Retelle sat by his fireplace shivering. He jumped slightly as thunder crashed once more. He turned to the other members of the tribe. He knew what they were thinking. Deanör could protect them. When would she be back to prove it?
Deanör finally stumbled through the door, a large bundle hugged tightly to her chest.
“Oh, my dear!” Retelle gasped when he saw the state of his beloved wife. She was soaked from head to toe. Her hair dripped onto the bundle, and her shawl stuck raggedly to her neck.
A ghastly sight, Retelle concluded.
“Whatever have you got there?” he said, forgetting all forms of protocol and kindness (Deanör’s comfort could be seen to after Retelle’s curiosity had been sated), in order to find more about the mysterious load.
Deanör knelt down, and carefully placed the bundle on the floor.
By the way she strained under the weight Retelle guessed that the bundle, whatever it was, weighed at least a couple of stones. Admittedly, Deanör’s strength was beginning to fade in her old age, but she had always been one of the strongest in their family, and far stronger than Retelle had ever been. Her strength was partly the reason why she had been chosen as Matriarch, but now, flopping onto the floor beside her parcel, raggedy and wet, she looked anything but the great leader that she was said by many to be.
“What is it?” Retelle asked again, and was surprised when the parcel moved. The top of the blanket that Deanör had wrapped her bundle in was pushed aside by whatever was inside, and a dark, groping hand emerged. Slowly but surely, a young, sallow-skinned halfling child emerged from out of the bundle.
The household was soon twittering, as all the various family members gossiped about Deanör’s find. Most of the tribe had been scared of the current storm, and had run, scared, to the home of the Matriarch, only to find that Deanör had gone out to pick flowers a couple of hours ago, and had not come home when to storm had begun. The absence of their leader gave the halflings even more of a reason to cower in her home, as they waited for her return. Now, her sudden appearance, along with the child, caused an uproar.
Deanör looked up and met the eyes of young Déagol, one of the youngest members of the tribe and one of the few that Deanör was not related to.
Déagol bounded off his mother Fasnor’s lap, and scampered up to the finding, who was currently sitting, obviously overwhelmed by all the attention, with his head up to his knees, and his arms over his head.
He looked up as Déagol placed a hand on his shoulder, and their eyes met for a minute. Déagol looked back up to Deanör, and asked with childlike innocence, “Why does it look so funny?”
Deanör shook her head.
“It’s skin is all dark, Deanör, Miss,” the child continued. “Is it dirty? I would think it would have no dirt on it after this rain.”
Small wonder, Deanör thought. `Tis the darkest child I have ever seen.
Déagol stayed on the floor with his newfound companion, while Deanör explained what had happened to the rest of the family.
“I went looking for flowers, as most of you know,” she began, “and I was feeling adventurous, so I walked further than I usually do. I went over the hills, westaways I gathered. There were plenty of flowers and all, but my feet kept me walking. Anyway, I comes across this patch of forest, and what do I find beneath one of the trees, but a little, dark child, huddled up into himself. He’d be no more than six I’m reckoning. His clothes are all raggedy and his own self not much better. Once I approach the little fellow, I realise the reason he’s all huddled up. He’s got a broken ankle he does, and a fairly bad one by the looks of it. The storm came up, and I couldn’t very well just leave him there, so I bundled him and carried him back here.”
The rest of the family listened contentedly to Deanör’s story, but Déagol was having too much fun to listen to what the Matriarch was saying. He had attempted to introduce himself to the finding, but if the child could speak then he was inclined to, not to Déagol at least.
“I’m Déagol,” he volunteered. “What are you?” Extracting no response from his new friend, he continued. “Déagol,” he said, pointing to himself. “Can you say that?”
Both children soon realised that everybody else in the room now had their attention firmly fixed on them, and didn’t say any more.
“Oh Mother!” came the voice of Deanör’s daughter, Careth, who had until now been sitting in a corner watching the whole affair proceed without comment. “He’s so precious!” she exclaimed, rushing up to her mother and embracing her.
