On His Hand
by Sauron Gorthaur

"And he would have tormented you for trying to keep his Ring, if any greater torment were possible than being robbed of it and seeing it on his hand."

~ The Fellowship of the Ring ~

The air smelt of rot and dank stone and choking fires. But most of all it smelt of pain. Pain had the same taste and smell as the sulfurous water he had drunk only a little while ago; it left a bitter, hateful coating along the back of his damaged throat that made him want to spit and choke.

Time had long since ceased to have meaning for him. In those years of endless darkness underneath the mountains where the Yellow Face and the White Face had no dominion, time was merely more darkness and a gnawing creature that put hunger in his belly. It was not so different here, deep underneath the earth, away from the cursed Yellow Face, and he could not have guessed how long it had been since his captors had brought him here to this room that stank of pain.

And of pain there was no lack. There were orcs, large, black orcs unlike the goblins that he once had hid from and preyed upon underneath the mountains. They had cruel, stupid faces and worked in a mechanically ordered manner, as if from years of harsh discipline and tormented training. They had a heavy, lingering smell, and their eyes were dark. It was they who set the pain in his flesh, but he was no stranger to it, and he could bear it. It was terrible, but there was one agony that he had suffered far worse than this, a pain worse than the devouring hunger in his belly when he had gone weeks unable to find food, worse than the searing light of the Yellow Face in his eyes the first time in years that he had ventured forth from the mountains, worse than the piercing shrieks of the wraiths that had discovered him as he crept through a dark land. To rival that one pain, there was no other, and he knew it deep in his twisted heart.

There were men there too, and they were the ones who asked him questions in dark, strange voices. They stood behind the orcs in the shadows the monsters cast on the walls as they moved between the reeking torches that surrounded the board to which he was bound. He did not answer their questions, but cursed them and spat at the orcs when they came near him.

The change came suddenly and unexpectedly. A quiet fell over the snarling orcs and the grim, questioning men, and the torches flickered faintly and grew still as all movement in the chamber ceased. The silence seemed as thick and palpable as the darkness, and he feared it much more than the clamor and hurt that both for the moment had stopped. But he knew instinctively that his torment had not been put to an end.

Then he felt the presence. The feeling of an overpowering will suddenly filled the room, replacing the darkness or perhaps mingling with it. The way he was bound kept him from turning to face the door behind him from which the presence radiated, but he cowered against the rough wooden board, scrabbling at it with his fingers helplessly, knowing that it was no Orc or Man that gazed upon him unrelentingly.

Then he felt the mind pressing against his. He squealed as the burning sensation of a powerful will closed in around his frantic thoughts. The mind seemed almost amused by his panic, but it withdrew slightly, though it remained hanging over him like a burning eye, a dark sun whose heat gave no life, but destroyed all it touched.

At first, he merely had a disconcerting sense of familiarity, both with the presence and the will, though he instinctively knew that he had never encountered anything like this being before. He hated that will more than he had hated anything in his long hateful life, but at the same time it was alluring to him and he almost desired the touch of the mind against his. Then he realized where he had felt that deep hate mingled with agonizing longing. And then he realized where he had felt that powerful will before, that will that bound him and enslaved him.

A voice spoke, deep as the dungeons of the tower and dark as the clouds of the Land of Shadow, resonating through the chamber. "Leave us."

Still silent, the orcs shuffled towards the door, their heavy feet falling loud on the stone, and the men followed, vanishing into the dark and leaving Gollum alone with that terrible presence. He squirmed against his bonds, not in a real attempt to escape, but unable to remain still against the pain of his hate and longing.

The torches around him flickered faintly and the hard board pressed uncomfortably against his aching spine. His wounds throbbed. The silence crawled on for so long that he began to think maybe he really was alone; he would have believed it, except that he knew that presence could not now be merely in his mind as it once long had been, for he knew with agonizing clarity that the Precious was no longer in his possession.

