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Well, I don't have it, Smeagol thought. That's what I'll tell Granny, if she asks me.
Ah, the other voice said. But she won't ask us for it, she can't ask us if she doesn't know. Calm and careful we must be.
Smeagol could feel his pulse fluttering in his throat. His left hand was clenched in a fist at his side, his shirt and breeches were damp and daubed with clay, and water dripped from the hair that veiled his eyes. Granny was sitting by her hearth on a low stool in front of him, but he dare not look at her. Granny was so very old that her hair had turned white as goose down, her back was bent, and her brown face was as seamed as an old apple. But her black eyes were still sharp, oh ever so sharp, and if she looked in his face she might see inside of him. She might see the Bad Thing he didn't want to think about ever again, and the lovely, bright, cruel flicker of gold.
Granny looked up, blinking in the dim light. "Ah, there you are! Come here to the fire, lad, yer soaked." She held out her arms and he came to her and sat at her feet, leaning his head on her knees. Her gnarled old hand stroked his head, never minding that he was getting her skirts all wet. "Now, pet, what you been doin, eh?"
"Fishin," Smeagol said. His throat ached horribly, as if he had swallowed a stone, and his breath felt short.
Lullay, lullay, bye, Granny sang softly.
Lullay bye babe, thy cradle is green,
Father is noble, mother a queen
And sister a fine lady with a gold ring,
And brother an archer, at the side of the King…
Smeagol had no mother, father, sister, or brother, and the King was a Man sitting on a tall throne in a white city far, far away, the tales all said. In all the world he had only Granny and Deagol, and now Deagol was...
"And where is yer cousin now, my love?" Granny murmured, as if she had plucked the thought from his head. "Still a-fishin'?"
Smeagol shivered. He felt miserable and cold, and sick deep down inside, but he had fallen nearly into a doze as he was soothed by Granny's hand. O careful, careful now, precious. "Deagol's sleepin," he whispered.
"Sleepin?" Granny laughed quietly. "Reckon he won't be catchin many fish that way!"
Smeagol laughed, too. He had heard a sweet, clear song in his head, louder and louder, until he couldn't hear Deagol crying. He could never bear the sound of Deagol crying. He loved his cousin better than anyone else in the world. Shh, shh, he had said, and squeezed and pressed, until everything was quiet and Deagol had gone to sleep. No, no more fishes for Deagol. "Sleepin under the willows, he is, safe and quiet."
"Under the willows! What a daft lad is our Deagol then, to lay hisself down in the muck and the damp. He'll catch his death. Why didn't he come home, if he was that tired?"
"Don't know," Smeagol said, and pretended to yawn. He brought his hand up to his breast and held it there against his heart. The ring burned inside his closed fist like a hot coal. His Precious now, his own, although Deagol had found it, it was his by right, yes, because it was his birthday present. Cruel Deagol hadn’t played fair; he had meant to keep it for himself. "Don't care, neither."
His last words had come out a bit sharp, and he felt Granny's hand go still. All his guts gave a sudden, sickly lurch and seemed to drop like a bucket down a well. Then she sighed and he could relax and breathe again.
"Lads and their quarrels," Granny grumbled. What had it been about this time, she wondered. No doubt it was over something foolish and petty: A handful of berries, the loss of some silly lad's game, or perhaps a bright river-stone. Smeagol had a magpie's lust for shiny things, and praps Deagol had won out, for once. More than a little too fond of having his own way, was her Smeagol-lad. Ah well, when Deagol had got done gloating over whatever prize he had won, he would come home, and they would patch it up, as they always did. Granny began to hum again, petting the damp curls off Smeagol's brow.
Smeagol let Granny's song seep into him, and he rubbed his cheek against the coarse cloth of her gown. He willed himself to think of eggses, the river, nothing at all, not of empty eyes, and cold arms that would never reach out to him again. The day had been so warm, the sun so bright, but not so warm and bright as the little gold band Deagol had struggled so to keep. Now he was hidden away in the dark with a flat stone over each eye as he slept, so he could never see Smeagol and weep and ask why, no, not ever again. Smeagol would go visit him the next day and for many days to come until the ring stripped him of everything he was and love, and guilt, and memory were out of reach. Every day he would cry a bit because he was lonely, and he would laugh a bit because the beautiful Precious was his, all his forever. He would make Deagol a blanket of green rushes, and for the rest of summer he would bring him bundles of iris blue as the sky, and lilies as golden as the sun, and fill his cold hands with blossoms, and in the dark the reek of corruption would mingle with the sweet breath of dying flowers.
Many, many thanks to my fellow readers and writers at Marigold's Website, who were nice enough to say good things about this story! I was feeling a bit down and uninspired, and you are all beyond kind:o)
The Challenge this time was to write a prequest story that started with the line 'Well, I don't have it'. (And it felt a bit like cheating, but she did say 'prequest', and this story is 'pre'. Reeeeally 'pre'. Heh.)
If you're not familiar with Marigold's Story Challenges, please do give her website a visit and take a look at the other stories (previous Challenge Stories are also still available to read.) Give 'em a look, and feel free to review:o)
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