There are no chosen ones; only those who choose, and act.


And the Ring is on the pedestal, and its call goes out to each of them, to each whispering softly, beneath the surface as the tug of the undertow pulls at the unwary. Undiscerned, it creeps into their hearts: finds the Elf's cold and inhospitable, slick as ice and without purchase in its immortal depths; finds the Dwarf's already inhabited with a greed easily fulfilled, the greed for beauty which is all around them; had already tested the Halflings and found them innocent and repulsive to its touch, shies away from them as from a crawling thing, and the old one, the Istar, had already proved too strong. But the Men.... Oh, the Men.... One it had already touched, already felt the softness of his heart, and now, now, now there is a fresher bruise as well, a soft place for it to breathe, for it to heal, where she has touched, and which aches for her still. And the other, now, as well, oh, that love, that love which burns like fire upon each of them, one for the maiden and one for his home and his brother, ah, here is sweetness indeed, here is meet and tender provender for it to feed upon, and desires it can sway to its own ends. Softly, softly, nestles in, curls about as the smallest snake might curl about the hand; twines about and nestles in to wait, and breathes its poison softly in their hearts.

The brightness of the sun is an anathema, the cold of Caradhras only a small thing, but in the dark and death of Moria it uncoils its longing and draws the Men together, draws them towards each other in a sweet dance of power and distrust, love and fear. For love, oh, Men are quick to love, and quicker still to fear, and it paints its pictures of death and desire, of one come with fiery sword and will of iron; one opposing with armies and despair. Paints its pictures of the maiden soft and yielding, queen at his side, if only he is proven worthy of her love; the City burning at the hand of the king who would seize it, brother gone, exiled, imprisoned, or dead, and himself dead or worse, for what king would keep the only other rightful heirs alive? what king would sleep easy with his rivals yet able to draw breath and oppose him? Oh, the death and dark of Moria is succulent with fear, with despair, and softly it paints its pictures of endings, of beginnings, of mistrust and betrayal, draws them together and keeps them apart, a touch here, a glance in the darkness, eyes like mithril, silvery and hard, and hands too quick to draw a blade. The Istar does not see, the others do not know, but the Men, the Men, the Men are caught in the current, wary, but of each other, not of their own now-poisoned hearts, and the only uncertainty is which will fall first.

But what better fortune could be had? for it is the Istar who falls, though not to the Ring, and Men must lead, the Man must lead, his heart torn and bleeding. Swift and soft as quicksilver the Ring slips in, opens the wounds, drinks the blood of his grief and returns it to him as fear. He is alone: the Elf will not have him, the Man will not follow, the Istar is gone and the end-game approaches, and he alone must find a way. The Ring reveals the path. The other, less stricken, is no less easy prey, for he sees now the fear in the eyes of his would-be king, sees in the light of day the undeniable, that his king does not trust him, does not want him, yet wishes him to surrender and be his strength, be his proof, for if his rival surrenders, this Man of strength and desperation, if his rival surrenders then will not all? But surrender, oh, this is sweet prey indeed, for surrender comes not easily to this one, and such soft visions does it take to show his way to victory instead; his father awaits him, his brother seeks for him; his City lies like a jewel in the shadow of the east, needs only a spark to set it burning to ash, and the king is fire, and the Ring is cool, sweet, soft as water lapping at the edges of his burning heart. The Lady of the Wood is the smallest distraction, and she cannot protect him when they leave; and oh, she is unwise it seems, at the last, and gentle as a snake the Ring slides beneath her touch and presses the soft ache that the Elf left, presses and breathes its poison to the wound.

The end-game approaches, and the Ring sees the path, and moves the slow currents towards destruction.