“This is the best thing you have ever brought home with you!” she continued.
“So you say, but you’re not the one who is going to have to take care of the little runt,” the Matriarch answered.
“Oh, I would love to be. He’s absolutely precious!”
“So you say,” she repeated.
Careth and her partner had always had a problem regarding the bringing up of children. They had tried, unsuccessfully, to produce a young one several times, and it was now rumoured that either one or the other was infertile. Deanör was sure that this was probably the only opportunity Careth and her husband Daen would ever get to have a child. She doubted that it would matter very much to either of them if he was only adopted.
“Fine,” Deanör concluded. “Adopt him. It will save me the trouble of rearing another child. I don’t wish to go through that again.”
Careth, now delighted at the news that she was to be the child’s mother, rushed up to him, and lifted him high into the air. He was soon dropped back down onto the floor as Careth rushed back to her mother for another embrace, failing to realise the child’s tears as the pain in his ankle was reawakened by her less than gentle treatment.
“Whatever shall his name be?” Careth finally said, after many more embraces and congratulations from other members of her family and friends.
Her partner Daen, was the first to make a suggestion.
“Why not Daen, after his father?” he said, only half serious. His egotistical remark, while earning many laughs from his friends, earned a gentle punch from his partner.
“I was asking for serious suggestions,” she said, showing no trace that her punch had been anything but serious.
Her cousin, who had been thinking seriously, offered her suggestion.
“I always liked the name Malfell,” she said, accompanied by a glaring look from her partner. They had always disagreed about naming their children, and it was known by most of the family that her last child, who she had wished to be named Malfell, had instead been given the name Ganard by his father.
“WHY,” Deanör almost yelled, silencing those that were arguing over the name.
“Why,” she said again, quieter this time, “don’t we ask him his name? He probably already has one after all.”
The child had been sitting on the floor through the argument, oblivious that they were talking about him. Déagol had begun to prompt him to speak once more, and this time, was happier with his results. Although what his new friend had said to him made little, if any, sense to him, Déagol considered the gibberish to be a step in the right direction, and smiled greatly whenever a noise was made.
Déagol looked around as the talking ceased, and realised that Deanör was now looking in their direction once again.
“Well, go ahead,” the Matriarch said. “Ask him if he has a name.”
Déagol began speaking to his strange friend once more.
“I’m Déagol,” he said, placing his hands on his chest to indicate to the child what he was talking about. “You are…” This time he placed his hands on the darker child’s shoulders.
“`eagol,” was the misunderstanding reply.
“No, that’s me,” Déagol said, frustrated. “Déagol. Who are you?”
“`s me, `eagol,” the child mimicked. Déagol grunted in frustration, but Careth clapped her hands delightedly.
“Why, that’s a wondrous name,” she squealed. “Sméagol.”
She rushed up to the child and picked him up once again, but this time, instead of dropping him on the floor, she spun him around in the air before holding him to her chest.
“Sméagol,” she said. “My precious Sméagol.”
“Precious?” the child mimicked once more, earning him praise from his new mother, and an enormous smile from his new friend, Déagol.
“Precious,” he repeated. “Precious Sméagol.”
The tribe soon discovered that while Sméagol could not speak their own language, he had already learned that of whatever tribe he used to live with, and was remarkably intelligent for his age. He learned quickly, and by the time he was twelve he had become even smarter than Déagol, who had, before the arrival of Sméagol, been considered one of the wisest members of the tribe, despite his age.
Deanör worried that Déagol would become jealous of the new arrival, because of the attention he received, both for his peculiarities, and his brilliance, but this was not the case.
Although there were plenty of others in the tribe near enough their own age, Déagol immediately attached himself to Sméagol, and it became increasingly rare to see one without the other.
Sméagol was assumed to be close enough in age to Déagol, and his birthday became the day they had found him, on the same year as his friend’s.