At last, the voice spoke again. The tongue it spoke was one he knew, but there was a strange, ancient color to it that reminded him of elves and the old stories his grandmother used to tell him on the banks of the Anduin. He could not tell whether it was angry or curious or cruel, only that it was old and powerful beyond his reckoning. "Why have you come to these lands?" the voice said.

Gollum whimpered and scraped his fingers against the wood. "We doesn't know," he whined. "Many lands we goes to, yes, but we doesn't mean any harm. We has to eat, precious. Let us go and we won't come back, no, never, ever again."

There was silence again, and then the voice spoke, this time with the faintest hint of amusement. "Do you know who I am, creature?"

Gollum twitched and whined, then answered in a low hiss. "When we was young, we heard stories about a Dark Lord long, long ago in a Black Land who wanted to choke all the world in his darkness."

There was movement to his right, and he twisted his thin neck around as far as he could to see, but he caught sight only of a deeper shade of black against the shadows as it came closer. The burning mind lowered slightly, pressing against his consciousness more heavily than before. "Good, good," the voice said, "then you will know that it is of no avail for you to lie to me. Wild beasts may wander hither and thither through the lands in search of food and shelter, but there is neither in this realm. What drew you hither?"

An overwhelming urge to answer filled Gollum. He resisted for a moment, but a searing agony streaked through him and he screamed, his answer bubbling off his lips before the scream had completely ended. "Searching, precious, searching. We searches all lands, all places. We goes where our poor feet takes us. We had to come. We had to come."

"What made you come?"

Gollum sniveled for a few moments, then grudgingly replied, "It's lost, lost, lost. It calls and we follow, but we wouldn't have come, no, not here. We doesn't know why we came here. Precious, we just wants what was stolen from us. We won't cause trouble, no. Let us go."

The mind lifted a little, removing some of the louring pressure. "What was stolen? What called you?" the voice asked. It was softer than before, but Gollum could feel the heightened intensity and the whole mind of the Dark Lord focused unwaveringly on him.

"The Precious," Gollum whined softly.

"Precious," the Dark Lord echoed, almost to himself it seemed. For a moment, the mental Eye was turned from Gollum, and he felt that the mind's thoughts were drawn inward and back in time. The voice was soft, barely audible, and Gollum heard the longing in it mingled with the hate that consumed his own soul. A strange feeling of familiarity crept over his torn flesh.

The mind was drawn from its thoughts, and Gollum cringed as it once again turned upon him. The intensity of its internal gaze was so powerful that he felt as if he was being flayed and his bare spirit was being revealed. "This thing, this precious thing that was stolen," the Dark Lord said, "who stole it?"

"We doesn't know," Gollum whimpered.

A scream immediately burst out of him as the mind crushed him, smothering him in a burning rage. He wasn't sure whether the Dark Lord's voice was echoing through the room or his mind or both. "You fool! Will you dare to keep this thing from me! I know what this thing is that you have lost. Now tell me who took it from you. Wither did they take it? Speak!"

Gollum sobbed and writhed helplessly against his bonds, but the mind lifted and the pain diminished enough for him to reply. "We doesn't know who took it or where they took it. We've searched, we've searched for so long, precious, till our fingers and stomach and mind are numb. We doesn't know. We doesn't know." His babble descended into meaningless sobbed syllables of self-pity as he clawed at the wooden board.

He felt movement behind him, a slight brush of the air across him as the Dark Lord bent down. He could hear the faint rasp of breath and feel a heat against his scalp, and he quivered. He heard a mirthless, soft laugh and the voice spoke again, soft again, but still tainted with a cruel anger. "So, you would find this precious thing for yourself, would you not? You would seek it and keep it from me. It was in your possession for many years, but do not be deceived, for it was never yours and never again shall it come to you. Did you think that it would answer to you and betray its Maker?"

