do you mean it was your birthday present anyway?" Khamul asked.
"Gave it to us on our birthday! Our birthday present! And the Hobbitses stole it! Stole our precious! Gollum, gollum!"
"I bet you stole it in the first place," Khamul muttered.
"It was our birthday present!"
By the time they reached the Barad-dur, Khamul was gritting her teeth to keep from strangling Gollum.
"We're here," she snapped, jumping off the horse and flinging him over her shoulder.
"The Dark Lord's tower! Oh, poor Gollum! We doesn't wants to be here, precious!"
"What is that appalling noise?" Vorea asked minutes after Khamul entered with Gollum. In the large, mainly empty, space, his wailing was creating a cacophony.
"Meet Gollum," Khamul said, swinging Gollum's head toward the third ringbearer. "Say hello, Gollum."
"Wants fishses, yes we does!" Gollum shrieked. "Hates nasty Shrieker! Nasty, nasty Shrieker!"
"What is it?" Vorea asked.
"Gollum is the former owner of the One Ring." This was probably a mistake bringing him here, Khamul thought. I couldn't just let him wander around though. Besides, if I know where Bilbo Baggins lives, then I'll be able to get the Ring first. Oh, maybe then I can be Dark Lord. Overthrow Sauron…resurrect Morion…sounds good to me.
"The One Ring?" Vorea gasped. "This pitiful creature?"
"Yes, it's changed him a bit. He knows who stole the Ring from him."
"Hobbitses!" Gollum howled on cue. "Nasty, nasty Hobbitses!"
"A Halfling?" Vorea asked.
"Apparently so," Khamul said. "Of course, he won't tell us where the Halfling was from, but he knows."
"Doesn't know, precious! We doesn't know!" Gollum whined.
"What's making that awful noise?" Aica snarled, storming into the hall. "What is that thing?"
"This is Gollum," Khamul said, dumping him on the ground. "You see, although I can't see everything, I do happen to find more things than you."
"Shut up. Why does anyone care about a Gollum?"
"He used to have the One Ring and he knows where it is."
"Really?" Aica perked up and her eyes darted toward the stairs.
"If you so much as think of getting Sauron and stealing my credit, I'll cut off your head," Khamul warned.
"Oh, I wouldn't think of that," Aica said. "And don't threaten me. I could do you some damage too!"
Khamul snorted. "Where is Sauron anyway? I think he's going to want a look at Gollum."
Aica rolled her eyes. "They're upstairs. Near the top of the tower. Sauron's room."
"They?" Khamul growled. Another person who referred to themselves in plural was more than she could handle.
"Doesn't want to see Dark Lord!" Gollum wailed.
"Shut up!" Khamul yelled, aiming a kick at Gollum, who dodged.
"You'll see," Aica said, walking off.
Khamul tried to puzzle it out, but Gollum made another escape attempt, trying to crawl away while she was distracted. "You little bastard!" she snarled, seizing him and throwing him over her shoulder before marching up the stairs.
Gollum howled and shrieked, flailing his limbs and clawing at anything he could get his hands on. Twice Khamul had to pry him loose from a torch bracket he'd latched onto.
"You're going to see Sauron whether you want to or not," she snarled. "So stop fighting!"
"We doesn't wants to see Dark Lord!" Gollum shrieked. "Let us goes!"
Gollum knocked a torch off its holder, sending it clattering to the ground, all the way down the stairs. He then sank his teeth into Khamul's shoulder, though they got stuck in her armor.
"Well, at least you're not making any noise now," Khamul muttered.
Sauron's room was at the top of the tower. By the time she reached it, Gollum had almost bitten through her armor.
"Not a moment too soon," she said, knocking on the door.
"Have you been causing that racket?" Sauron asked from behind the door.
"Yes, that's me," Khamul said.
"Ah, you're back."
"And you've been destroying the tower on your way up. Very mature of you, I must say."
"That's not me."
"Who is it then?"
"Why don't you open the door?"
A few moments later the door opened. Sauron looked at Khamul, then looked at Gollum longer. "What is it?" he asked.
"This is Gollum."
Sauron raised an eyebrow.
"Doesn't like Dark Lord!" Gollum shrieked.
"Shut up," Khamul said. "Gollum knows something."
"Doesn't know anything, precious!"
"Why did you bring him here?" Sauron asked.
"Gollum knows where a fancy piece of jewelry is."
Sauron's eyes widened. "The Ring? He knows where the Ring is?"
"Oh yes," Khamul said with a smile. "Who has the Ring, Gollum?"
"Hobbitses! Nasty, nasty Hobbitses!"
"Halflings?" Sauron asked. "But…but…that's impossible."
"Nevertheless, that's what Gollum says."
"And you trust that creature?" another person asked, appearing in the doorway beside Sauron. He looked a bit like Morion, though he was taller and…stranger.
"Morgoth," Khamul spat.
"You keep a very loose leash on your servants," Morgoth commented.
"Silence," Sauron said. He was observing Gollum, who was writhing and whining. His hand shot out and seized the creature. "I'll take it from here, Khamul. Thank you."
"My pleasure," Khamul said with a smile.
Gollum shrieked and shrieked. He also bit Sauron's hand. Not a wise move.
"Will we be hunting the One?" Vorea asked as Khamul returned from her trip.
"Soon, I suppose. Once Gollum tells Sauron where it is."
"And who will manage the war in our absence?"
"Sauron, I guess."
"And the Dark Lord?"
"You mean Morgoth? No, I think Sauron's going to have him out looking too."
Vorea frowned. "That would be very unwise."
"Well, he doesn't always have the brightest ideas. I mean, he put all his power into a round piece of gold."
"I suppose you are correct. That does not bode well for us."
Khamul had to agree.