Summary: Where and how did Gollum learn the riddles he gave to Bilbo?

Rating: K

Disclaimer: We own nothing, preciouss!

A/N: Written for a challenge of TLV (Tolkien mailing competition): "In The Hobbit, the following is written about Gollum and the riddles: "Asking them, and sometimes guessing them, had been the only game he had ever played with other funny creatures sitting in their holes in the long, long ago, before he lost all his friends and was driven away, alone, and crept down, down, into the dark under the mountains." Who were these "other funny creatures sitting in their holes"? Other hobbits from his early years? Or some strange and bored creatures of Morgoth forgotten by everybody whom he met after leaving his hometown? Imagine your own version and write the story in about one and a half pages (3000 characters) including the circumstances of the meeting and the riddles themselves."

Riddles in the Dark

In a hole in the ground there lived a family. The hole was built in the bank of a river, and it was wet at times, but the fire kept it warm and the hides at the entrance protected it from the wind. The grandmother of the family ruled it both strictly and kindly, and she especially liked the children, playing at her feet.

"I will teach you a new game," she said once.

The children looked at her in expectation, leaving the carved bones and sticks – that they quarreled for just a moment ago – laying on the ground. Eagerly they surrounded the grandmother.

"It is a game of riddles," she said. "I will give you a riddle, and you try to guess it. If you do not guess, I win. But if you guess, then you can ask a next riddle."

The children nodded their understanding – even the younger ones, who did not understand that much – and came closer to grandmother, to not miss a word of the riddle.

"Voiceless it cries,
Wingless flutters,
Toothless bites,
Mouthless mutters,"
she said in a mysterious voice.

Sméagol's brow furrowed with hard thinking. It was the first riddle he has ever heard in his life.

It bit him on his poor, half-naked skin. It cried and muttered, and it seemed to him that he hears the voices of the grandmother and his family in it, driving him away, away from their hole, away from their life. Curse them, precious, and curse this stupid wind! Curse the sun, that cruel yellow light stinging in his eyes! If felt like a big eye was watching him, wanting to steal his Precious. He should hide before it, somewhere where it wouldn't be able to find him!

"Please, tell me a riddle..." was heard often in the following days. The kids were fascinated with the new game, but they ran out of riddles soon – one could only ask the same riddle once with every person, and even then it was possible that the person has already heard it from someone else.

"Please, tell me a riddle..."

"I must repair the boat, go bother someone else."

"Please, tell me a riddle..."

"I have no time. Don't you see I'm cutting the roots?"

"Please, tell me a riddle..."

"Again? Oh well... But do not ask me for the answer, as well. You must guess it yourself.

What has roots as nobody sees,
Is taller than trees,
Up, up it goes,
And yet never grows?"

He looked up. Usually he kept his eyes to the ground, but now he did. It was right ahead, taller than the tallest trees he has ever seen at the river bank. It seemed to grow even though it didn't - the nearer he came, the bigger it was, filling more and more of his field of vision. The mountain, precious! Maybe the rocks could hide him from the yellow eye. Maybe he could somehow find its roots, precious!

"What happened here?" the grandmother asked strictly, and her face was terrifying to look upon to the ones guilty of the fight. Sméagol had a black eye, and Déagol a bloody nose.

"He did not want to give me my fish," said Sméagol tearfully.

"That's not true! We played a riddle game for it! I gave him a riddle, and he did not guess it."

"But it was a hard and stupid riddle!"

The grandmother frowned. "The rules of the game must be obeyed," she said uncompromisingly. "You will get no fish for breaking them, Sméagol."

Sméagol hung his head, muttering something regretfully unintelligible.

"Good," the grandmother seemed content. "Now what was the riddle?"

"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."

It were hard days and months in the mountains. The rocks were sharp and cold, and there was little water and food – just puddles and worms under the stones. He cursed the sun and rocks and wind and the grandmother. He cursed them all, complaining to his Precious. Then he found a little stream and followed hit, cooling his sore feet in the cold water. There he found it – a hole between the rocks. It led further and further to the roots of the mountain, and it was filled with darkness. The yellow eye would not find him there, precious, never again would it find him!

"Déagol, Déagol! I have a new riddle! It's my own! I made it myself!"

"Oh, really?" Déagol looked at him with interest. Guessing riddles was hard, but it was even harder to think of a new one. By now Déagol knew all the riddles that Sméagol did, and the other way round.

"Yes, listen," Sméagol smiled proudly.

"Alive without breath,
As cold as death;
Never thirsty, ever drinking,
All in mail never clinking."

"Bah, that's easy. And it's not new, just worded differently."

Sméagol glared at him.

Fish! There was an underground lake, and there were fishes in it! Wonderul, juicy-sweet, still wriggling in his hands as he sank his teeth between the glistening scales and took the first bite of the raw, tender flesh. The first real meal he has had since leaving the river bank, it felt so great in his empty stomach that he almost forgot about the Precious for a moment. He decided he would stay here.

"Happy birthday, Sméagol! I've got a present or you."

"Oh, a present! I like presents! What is it, Déagol? Give it to me!"

"Yes, I will give it to you," Dégol smiled. "It is a riddle, one you have never heard before. I learned it from a trader from a family down the River."

"I'm sure I can guess it!" Sméagol grinned. "And then we can go fishing together."

"Yes, we can," Déagol agreed. "Here's the riddle:

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."

Time passed around him. He did not count the days, the fishes, the orc-bones. Time stretched, time twisted, time chewed him but never swallowed. He had his Precious, his birthday present. The other memories faded – the River, the trees, the family living in the hole at the river bank, the children sitting at grandmother's feet, listening to her stories and riddles. There was just him and his Precious in the darkness. Gollum! Gollum!