Sméagol boasted to everybody else in the village how he had killed the goblins, much to Déagol’s disgust. Most of the other halflings, especially the males, were far from revolted however. In fact many, including Sméagol’s adopted father Daen, praised Sméagol, calling him a hero, and remarking at the handsome circlet that he now wore.
Careth suddenly paid new attention to her son, and said how fitting the black colour of the circlet was for her son. It succeeded in being almost as black as his eyes.
Déagol was incredibly envious of all the attention Sméagol received, but was also very careful not to let Sméagol know.
The next few years passed almost uneventfully, apart from the beginning of a noticeable attraction between Déagol and another young halfling. Her name was Tain. She was the daughter of Careth’s cousin, Ganard’s younger sister, and Sméagol’s distant cousin, although they both preferred not to acknowledge this relationship. Tain made no secret of the fact that while she absolutely adored Déagol, she could not abide his friend.
Déagol was seen more and more in the company of Tain, but although both Tain and Sméagol did their best to keep each other away from Déagol, it was becoming more and more common to see all three of them together. Both Sméagol and Tain would frown when forced to spend time together, and soon it was obvious that they wanted nothing to do with each other.
Once Sméagol was planning to visit Déagol when he overheard him talking with Tain.
“Honestly Tain,” said Déagol. “You shall have to like him soon.”
“I do not see why,” came Tain’s snobbish reply.
“For my sake, please try to get along with him.”
“It is not that I don’t like him, but that he doesn’t like me.”
“He would like you, if only you were a bit kinder to him.”
“I’m sure he wouldn’t. I’m sick of trying to reason with you Déagol. This can’t go on any longer.”
“What are you saying?”
“Choose between him or me.”
“That’s not a very hard decision.”
Sméagol didn’t wait to hear any more. He ran as fast as he could to the patch of daisies where he and Déagol had lain after exploring the caves, and sobbed. The circlet, which he hadn’t taken off since the ordeal was now thrown off his head, and onto the ground. The whole time Sméagol muttered to himself.
“Nobody for poor Sméagol. Nobody now… Nasty Tain… Nasty Déagol…”
He lay in the flowers for what seemed like an eternity, sobbing and muttering, before he felt a hand rest on his shoulder.
“Sméagol, what’s wrong?” Déagol asked.
“I heard… `choose between Sméagol and Tain,’ `easy decision’. Déagol should go back to his precious Tain, he should.”
“What in the world are you talking about? Tain did make me choose between you two, and it was an incredibly easy choice. I’m not going to like anybody who makes me choose between you and them. I didn’t even have to think before I told her that I wouldn’t ever stop being your friend. Not for her, not for the world. By the way,” he said, pulling the circlet out from his jacket and placing it back on Sméagol’s head. “You dropped this.”
“Loose Tain, for Sméagol?” Sméagol said, as if to himself. “No, he shouldn’t be doing that.”
“Of course I should!”
Sméagol’s sobs disappeared, and before long the two halflings were lying with their backs on the grass, talking as if nothing had happened.
“Let’s have a riddle, Sméagol,” suggested Déagol. “I have some great ones.”
“Okay, riddles it is. You first.”
So Déagol started with the first riddle. He had always prided himself on his ability to create riddles, mainly because it was one of the few things that he was better at than Sméagol, but one that his friend still enjoyed.
“Voiceless it cries,
Sméagol was stuck for a while on this one, but a quick burst of chilly wind across the daisies gave him the answer.
“A good one that is,” he said, “but I know it’s wind!”
“You’re quick today Sméagol. I’ll have to think up of some better riddles. Your turn.”
“What has roots as nobody sees,
Is taller than trees,
Up, up it goes,
And yet never grows?”
Déagol looked around for a bit, thinking how very Sméagol-like the riddle was. He began to think of their adventures with the goblins and soon came up with the answer.
“Drats. Your go.”
Déagol, whose mind still dwelt on their adventure, quickly made a new riddle up. One which he thought would be sure to puzzle his friend.
