It had been a long, long time since the nasty hobbitses had passed this way. Smeagol knew that because he could see where the hobbitses nasty hairy little feet had pushed into the wet mud. Now the holes where their hobbity feet had gone had almost completely filled up with the brown water. It was shiny on the top of the water and it had a rotten fishy smell.

  Smeagol wriggled low down across the marsh so if the hobbitses came back they wouldn't see him. He liked the rotten fishy smell of the water, and sometimes he slurped at it. He hoped the hobbitses would come back. Smeagol had lost the Precious, and he had lost his knife somewhere back behind, but he had a nice strong bit of thornweed he had twisted and twisted until it would be good for a Hobbit's neck.

  But Smeagol was hungry. He missed his cave and he missed rabbitses. The food here tasted funny, and there were no rabbitses, not anywhere to be found. He had seen a hole, once, that might have had a rabbits in it, and he had surprised himself with a sudden hungry rattle in his throat at the thought of the lovely crackly crunchy bones and the hot juice in the rabbit and the feel of the wet fur on his tongue.

  So he had scampered to the hole and he had pushed his arm in it as far as it would go, like he always did, but there wasn't any furry rabbitses there, no. There was a horrible sharp hurt, and he pulled his hand out as quickly as he could and on the end of it there was a big throbbing bite on the end of his finger, and it looked nothing like a rabbit's tooth mark might look. And once in one of the hobbitses foot-holes there flopped a funny little green fish, with sharp, clawed fins almost like the wings of a bat, and it had a winking eye right in the middle of its back, and no eyes on the head.

  Even Smeagol decided against eating that.

  He had nothing in his belly, and he felt hungry. But the feeling in his belly felt worse than just hungry. Smeagol felt something he had not felt before – or, rather, had not felt for years and years and years; ever so long that he had forgotten ever feeling it. It was a dim stirring of memory. Smeagol felt lonely. He hated the high whine of the flies that played over the marsh. The sky was the colour of rusty iron and it made him feel something bad was going to happen.

  Maybe the hobbitses would come back, Smeagol thought. Sometimes hobbitses were kind to him. Sometimes they were kind. Frodo was kind to Smeagol. Frodo was sometimes Smeagol's friend. The other one, the nasty fat one with the Somerset accent and the knotted hanky on his head – "Zaamm", that was what Frodo called him, Smeagol remembered – Zaamm was cruel to poor Smeagol. Smeagol thought of the things the fat hobbit had said to Smeagol, and how he had kicked Smeagol and hurt his wrist, and a greasy tear made its way out of his eye and plopped into the marshwater.  

   Sometimes Frodo was angry with the fat hobbit, sometimes even when he was cruel to Smeagol. Frodo wanted to punish the fat hobbit, yes, to punish him. Frodo and Smeagol would be friends if Zaamm wasn't there. Smeagol twisted his thornweed back and forth in his hands. And Frodo would share the Precious with Smeagol. The Precious.

  It was with these thinly comforting thoughts twisting in his mind, just as the thornweed twisted in his hands, that Smeagol wriggled through a foul stand of what might once have been bulrushes, grey-black and slimy at the base, and found himself on the edge of a large pool of strangely bright water. The air in Mordor is dense and clammy in the lungs, and is always still. Not the shallowest ripple stirred the surface of the pool, and Smeagol, looking down, saw as clearly as if in a mirror his own face: the ugly bulge of his dark-adapted eyes; his wide mouth with its stumps and craters and its toffee-coloured teeth; his corpse-coloured skin.

  Self-love, or self-pity, stirred Smeagol's heart, and he tilted his head to one side. There escaped his lungs a sort of cooing noise, and he unfurled a long bony digit, touching the centre of his reflection with the pad of his finger. The image dissolved momentarily in a series of concentric ripples, and Smeagol seemed to glimpse something else behind it, as if just under the surface of the water, something gleaming white like bone. And then the reflection re-formed.

  And it closed one eye in a big lazy wink, and said in a voice filled with love: "Hello, Smeagol."