A pause stifled the chamber, and then the Dark Lord spoke again, his voice so quiet that it was little more than a whisper. "Let me show you something, bearer."

Cold terror clutched Gollum's heart as the Dark Lord rose and stepped into his view, a tall figure, taller than the grim men and elves he had encountered, and robed all in black with a black hood and cowl that threw his face in shadows, save for the glint of fiery eyes. The Dark Lord lifted his right hand and with his other hand pulled the glove from it and cast it away. The skin was black like coals, seared with fire, and a thick scar cut across the middle of his hand. But Gollum's eyes were drawn instantly to the gap in his hand, the emptiness where his forefinger once had been. That scarred, seared hand seemed to grow larger and larger in his vision, filling his mind, and he could not wrench his gaze away from the marred finger.

"Behold," the Dark Lord said, "the Hand for which your precious was wrought."

Gollum squealed suddenly as an unknown horror gripped him. He could feel the Eye against his mind and his vision seemed to be changing. And as he stared at the hand before him, it seemed to him that once again it was whole, the forefinger replaced but not bare. A band of gold seemed to rest upon it, fitting perfectly, pure and shining, the most beautiful object he had ever seen in all his long life. It glowed, and fiery letters appeared on its matchless surface. The letters and the image of the Ring burned into Gollum's mind, and an agony incomparable racked him from within. There was his Precious, the sight he had longed for more than anything else, but there it was upon another Hand.

The Dark Lord remained still, hand outstretched, staring down at the tormented creature before him. A strange laugh came from the depths of the hood. "You feel it, do you not, my pain? You have born a heavy burden that was never yours to bear and now we shall never be free. Do you think that I would not know? Ash nazg thrakatul√Ľk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul!"

"My love, my precious, it hurts us, hurts us! No more, let us go. It hurts us!" Gollum shrieked, trying to avert his eyes from the vision of the Ring and unable to.

"Who took it from you?" the Dark Lord demanded, unmoving. His voice was cruel, hard, unwavering, but Gollum heard the pain deep within it, that pain that was above all pains, that hate the consumed all other hates, that love that devoured all other loves. He thought of hours in darkness, that pain gnawing at him from within, stripping away his flesh and feelings until nothing mattered save that band of gold. But he didn't know whether it was his memories or the Dark Lord's that filled his mind.

The pain must end. Both of their pains, for it was the same.

"Baggins!" he cried. "That was what he told us, the nasty Baggins of the Shire!"

The Dark Lord instantly latched on to the information he had provided. "This Baggins, this Shire, where might I find them?"

"We doesn't know. The Baggins didn't tell us. We've searched for Baggins, but we can't find him. You must believe us."

The Dark Lord withdrew slightly, seemingly deep in thought, oblivious to the wails of pain that still issued forth from his prisoner. Time gnawed on, and at last he spoke again. "You will find it for me. I cannot leave this realm, but you will be my hands in this far away land. When you find it, you will bring it to me."

"No, no, it's ours- Yes, we will bring it to the Master," Gollum sobbed.

The Dark Lord bent toward him, and the fiery eyes fixed on his face. "Do not seek to deceive me. If you try to take this thing for yourself and thereby attempt to betray me, it will betray you and bring you nothing but pain and ruin. It is mine, creature. Bring it to me."

The image on his hand faded, and the Ring was gone and the Hand was once more marred. As it vanished, Gollum shrieked again, the pain of losing sight of his precious almost as great as the pain of seeing it on that other hand. The Dark Lord straightened and turned away from him, pulling his glove back over the black hand. His voice echoed through Gollum's mind. "Bring it to me." Then darkness filled in the space he had left.

For a time that Gollum couldn't measure, he lay still and panting, sobs and whimpers bubbling up from inside of him. But as he writhed against his bonds, he felt them loosen slightly, enough for him to wriggle his limbs against them, widening their gap. In another immeasurable gap of time, he found himself freed, and he slipped away into the darkness and the air that stank of pain.