1. Shining, Shimmering, Splendid
The Fellowship of the Ring, A Shadow of the Past
The shadowy man had been escorted into the presence chamber with pomp befitting the arrival of some important foreign ambassador. In his hands, a closed wooden case to which all attention was irreversibly drawn. Preliminary introductions concluded, he now kneeled before the dais as the aged man seated on the throne inspected the gift he had brought - a simple, yet startlingly beautiful ring.
At last the man upon the dais spoke, hesitantly, as if he were not convinced of the value of his words. “I would know why your lord sees it fit to bestow this token upon me. Neither my people nor I favor casual alliances with strangers.”
In his hands, the ring grew cold and heavy, downright unpleasant, and the king visibly winced, suddenly unable to look upon it without being ashamed of doubting the reasons behind a present such as the one he was being offered. After all, it was but a ring - so inoffensive a thing.
“My liege simply bids you accept his gift as naught but that - a gift. He demands nothing of you, but deems you worthy of a ring such as this one, and would be honored if you received it.”
The gem set upon the band now glittered brilliantly with many colors, catching the torchlight it had previously shunned from its depths. As colors danced across its facets and were reflected in the old face, the king smiled, as if he beheld a loved child who had just accomplished some cunning feat.
Slowly the ring twirled around the king’s fingers, and all eyes were drawn to it, mesmerized both by the gem’s changing hues and the gold’s constant brightness. It appeared harmless in the hands of the sovereign - indeed, quite soulless - identical to many kept in the palace storerooms, although those could not compare to it, for the superiority of the work was apparent to all who gazed upon this ring. It danced delicately, beautifully, innocently - merely a trinket.
“If you fear that a cruel doom is laid upon it, be tranquil, lord. It has no great power, lord - nay, no power at all, nothing but inert gold and crystal - but it was wrought in the forges of Celebrimbor. Almost peerless it is; for only eight others like it were made, and solely by virtue of that does it have any greatness.” The man’s words were softly spoken, unasked for, but they served their purpose well, as the ring was twirled around the aged king’s still nimble digits, glimmering seductively, beckoning to him.
The dance grew more frantic, and the colors more vibrant. The gold band grew warmer as the king fingered it obsessively, lost in the bottomless depths of the pale shimmering gem that crowned the ring. And yet, even now when the king was so deeply enthralled, something still struggled within him.
But suddenly the ring escaped his fingers and tumbled down the dais, coming to a stop at the feet of one of the men who had escorted the mysterious envoy to the throne. The chamber fell silent and still, and the guard made a motion to pick up the ring and return it to the sovereign. Yet one look at his liege’s face froze him in place - the eyes were narrowed in barely concealed anger, and the lips were drawn into a thin line that spoke of nothing but fury.
The king rose from his throne, slowly descending down the broad steps, his eyes never straying. Even from its inferior position the ring managed to still maintain all of the lord’s attention. Without a glance to anyone he slowly flexed arthritic members and retrieved the golden gift. Returning to his rightful place, he carefully slipped the ring onto his index finger and held it up to the light, where he could better see it. Slowly he moved his hand this and that way, and again fell captive to the unnatural beauty of the ring, which would now forever shine at his command.
“A treasured gift is a gift well given, lord, and I doubt not that such is the case now. I express my lord’s most sincere gratitude and shall be sure to tell him that the men of your kingdom know a gift when they are presented with one.”
The king nodded derisively and muttered some words of diplomatic importance, lifting his eyes long enough to watch the stranger who, with a courteous bow, turned on his heel and walked out of the chamber.
Only when he reached the exit did he look back, and out of the dimly lit room there leapt a small glimmer of light, as the old man hunched over the throne fell into the endless depths of the shimmery gem.
His task was finished.
Many thanks to Dwim and Rachel, who helped me with the quote at the beginning, and to those who commented on earlier versions of the story.
Feedback and criticism are highly welcome.