Bigger Fish to Fry

The tale of Sméagol and Déagol, from the point of view of Déagol.


1. Bigger Fish to Fry


Déagol liked to fish. He had always thought that his cousin, Sméagol, preferred digging in the dirt to much else, and so was pleasantly surprised when Sméagol suggested the two of them go fishing on his birthday. 

The waters of the Gladden river were still and blue, surrounded by tall, leafy trees that provided welcome shade for the two hobbits. Neither spoke, preferring to sit in lazy anticipation as they waited for the first fish to bite their bait. Déagol sighed happily, scratching at his head under his hat. Although he came here often, he never seemed to grow bored of the place. Sometimes he would sit by the riverside, or even up a tree, but more often than not - like today - he would take a boat out to sit atop the water. 

Déagol closed his eyes, bathing in an overwhelming sense of bliss. 

He felt a sharp tug at the end of his fishing rod, and his eyes snapped open with excitement. Leaning forwards out of the boat, he felt the pull on his rod again - there was definitely something there, and by the looks of it, it was big. 

"Sméagol!" shouted Déagol, smacking his cousin on the shoulder with childlike excitement. "Sméagol, I've got one!" He laughed, falling backwards in the boat as Sméagol slapped him on the back with a congratulatory yelp. The little boat rocked back and forth violently, the fish on the other end of the line pulling away desperately. 

Déagol cheered. "I've got one! I've got a fish, Sméagol!"

"Go on," his cousin told him, his voice both wild and delighted, "go on! Go on! Pull it up!"

 Déagol nodded eagerly, his hands trembling in his thrill. Digging his heels against the wooden floor of the boat, he started to reel in the fish, accompanied by Sméagol's many yells of encouragement. Déagol bent over, grunting in his effort. The fish was strong, and it was easily pulling away from his little fishing boat.

Caught off guard, Déagol tumbled into the water as the fish suddenly yanked with all its might at the other end of his line. Whether Sméagol had chosen to laugh at him or jump in after, Déagol didn't know - his fall into the water was quick, and his splash so large that he could hear nothing else but the water in his ears.

Under the water, Déagol held his breath, clinging onto his fishing rod as the fish pulled him thrashing and twisting across the river bed. His eyes bugged in their sockets, his clothes weighing him down, and he wondered if he'd ever see the surface again. The hobbit shook himself mentally. He was being ridiculous: of course he'd survive. The water wasn't all that deep, and although he wasn't the strongest swimmer, he certainly wasn't about to drown. 

He pushed the fishing line away from him, giving up on the fish he'd hoped to catch and wash and eat for Sméagol's birthday supper. Déagol was about to fight his way through he water and back to the surface, when a glint of gold in the river bed caught his eye.

Giving one strong kick with his legs, Déagol propelled himself close enough to inspect the golden object. Picking it up, he saw that it was a ring, half black from the dirt of the river bed. He closed his fist around it, deciding to bring it back to the surface with him. He hadn't yet got Sméagol a birthday present; this would do nicely. 

Déagol broke through the surface of the water with a gasp of relief, sucking the air into his lungs. It wasn't long before he was close enough to the bank to walk along the bottom of the river bed, eventually reaching the side and hauling himself out of the water with a heaving grunt. He opened his hand around the ring, rubbing the dirt of with his fingers. It didn't do much good, truth be told - his fingers were equally filthy. 

"Déagol!" cried a voice, and Déagol turned to see his cousin walking towards him, smiling. "Déag -" His cousin broke off, staring at the ring Déagol held in his hand. His face hardened, his gaze so intense that it hurt Déagol to look his cousin in the eyes. "Give us that, Déagol, my love," said Sméagol, his voice scarcely more than a whisper.

Instinctively, Déagol curled his fingers round the ring once more. Mere minutes ago, he'd intended to give it to his cousin as a present... And yet, holding it now, he felt a strange sense of attachment to it. He would not - could not - part with his ring. 

It was his. His. Not Sméagol's or anyone else's but his.

"Why?" Déagol asked of his cousin, suspicion tinging his voice. Sméagol slung his arm over Déagol's shoulder, smiling. It was odd, though Déagol. His cousin wasn't smiling how he usually smiled - a warm, friendly flash of teeth that disarmed the most hard-hearted of hobbits.

No. Sméagol smiled like a predator. 

"Because," said Sméagol, his voice both wheedling and whimsical, "it's my birthday, Déagol... And I want it." 

Déagol drew away from his cousin, his eyes flitting left and right like a lamb that had walked right into the lion's trap. Sméagol leapt forwards, grabbing at the ring - Déagol pulled out of his cousin's grip, holding the ring behind his back as Sméagol prised and pulled at his fingers, longing for the ring. 

Déagol gritted his teeth, spittle running from the corners of his mouth. It was his ring - his - and no cousin of his had any right to try and steal it from him. He shoved at Sméagol's face, his hand pulling and tearing at his cousin's skin; when Sméagol moaned in pain, Déagol dug his nails in and only fought harder. 

Sméagol yelled, a hideous, guttural battle cry that came from the back of his throat. With all his strength, he pushed himself on top of Déagol, the two hobbits rolling on the ground as the ring slipped out of Déagol's grasp. Sméagol clambered over his cousin, his want for the ring eclipsing everything else, but Déagol shoved him aside. Snatching the ring from the dewy river bed floor, Déagol stared at Sméagol and saw only a monster come to take his ring - his precious - away from him.

Déagol ran forwards into his cousin, using his own head as a battering ram. His hands stretched out and round Sméagol's neck, squeezing and crushing. Déagol smiled as well as he could - once Sméagol was dead, the ring would be all his own, forever more. 

Sméagol coughed, blood sputtering up and out of his mouth. Déagol laughed, the sound colder and harsher than any ever to escape his lips before. He started, for if he had not known better, the young hobbit would have sworn the sound had come from a meaner, crueller hobbit than himself. 

In the moment of Déagol's distraction, Sméagol saw his chance and seized it. Déagol barely had time to blink before Sméagol's hands circled his neck like a hangman's noose, his breath catching like barbed wire in his throat. He shook his head, as if denying the truth that his cousin was killing him, still thinking only of the ring and not his life. 

Hobbits have always been known to be stubborn to a fault. 

Déagol's legs collapsed beneath him, his body slumping to the ground as his cousin squeezed and wrenched away all the life that still lay in him. As the ring slipped from his fingers, Déagol looked into his cousin's cold, remorseless eyes, and understood that Sméagol had taken the ring as his birthday present whether he liked it or not. Either way, it wasn't like he could do anything about it, not now that he had such a pitiful amount of strength in his body, he could barely remember his own name. 

The ring. It overrode everything else on its stallion of beautiful, alluring gold, haughty and proud as it commanded the worship that Déagol was sure it deserved. The hobbit could not remember why he lay on the river bank with his cousin's hands around his neck - nor could he remember if the hobbit strangling him were even his cousin at all - but he remembered the ring, shining clear and untarnished in his thoughts as if he'd known it his whole life instead of merely a few minutes. 

The ring. 

Déagol's eyes fluttered shut, and the last breaths slid in silence from his lips, but the ring's likeness had branded itself on his eyelids and its image haunted both his Heaven and his Hell. Déagol didn't mind. He couldn't remember why he liked the ring, exactly, or what significance it had held for him in life, but he knew it must have been something very important. 

He had no memory of ever having a cousin, nor any other family at all. 

Perhaps, though, that was for the best. Sméagol would certainly have thought so. 

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