"I wish the Ring had never come to me."
Sad words, from the throat of a weary hobbit worn down by a corrosive burden too heavy for his small shoulders. Rhetorical words, spoken without any true intention of casting it away-- for this was after all Frodo Baggins, Bronwe athan Harthad, he of Endurance beyond Hope.
Nevertheless, the magic words had been spoken. "I wish", a phrase any vengeance demon would have gloried to answer, had one been in his vicinity. A phrase exactly one Vengeance Lord was still able to detect from several dimensions away, as the patterns of potentiality suddenly starbursted with disruption.
D'Hoffryn's pointed ears twitched and his lips drew back in a fiendish smirk as he sifted through the many ways the wish could be answered. Kept in the elder Baggins' hands after his eleventy-first birthday party? No, too tame; the wizard Gandalf, whose power was roughly equal to his own, would likely still find a way to guide events to an ordered close. Picked up by Gandalf himself when Bilbo dropped it on the floor of Bag End? No, no, messing with an Istari's will directly was a good way to get one's horns ripped out. Kept out of the Baggins' hands altogether, left under the hills in Gollum's pocket or lost in the maze of goblin tunnels? That was the doing of the Ring itself, however, in response to Sauron's call, and willful inanimate objects were more trouble than it was worth to manipulate directly. Dropped by Bilbo at some point on the return journey?
...Ah, now there was a plot worthy of his involvement, one that would produce glorious chaos.
"Done," D'Hoffryn said, threading his magic through the shadows between Arashmahar and Arda. And Middle-Earth was forever changed.
A ten-year-old Dunedain boy knelt on a wide tree branch in his foster father's gardens, staring down at Mirthrandir and his short Halfling friend. He'd seen Bilbo once before, months ago when thirteen dwarves had accompanied the strange being to the Last Homely House on the way to the Lonely Mountain.
Estel hadn't had much occasion to interact with the group either time. Elrond had been vague as to the reasons why and then enlisted the twins on distraction detail, dragging Estel off for forestry lessons or language tutoring or archery practice any time the boy tried to investigate.
It had made him curious. What was so special about this visitor that Elrond's fosterling had to be kept away from him? Or was it the other way around? Estel wasn't stupid; he'd seen how evasive his mother Gilraen and the household's Elves always were on the subject of his Human father. There was a secret there that no one was yet willing to tell him.
Either way, he had begun to rebel at all the redirection, and had finally utilized all the Elvish sneakiness his foster brothers had trained into him to follow Bilbo out to the gardens. So far, he hadn't learned much about Halflings in general or this one in particular, but he'd heard plenty of fascinating things about dragons and battles and the Kingdom of Mirkwood, where the twins' friend Legolas was a Prince.
But what was this? Bilbo and Mirthrandir were moving on, but the Halfling had left something behind, a shining bit of metal that flashed in the warm May sunshine. Estel waited until he was sure the travelers were out of earshot, then carefully crept down out of his tree and moved to investigate.
It was a ring! A plain one, made of gold. He picked it up carefully, weighing it in his palm, and was surprised to find that it was heavier than it looked. A breeze ruffled his hair as he examined it, rustling the leaves about him, and it seemed for a moment that he could almost hear words: Mine, they seemed to say, My precious.
Estel shook his head. Bilbo would probably be missing this before long. He'd have to take it to Elladan or Elrohir to return it; if he did it himself, or went to Ada, he'd surely get a lecture on disobedience for being out here in the first place.
Of course, it might not be missed at all. Hadn't he heard that Bilbo had got a fourteenth of the dragon's treasure? That was a lot of gold and jewels and things; surely this one tiny ring was unimportant. It was probably not even worth very much...
Estel tucked the ring into a pocket, patting it carefully to make sure it was secure. He could always wait until Bilbo said something. If the Halfling didn't miss it, surely there was no harm in his keeping it...
The trees whispered again. Estel... My precious.
Estel shivered, then turned and headed toward the house.