Written for the LOTR Community Harvest challenge. For Peregrin Ionad for her birthday. Beta by RiverOtter.
He had learned that he had little control over the holders of the Seven, and so he had sent out dragons and hordes of orcs to take the Rings away from the Dwarf lords who’d held them. Why should those who refused to allow themselves to be ruled by their Rings continue to profit by them? He’d coaxed Celebrimbor and his smiths to craft them so that he, not the holders of the Rings, should in the end reap the harvest nurtured by the use of the Rings of Power, after all!
For a long time the last of the Dwarven Rings eluded him, that one having been crafted by Celebrimbor himself and bestowed by the Elf upon Dúrin there in Khazad-dûm. It had taken much patience and a certain level of luck before it had come to him in the end, as the Dwarf Thráin the Second, slightly addled by age, grief at the death of his father, and the loss of his own kingdom under the Mountain, had wandered at last close enough to Dol Guldur that he could be taken prisoner and the last Ring could be wrested from him.
Sauron could have allowed the Dragon to take Thráin, he supposed, although that would have meant he would have lost that Ring for good, either swallowed with the Dwarf and melted in the furnace of the Dragon’s gut, or made a part of the Dragon’s hoard. But Sauron could sow no future harvests if he had none of the Rings crafted for Dwarves to bestow on the unwary in the future. He wished the holders of all of the Rings of Power to belong to him, even as did the holders of the Nine! What a fine sheaf the Nazgûl formed, bowing before him and ever serving his will! He had sought to—adjust—those Rings that had come back into his possession so that when they were given out anew he would be better able to influence their wielders, although it would have been easier if he were able to wear his own Ring.
As for those who held the Three—well, the identities of two of those he knew well enough. One was the cursed witch there in her Golden Wood, and the other Elrond of Imladris, neither of whom had ever trusted him. The third he was uncertain of. Perhaps whoever it was dwelt there in Imladris alongside Elrond, or it might be that both Lord and Lady of Laurelindórenan were Ringbearers. He had once believed that Círdan might have been given the third Ring, perhaps by Ereinion Gil-galad. But if so, Círdan had never used its power, not that Sauron could detect. But those of his Nazgûl who had traveled past the entrance to the Firth of Lhûn insisted that they failed to sense any power similar to that held in their own Rings anywhere in the region, and definitely not in the past two thousand years of the Sun.
On occasion they spoke of a whiff of power sensed upon the wind, but never twice in the same place. He’d certainly chosen to have his new stronghold of Dol Guldur built on the ruins of Oropher’s palace in hopes of possibly finding that the third Ring for the Elves might have come into the keeping of the King of the Wood Elves. If so, Oropher had not taken it with him into the siege of Mordor, however. But then, none of the holders of the Three would dare to wear their Rings then, not while he still wore the One.
Thranduil had left his father’s stronghold, having had a new keep delved from the living rock of the stone hill that rose in the midst of his forest. But although he wielded potent magics of his own, still Thranduil had employed Dwarves to help carve out the new halls for himself and those of his people who dwelt under his direct protection. Surely that would not have been necessary had he worn that third Ring! So, if Oropher had possessed it, that indicated he must have secreted it somewhere within the foundations of his palace. But by now Sauron’s creatures had investigated each least stone or panel of wood used by the Elves in crafting the place, and nowhere had they found any trace of the third Ring, or any taste of such power having lain anywhere within its environs.
Without his own Ring Sauron could not approach either Artanis’s lands or Elrond’s, and so he could not settle the question as to who might hold that third.
Instead, he intensified the hunt for his own missing Ring. He sensed that It no longer lay at the bottom of the Anduin, but where It now dwelt he could not say. If It lay warded about by water It could remain hidden from him. But he was determined that, one way or another, at least twelve of the nineteen and their bearers should be under his control. Three Rings of the Dwarves he now held. Should he offer them in return for information, perhaps he could have a fuller sheaf of rulers bowing down to him, even without the One again upon his hand!
It was a strategy worthy of further study….