“It cannot be seen, cannot be felt,
Cannot be heard, cannot be smelt.
It lies behind stars and under hills,
And empty holes it fills.
It comes first and follows after,
Ends life, kills laughter.”
Sméagol was, at first, puzzled as Déagol had suspected, but as the riddle was so close to his own self, as soon as he had a suspicion about the answer he made his guess.
“So like Sméagol the answer is. Why did you not realise how easily I would get this one. Darkness it is; dark, like me.”
“Yes, you’re right. I should have known better than to give you that one. Oh, well. I guess I know better now. Next riddle.”
Sméagol was running out of riddles now, and the only ones left were those that he had not yet thought hard enough to give to his friend, but he tried one anyway.
“Alive without breath,
As cold as death;
Never thirsty, ever drinking,
All in mail, never clinking.”
It was, in fact, part of a song which Sméagol had made up, celebrating his favourite thing to ear, but it made an excellent, though easy, riddle anyway.
“You must give me a harder riddle Sméagol. These are far too easy. It’s fish of course. Now for my next one. I promise you’ll never get it. Nobody else will either.”
“This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.”
Déagol could almost see Sméagol’s mind working by the expression on his face.
“And no Sméagol. It’s not you,” he laughed.
“Drats… I… I don’t tightly know. Some horrible orc perhaps, or… I know! It’s a dragon, it is!”
“No, no sorry,” said Déagol, shaking his head. “It’s not a dragon, or an orc.”
Sméagol was now at a loss for an answer.
“I don’t know this one. Fine, you win. Just tell me the answer.”
“No. You have to work it out for yourself,” Déagol answered, laughing.
“I’ll have to get the answer from you, then,” Sméagol responded by jumping on top of his friend and tickling him under the arms. Then followed a mad game of tackle as the two halflings attempted to wrestle the other into submission. Finally, Sméagol ended up on top of Déagol’s stomach, pinning his arms to the ground.
“Tell me, precious, or we’ll have to start tickling you again.”
“All right!” screamed Déagol as he was tickled again. “It’s…”
Sméagol silenced him with a hand over the mouth.
“Ssh. Can you hear that?” he said. Déagol attempted a muffled reply.
Sméagol carefully crawled off Déagol and over to the bushes. He pounced on something that Déagol neither saw nor heard. Sounds of fighting came from the bushes, and bu the time Déagol had gotten up to try and help his friend, Sméagol had emerged from the bushes hauling a rather short man.
He threw his find at Déagol’s feet.
“SMÉAGOL!” yelled Déagol. “What are you doing?”
“Ask him what he’s doing first. He was spying on us. I’m sure of it.”
The man spoke to Déagol.
“Your friend is right. I heard the game of riddles, and riddles interest me, so I stayed to listen. I wanted to see who came out on top in the fight, and what the right answer to that last riddle was. I can’t guess it.”
“You’re lucky, big man,” said Déagol. “Sméagol might have killed you. He’s not usually so nice.”
Sméagol was clearly having trouble holding his laughter in, but the man looked incredibly frightened.
“Don’t worry,” Sméagol, seeing the look on the man’s face, became a lot nicer. “I don’t bite… hard.”
This didn’t seem to be much of a comfort to him, however, and Déagol decided to talk to him, in an effort to calm him down.
“Where do you come from? Why are you here?” he asked, in a manner of polite conversation.
“I’m a trader,” came the man’s answer. “I hail from Bree, and times are a bit tough there, so everybody’s travelling further away. I’d heard of a land called Rohan, where there might be a bit of opportunity for a trader, or so I’ve heard, so I’m aiming to go to Rohan. Am I going in the right direction?”
The halflings, who were little learnt in geography looked at one another during the man’s speech, wondering about these strange places. Neither of them had ever heard of Rohan or Bree, and told him so.
“Well,” said the man, “More’s my trouble then. Name’s Charles, Charles Fernbrook.”
He offered the halflings his hand as an introduction.
He gave up as soon as he saw the puzzled look on the halflings’ faces, and pulled his hand back to his side.