Sméagol and Déagol spent most of their time being taught by the latter’s mother, concerning their letters, and the tribal laws and customs. The lessons interested them little, but both Fasnor and Careth insisted that they continue. They paid little attention to what Fasnor said, however. Déagol dreamed instead of fishing on the nearby river. It was assumed that Sméagol dreamt the same, but as he grew older it became impossible to tell what the orphan was thinking about.
When Déagol turned nineteen he told his mother of his intention to end the lessons. After many arguments Fasnor finally gave in, and allowed her son the freedom he desired. Now, instead of lessons, Déagol began to run about on the grass, fishing, or hunting. It was understood by most that this was allowable, as Déagol was obviously going to grow to be a hunter.
Sméagol was denied that privilege though, and was pressed to continue his studies by his mother. During the day Sméagol sat inside Fasnor’s small studying room, and watched out the window, dreaming of the dusk, when he would be allowed to roam the plains that surrounded the village, and hunt for rabbits with his friend.
More and more people slowly became aware of the mistake Careth had made by forcing her son to continue studying. It was well accepted that he was wise, but it was about the wrong things, and he and Fasnor were continually getting into arguments, especially about what to study. Sméagol argued that he had leant all there was to learn concerning reading and life of the village, and wished to study more of what interested him.
When he was awarded spare time he would wander through the dark woods, pondering why they had roots, and wondering if the woods had always been there. He could get no answer Fasnor, however, and his mind during her lessons kept wandering further away from the writing in front of him, and closer and closer to tree roots, and the roots of the mountains away west of the tribe’s land.
A day came when he refused to work in Fasnor’s classes any longer. He had been made to learn more about coming of age at thirty-three, which Fasnor considered incredibly important, especially since her son’s was only five years away, and Sméagol’s only three months after that. The trouble had started when Sméagol, in all seriousness, had asked to question, “Why?”
“Why what?” came Fasnor’s reply.
“Why do we have coming of age?” Sméagol replied. “Why is it thirty-three? Who invented it? And why do I have to know so much about it? Mine’s not for another five and a half years!”
“Because I said you must, that’s why!” the teacher shook her head in frustration. “Sméagol, you could be so smart, if only you concentrated on the right things.”
“Who decided what were the right things? And what right had they to impose them on others when smarter people could be getting their questions answered? Yes, you are right. I could be smart, if only you’d let me study the right things. Not these customs and gibberish.”
They had spent the rest of Sméagol’s lesson barely saying a word to one another. Fasnor tried to ignore the hateful stares that Sméagol sent her way, as well as the nasty comments about her being a “wicked teacher that won’t let me get any work done.”
Two days later, Fasnor was dead.
From what the other halflings could gather it had been a poisoning. “Probably a bad fish,” said some. “More likely the wretch killed her,” said others.
Whether is was murder or not, nobody ever found out, and nobody wished to press Sméagol for information. One thing was clear though. Sméagol did not regret his teacher’s death, and did not cry when he spoke at her burial, when everyone else was wiping the tears from their eyes at his lovely speech. Without her `horrid lessons’, as he so referred to them in conversation, it left him more time to find our about the important things, and of course, spend more time with his friend.
Deanör realised his insatiable thirst for hunger. After Fasnor’s death it had become even more noticeable. So, by the fireplace in the late afternoon, she would sometimes tell him strange tales that she had heard. Sméagol put up with Deanör’s teaching. In fact, some of the lessons he quite enjoyed, but his tribes knowledge of the outside world was limited, and Deanör would never know enough about the great battles of men and elves to satisfy Sméagol, and the lessons soon ceased.
After a few months the rumours about Sméagol being the cause of Fasnor’s death were dismissed, and gossip turned instead to the daring deeds of Sméagol and Déagol. It was not uncommon to hear some grand tale of them taking down an enormous beast, and once there was a rumour spreading that Sméagol was so talented at swimming that he had swum upstream through the rapids.
Nothing the other halflings could say would faze the two, though. Déagol continued to dote on his friend, and Sméagol continued to follow Déagol through all sorts of adventures that none of the other halflings would dare to even consider.
To be continued…