His hand is on the hilt.
He thinks I do not see.
The ringbearer had fallen. Perilous paths, these snowy cliffs we walk, and I would not have had us come this way. Too easy for a misstep to take a man over the edge. The snow lies in even drifts, untouched but for where our footsteps mark it, smoothing the treacherous rocks into white purity, soft, deceptive. And all of us are weary. The sun overhead bakes our backs, blinds us, the ice beneath us freezes, and we make each step with the faith of those who have no choice, the faith that this will not be the step that breaks through the brilliance into darkness, sends us plummeting into some hidden chasm, to die quickly on the rocks, or slowly, abandoned by comrades who could effect no rescue, and would have no choice but to go on.
Faith that this is not our day.
The ringbearer fell, his broad feet betraying him or his pack too loaded for his small frame, and the snow is broken, a turmoil, the ringbearer at the feet of my would-be King. He fell not into darkness. Not yet.
And a glint of gold in the sunlight.
How the chain could have slipped from around his neck, I do not know. It seems to grow at times, other times to shrink, as does its song. I hear it in my heart, this fiery golden impossibility, Isildur's bane. That I should fall to it is an irony which would make me smile were it not so difficult to bear. Isildur, but for whose weakness the line of Stewards might never have governed, nor I have come to be here. Kings to rule Gondor all these long years.
And now Isildur's heir is come, and the bane that should be his is mine, in trade for my people, my City, my home. I feel it like the baking sun above, like the cold that seeps in through my boots and freezes my skin. It is a tangible thing, this knowledge that Isildur's doom is my own. Were I a poet, I might see how it binds me to his kin, his kin who watches me now with a look of death. This glittering thing in my hand.
I had not meant to pick it up. Were it lost here, through chance or dark design, then surely the fires of the Enemy would burn the world to ash, but even so, I had not meant to touch it. Even as I leaned to take the chain between my fingers, it was as if I did not move, but merely waited, and it came to me.
Such a little thing.
Had the ancestor of this man who now watches me so warily but cast it away when he could, I would not be here now, this evil calling to me, swearing that I am strong enough, I can tame it, I can wield it. I can save us, when the one who should come will not. Gondor whole, and I at home. My White City, her gardens in bloom again, the blood of her children passed to their heirs, not to the field of battle. Oh, the song is sweet.
And his voice cuts through it, dark as his visage, here in this desolate, sunblasted waste. He is a shadow, a black thing in the blinding whiteness of the mountain, and his gaze calls me enemy.
It is not I who am the enemy, but despair. The despair born of long years watching my City fall, my soldiers die. Watching widows and children grieve, while I can do nothing but speak words of comfort and mourning, bitter as blood in my mouth.
This one has not bled for me, has not bled for Gondor. I know him not. Neither king, nor brother, nor enemy, nor captain. Neither friend, but mistrustful comrade, worse than none.
And between us, the glitter of power, and his hand on the hilt of his sword.
He thinks I do not see.
All standard disclaimers apply. None of these characters are mine, all belong to whoever owns LOTR these days (the Tolkien estate?), and I wrote this solely for my own entertainment and edification.