“You are…” he said, in an effort to get things moving in the right direction.
“Sméagol,” answered Déagol, gesturing to his friend, “and I’m Déagol.”
“Well,” said Charles, pleased that he’d managed to get that far. “Pleased to meet you. With names so similar you must be brothers, am I right?”
The two halflings exchanged a worried look, but said nothing.
“Oh well,” continued Charles. “I’ll take you to where my carriage is waiting then, and you can have a look at my wares. You may see something that takes your fancy.”
The man began plodding off to his wagon. The halflings followed a couple of steps behind, talking quietly.
“By the way,” hissed Déagol. “The answer was time.”
The two halflings followed Charles to his wagon, where another man, not as fat as Charles, but a good bit taller, was waiting for them.
“What in the world have you found?” asked the man as Charles and the halflings approached. “I didn’t know there were any little folk near here.”
“Well, there is, but I can’t say these are completely like the hobbits at home. Their feet aren’t nearly so big for one thing, and they aren’t hairy.”
Sméagol and Déagol were left once again to wonder what Charles and his friend were talking about.
“In answer to your first question,” Charles continued. “This is Sméagol,” Sméagol bowed, “and this is Déagol.” Déagol merely stood, wondering what exactly was going on.
Neither of the halflings had ever seen big folk before, and though Charles was close enough in height to them, his friend was altogether overwhelming.
Charles now spoke to the halflings. “This is Taram Lockwood.”
Lockwood bowed, as Sméagol had done, as was about to say something when a dog came running around from the other side of the carriage, and began inspecting the two newcomers.
Dogs were very rare in the tribe’s land, and it was a pleasant shock for the halflings to see the small pug sniffing around their feet. Sméagol put his hand out for the dog to sniff, and was delighted when the dog licked his hands.
“She likes you,” said Lockwood. You should be glad. She doesn’t like many people.”
“What’s her name?” asked Sméagol.
“Lucy,” answered Charles, “and I can see that look in your eyes. She’s not for sale.”
Sméagol looked crestfallen at the news. Déagol thought he heard his friend mutter something under his breath. “Always wanted a dog, I did.”
“She’s going to have puppies though,” said Lockwood, causing Sméagol to brighten once more. “But I doubt that normal folks such as yourselves will be able to afford them.” Sméagol now moaned with misery.
Seeing the disappointed look on the halfling’s face, Charles piped up. “But we do have lots of other stuff that I’m sure you’ll like.”
Charles put his arm around the halfling’s shoulders, and led him over to the carriage. Déagol walked over to talk with Lockwood. “How much will one of the puppies cost?” he asked.
“A fair price, that’s for sure!” answered Lockwood. “Dog’s are not cheap, especially ones that come from Lucy?”
“How much?” repeated Déagol, quickly getting annoyed with Lockwood’s stubbornness.
“Depends on how many puppies she has, but probably ten to twenty silver pieces.”
“Can you come back in a couple of month, once she has had her puppies, and I’ll buy one then.”
“Can you really afford that much?”
“Not really, but if I hunt especially hard, I should be able to buy one.”
“Why in the world would you pay that much just for a dog?”
“It’s Sméagol’s coming of age in a few months, and if he wants a dog, he’s getting a dog. I don’t care how much it costs me.”
“You’re not like the other halflings I have come across before. Your customs of giving birthday presents is different at least.”
Meanwhile, Sméagol was busily being shown the carriage’s contents by Charles. So far Sméagol had been shown almost fifty different items, but none had seemed good enough for Déagol’s coming of age present.
Charles pulled out a crystal egg, which shone red and green in the sun.
“No…” came Sméagol’s bored reply. “I should probably tell you that I don’t have much to pay you with.”
“What about that circlet on your head? It’s got to be worth a fair bit.”
Sméagol growled and reached up protectively to the black circlet. “It’s worth more to me than it could ever mean to you,” he said. “I would prefer to pay with anything but this.”
“Okay,” Charles resigned. “Back to business then.”
The next item he pulled from the coach was a long dagger, encrusted with gems and covered in some sort of runes.
