6. The Hunt for Gollum
Aica shut the door, locked it, and put up the crossbar before retiring to her bed, where she pulled out the palantir and gazed into it. It wouldn't do for anyone to learn where she got her information from, and Morion had been nosing around lately.
The seventh ringbearer had a general hatred and dislike of all inhabitants of Arda, but there were two special places in her heart reserved for Morion and Ringe. Before his betrayal, Ringe had been the only person Aica would trust, and she had even liked him sometimes. Now though…the hatred she felt for him was only exceeded by the loathing she felt for Morion. The mere thought of the Witch-King caused bile to surge and made her hands shake with fury. She wanted to rip out his eyes, flay his skin, and cut out his heart.
Banishing her thoughts with a shake of her head, Aica focused on the palantir. She had learned much from it, not the least of which was concentration.
Khamul, she thought. Where is she now?
When Aica had last looked, the Haradrim had been in a vicious argument with a Halfling. Strange, yes, but about what? Though the palantir did not allow a person to listen in to a conversation, Aica had grown quite adept at lip-reading over the years.
Khamul's looking for a deranged Halfling. Why?
Perhaps her next actions would provide the answer.
Color swirled inside the crystal globe. There was Khamul, thundering across the countryside. Aica recognized it both from years prowling around it in service to Angmar, but also as her homeland. The former realm of Arnor.
What's she doing there? Aica wondered.
Spotting a traveler, Khamul yanked her horse to a stop and snapped a question at the poor man.
"Have you seen a Halfling?" Aica muttered, reading Khamul's lips. "'No', the traveler says. 'Have you noticed anything strange then? Chickens gone missing, things moving when no one's around?'"
This was getting stranger and stranger. Was this a magical Halfling? Wait. Things moving when nobody's around. It's invisible! It's an invisible Halfling!
Aica grinned in glee at discovering this tidbit of information. She didn't concern herself with how the Halfling could turn itself invisible. Maybe it was something some of them could do. The only question left was why Khamul cared so much about it. Maybe it knew something.
The traveler had replied in the negative to Khamul's questions, and so the second ringbearer was back galloping down the road. Sensing the scene would repeat itself several more times, Aica withdrew her mind from the palantir and put it back under her bed.
Now, what should she tell Morion? Aica was very selective about what the Witch-King learned and didn't learn from her. Best to leave out the Halfling thing, she thought. A clan of invisible Halflings could be very useful to me in the future.
So then, Khamul was in the north, looking for something or another. Good. Nice and vague. And he'd send somebody to give her something else to do. And that would keep Khamul out of trouble.
It seemed that everyone was keeping out of trouble, and out of Aica's way, these days. Ceure was in Minas Tirith, Khamul was in the north, Vorea was always busy with the war, Ringe was off to Moria, Ancalime didn't matter, and Metima and Yanta were inconsequential. The only person left was Morion. And one day Aica would take care of him too.
As both the traveler and the fuzzy feeling in her head faded, Khamul wondered where in all Arda this Halfling could have gone. He'd left his village only thirteen days ago. He couldn't have gotten far.
But he had the Ring.
The thought sent a fresh surge of panic through Khamul. The Halfling had the Ring, and she had to get it back before Sauron realized it had been found, and was once again missing. And – most importantly – that Khamul had had it only five feet from her and she hadn't noticed.
If I don't find it, I'm not going to say a thing, Khamul told herself. What Sauron doesn't know won't hurt him. Well, actually, it might, but who cares. He's got it coming.
As Khamul spurred her horse down the road, searching the sunlight for shadows and the trees for a pale Halfling, an agile creature jumped out from behind a log.
"Hunts us, precious," it hissed, scurrying deeper into the thick brush. "Hunts us. We must flee from it, precious." It glanced around, looking for a likely permanent hiding place. Its gaze fell on the far-off Misty Mountains. "Deep, dark stones," it cackled, lurching toward the peaks. "Hides us forever, precious. Gollum! Gollum!"