57. Hunting Gollum Again
If I were Gollum, where would I be? Khamul wondered. Judging by the little creature's love of fish, he would gravitate toward water, but he'd steer clear of human settlements. Which was why he was probably somewhere near the Dead Marshes.
Great. Just great. That sludge pit again.
The road to Mordor was crowded with orcs and Men. Khamul was disappointed in the Gondorian rangers. They were supposed to be doing a better job than this! At this rate Mordor was going to be overflowing!
Looking to the west, Khamul saw a flash of white. The tower of Ecthelion. The tower of Calimehtar, the last great king of Gondor. There were no more kings in Gondor. And there never would be.
Reaching the edge of the festering, fetid marshes, Khamul drew her horse up, scowling at the horizon. "Who is that?" she snarled. There was the crawling/hopping figure of Gollum – no mistake there – but there was someone else! Someone was leading the wretch like a dog with a leash around his neck! Someone had captured him!
Looks like someone else had been looking for Gollum after all.
If someone was looking for Gollum, then someone knew that he knew something important, which could only be that he knew the location of the Ring. And if it was known that the Ring was out there in the world…
"Gotta kill 'em!" Khamul hissed, kicking her horse. It bolted along the edge of the marsh. Khamul hoped to intercept this new person before they saw her, but it seemed unlikely. They had probably already spotted her.
They were a hundred yards apart when an arrow whizzed over Khamul's head. Whoever was leading Gollum shouted something and gestured wildly.
"Give me the stupid little critter!" Khamul shouted, drawing her sword. Another arrow, and then another. She ignored them. Whoever this was was a terrible shot.
She pulled the horse up sharp when she saw who it was. "Oh for the Valars' sake!" she snarled. "Why do you keep getting my way?"
"Why do you keep getting in mine?" Aragorn asked.
"Nasty, nasty Shrieker!" Gollum whined, writhing in the mud. "Hates it! Hates it we does, precious!"
"I take it he knows you," Aragorn said.
"We've met," Khamul growled.
"And you wish to take him to your foul master."
"You know Sauron's back?"
"You aren't going to give me Gollum, are you?"
"I'm afraid not."
"All right then." Khamul sheathed her sword. "I'm doing this because of whatever's going to happen next, all right? I've not gone soft."
Aragorn nodded slowly. "What is going to happen next?" he asked.
"I'm not telling you! Are you crazy?"
"I'm guessing that whenever we meet again it will be in the presence of other Nazgul. You'll have to kill me then."
Khamul nodded. "Yeah." There wasn't anything else she could say. She might've said that she didn't want to, that she wanted him to live as the last Chieftain of the Dunedain, have no children, and die of some perfectly normal reason. She might've said that. But it wouldn't've mattered because the only way he was going to get his pretty elf was by becoming king of Gondor. Khamul couldn't let that happen.
She might've apologized. She might've if she was someone other than Khamul.
"He's told you everything, hasn't he?" Aragorn asked, jerking Gollum's leash.
"Hates it!" Gollum shrieked. "Hates them both! Nasty Shrieker and nasty Man! Hates them! Gollum, gollum!"
"I'll see you," Khamul said. She turned her horse away from the Marshes. She rode through the deserted interior of Gondor and into Rohan. It was a miserable land. So different from the waves of grass she'd seen only a few years before.
Saruman, Khamul thought. Her hands tightened on the reins. She hated Sauron, but she loathed Saruman. Treacherous little rat, she thought. She and Gandalf were on different sides, true, but Gandalf didn't deserve to have a weasel like Saruman on his.
There were a few bands of Dunlendings running around, but they avoided her. Perhaps it was the force of Khamul's hate for Saruman, but more likely it was some magic of Sauron's through the ring.
The lands only grew more desolate as she continued northward. Pausing on the former border of Arnor, Khamul looked over the land. There were a few ruins here and there, overgrown and tangled with weeds.
What would this look like when Sauron had his Ring back? Just like this, only with goblins and orcs in every hollow, and slaves working what soil they could. Or maybe there wouldn't be anything at all. Sauron had never shared his ultimate plan for the world.
The wilds of Arnor had grown wilder, and by the time Khamul reached the Baranduin she was scratched up, twigs in her hair, and she was in a thoroughly bad mood.
"I'm going through all this trouble again!" she snarled, remembering the journey back from the Lonely Mountain. Only this time there was no Morion. Hopefully there'd be no Gandalf either. Just her and Baggins.