“No, next item.”
Charles’ voice came from the carriage as he rummaged around, looking for something that Sméagol would finally agree to buy.
“What was the answer to that last riddle, or didn’t you find out?”
“Oh, I found out,” replied Sméagol. “But I’m not going to tell you the answer. I’ll leave you pondering it for the rest of your life.”
“Oh, please, Sméagol. I will be wondering for ever what it is if you don’t tell me.”
“I’m not telling you.”
Charles finally emerged from the carriage, triumphantly holding his finding.
“What about this then?”
In his arms he held a shimmering cloak, which seemed to Sméagol almost exactly like his friend’s eyes. It shimmered grey and blue and white, like the sky, and around the edges and through the cords was woven golden thread, so that parts of the cloak shone like the sun.
Sméagol was held spellbound by the cloak.
“How much is it?” he asked.
“Five silver coins.”
Sméagol rummaged around in his pockets, and to his dismay, his hand came out clutching only two silver coins.
“I’ve got a different way you could pay for it, friend.”
Sméagol looked at the man hopefully.
“Give us one of those coins, and tell us the answer to that riddle, and the cloak will be yours.”
“Promise you will give us the cloak after we have told you the answer?”
“We’ll trade the answer and the coin, and the cloak at the same time.”
Sméagol held out his hand with the coin in it, and Charles did the same with the cloak. As the two parcels were swapped, Sméagol told the man the answer.
“Time?” questioned Charles, smiling. “Why didn’t I work that out before?”
The day of Déagol’s coming of age drew nearer. Tain now refused to talk to either Sméagol or his friend, and was nowhere to be seen on the night of Déagol’s party.
Sméagol had pretended that he had forgotten Déagol’s birthday, and whipped the cloak out in the middle of the party, when least expected.
Déagol’s eyes widened at the sight of the cloak, and he seemed as spellbound as Sméagol had been when he had first sighted it.
Sméagol wrapped the cloak around Déagol’s shoulders.
“Happy birthday,” he said quietly, then stood back to see how it looked on its new owner. “I was right. It matches your eyes perfectly it does.”
Nearly three months later, Déagol was going on a hunting party, for once alone as Sméagol had come down with some sort of sickness, and could not join his friend.
Déagol was tracking a deer when he heard a sound, like the barking of dogs, and who should come over the horizon, but Lucy the pug.
Her master Lockwood, riding his carriage followed soon after.
“Hail friend Déagol,” he called. “But where is Sméagol?”
“He’s sick at home, but I think I should say similar to you. Where is Charles?”
“My friend met his fate it seems. He underestimated the Lords of Rohan and attempted to steal one of their horses. They prize them even more than some of their own kindred, it seems. He was put to death. I now own the carriage.”
“It’s good to hear that you found Rohan, but bad news comes with the good, as a rule. I see Lucy must have had her pups. Her stomach is far smaller.”
“Yes, she did have her pups. They are in the back of the carriage.” Lockwood jumped down from his seat, and went towards the back of the cart. “It’s for that reason that I come through here on my way back to Bree. It’s good news for you as well. Seven healthy pups. Each selling for twelve silver pieces.”
Déagol had been saving as much of the money he earned from selling his kills as he possibly could, and brought out his small pouch of money triumphantly.
“Good. I had feared that I might not have saved enough, but I have just enough to pay for one of them.”
He selected one of the puppies that he thought was the cutest, and paid what Lockwood had asked, before bidding farewell to the merchant.
“Good luck back in Bree, wherever that is!” he called. “If you’re here again, do not hesitate to drop in and say hello!”
He tied a piece of rope which Lockwood had given him around the dog’s neck, and using it like a leash, led the pug to a small spot in the forest.
It whined as he tied the dog’s leash to a nearby tree.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “But I can’t let Sméagol know about you until his birthday. Don’t worry, it’s only four days away, and I’ll bring you something to eat every night.”
He then tracked down a rabbit, and left the pug to eat it. He did as he said he would, and the dog remained unfound until Sméagol’s birthday.