“Tall pale king man wears a dirt costume, my precioussss. Mean, tricksy. Wantses my precioussss but the Baggins has it! Thief! Liar!”
Aragorn struck Sméagol with the back of his hand and tightened the ropes cruelly.
With a screech, Gollum collapsed and wept. “It’s worse to poor Sméagol than Sauron. Gollum, gollum, gollum.”
Aragorn tied a kerchief to his face. “No troll, no rotting orc corpse, no pile of goblin shit on Arda stinks as badly as this worm.” He kicked Gollum.
“It hasn’t smelled the darkness has it, precious? Sméagol knows! Sméagol smells it now! Precioussss. My preciousssss.”
Gollum scampered alongside Aragorn, not tiring at the cruel pace or from starvation. As the black night paled in the first morning light, Aragorn halted, scanning the shadows on the skirts of Fangorn for enemies. Just outside the dense forest, two black riders passed.
“Finds the thief! Kill it!” Gollum shouted to the riders. He informed Aragorn, “It always findses the thief but it never findses Sméagol, does it precioussss? Sméagol knows where to hide. Sméagol hides the precioussss from it forever and then the thief Baggins–” Gollum choked as Aragorn gagged him with the kerchief. Muffled wails of, “Ollum, ollum, ollum” mixed with the fading, galloping hooves.
Aragorn despaired. He’d moved at night through Fangorn, walked backwards over soft ground, crossed the Anduin, put out false trails and even crafted two pairs of false deer feet in failed attempts to shake the riders. Gandalf’s warnings were all but proven true by this supernatural feat alone. That they made no move to kill him only increased his unease.
The words of Sméagol stuck in his conscience as he continued now, ponderously muttering aloud, “This creature is plainly no goblin, but it is twisted by evil in a similar fashion. It was once perhaps good, or at least not evil, but if it truly bore Isildur’s bane and evaded these same pursuers, perhaps–”
Removing the gag from Gollum in this contemplative mood, Aragorn received a deep bite on his hand, which Gollum released at once.
“The Baggins knows. He brings the preciousss to Sauron. It can’t hide, but it can run! Runs to Baggins with its big strides, but not big enough.”
Aragorn rinsed his ragged wound and wrapped it with the kerchief and did not become angry with Gollum. He removed a roll of cloth from his pack. Unfurling the fabric and revealing the shattered ancient sword, he spoke directly to Sméagol, “This is the sword of Isildur that is now mine. The ring was his and is rightfully mine, as well.”
“Precious!” Gollum croaked in recognition at the sword. “Precioussss! Maybe it once had the precious, but it is MINE! My birthday present!” Gollum squinted his lantern eyes and peered at Aragorn, “Maybe what it says is true, Sméagol. Sssssstrange. Will it die soon and become like the others, precious? The tenth? Gollum! Gollum, gollum, gollum.”
Aragorn wrapped the shattered blade and studied Gollum. Had an entire age of Arda passed in relative peace because Isildur’s bane had, by fortune, come to this despicable, evasive creature? His appearance and his speech seemed evil, and yet in deed no other could match Gollum’s good. Where Isildur failed, this creature had triumphed. Aragorn saw plain evidence now that he could never bear the ring, a route to peace only paid for through a will infinitely more enduring than his own.
In a quavering, shaken voice, humbled as if speaking to the great wizard Saruman, Aragorn said, “Tell me of the evil moment when you lost Isildur’s Bane, Sméagol.”
“The thief Baggins cheated Sméagol!” shouted Gollum. He paused, reflecting for a moment, “Baggins told Sméagol a false riddle and stole the precious. He wore the precious to chase and cut Sméagol, but Sméagol hid.” Gollum clenched a fist and swung at the ground. “Thief!”
“How did you come to possess your precious?” Aragorn asked, breathless.
“Tall mens in shiny shiny metals passed through my carrot patch, too tall and proud to stop and speak to little Sméagol. But Sméagol followed them and watched.” Gollum peered at Aragorn, “They were killed by orcses in their sleep. All dead.” Gollum smiled, recollecting past glory, “Ah, Déagol and Sméagol were tricksy and warned everyone about the orcses. We made an ambush. When the hungry orcses came for our sheeps, we were ready in the trees with the metal bows of the dead mens. We shot the orcses when they came, preciousss. All dead. Then Sméagol found precious in the captain’s pocketses. Preciousssss! Sméagol took preciousss because we shot the captain and it was our birthday. So it was the mens’ precious first, eh? Gollum, gollum. But Déagol wanted to steal precious. Everyone wanted to steal precious. Gollum, gollum, gollum. So Sméagol hid for a long time in the dark. Gollum.”
Aragorn blinked, thinking of the story related by Gandalf, as told from the hobbit Bilbo’s perspective, and the haughty histories that told of Isildur’s death. None now had the ring of truth, but rather the feel of twisted fairytales and imaginative fabulation. There must be large omissions, gross mischaracterizations, and fabrications on the largest scale, told in that way so as to avoid the pain and suffering that only the ageless steward and bearer of the ring, Gollum, could express. They were words that no other mortal could utter, and that Aragorn knew now he could never repeat or attest to. Yet he would still complete his task and bring Gollum to the prison in Mirkwood where Gandalf would interrogate him further, even though it was wrong and unnecessary to further persecute Sméagol. But Gandalf must hear it for himself.
Perhaps it was all a devious lie, given this worm by Sauron himself. But if it was false, the lie could only be in the details. Gollum was a mortal burdened with immortality, who had, in spite of his own selfish and mortal intention, prevented, or at the very least postponed more harm than any immortal. And Bilbo? If his tale was the truer one in its details, so what? Had he not, in spite of his good intentions, brought the ring out into the open, as was Sauron’s will? Had there not been a great battle to mark the passing of the ring from Gollum to Bilbo, with far worse consequences yet to pass? No matter what good or evil happened now, there would be death on an epic and ancient scale, long postponed and prevented by the devious works of this vile, stinking creature he’d hunted and hated for sixteen years.
Aragorn looked again for the black riders but saw nothing past traces of daylight filtering in through Fangorn’s mossy canopy. He loosened the ropes and Gollum cackled and danced. “Precioussssss. Precioussss. My Preciousssss thanks it.”