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During the War of the Last Alliance — or basically as soon as Sauron's spirit limbed back to Middle-earth after his body got lost alongside Númenor and he got the One back from its hiding place where he had wisely put it before he surrendered to Ar-Pharazôn — what the Elves feared to happen at the end of the Third Age is already a given: Sauron has the One and therefore the Three are revealed to him if they would be worn, which is the reason they probably aren't worn?

Or do the Wearers think: He knows our plans anyway; a huge host (Elrond compares it to the Hosts of Beleriand at the Council) is on its way to Mordor, if our thoughts are revealed to him all he would perceive is that we come to take him down, rather obvious - therefore we can wear them, or would they already be tainted by that?

Granted, the Last Alliance is strong and manages to defeat him, and then Isildur loots the One from his corpse, but before that the Elves couldn't have used or even worn their rings, could they?

Galadrial has it the easiest: she can just take Nenya off and keep it hidden somewhere in Lórien. She doesn't fight and therefore can keep the hiding place a secret and guarded.

Círdan can sort of do the same and leave his at the Havens, but since we are told that only the Wearers know who each other are he doesn't tell anyone (as a failsafe if he were to fall in battle) - otherwise there would be one more person who knew that Círdan had Narya. There is a sort of loophole possible in that maybe that trusted person did not know that Círdan gave it away a millennium later, so that the "only the Wearers know" phrase would be correct again at the time of the War of the Ring.

What about Vilya, though? Did Gil-galad take his trusted herald Elrond aside and say:

"Hey if I don't make it through this thing, I hid the most powerful of the Three at place X. So if I take the express route to the Halls of Mandos, but we still win, it's yours. No idea what happens if you don't make it out either though. You think we should tell someone else…"

Maybe Gil-galad, prophetic as he is, knew Elrond would survive and it was deposited at Rivendell?

Or maybe they did the sensible thing and deposited all Three in the safest place - with Galadriel, the mightiest not partaking in the fight, in Lórien - and then she distributed them back out after Sauron's defeat and the loss of the One after the Gladden Fields? But can the rings be moved while Sauron possesses the One? Or is the act of carrying without wearing enough to reveal them?

Clearly, all I have is speculation so here is the question: Is it known where the Three Elven Rings were during the War of the Last Alliance?

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    It would be a lot worse than just their plans getting revealed. The Lord of the Rings "could govern all they did, and in the end could utterly enslave them" (Letters). It must take some time though, that's why the Elves had the time to hide them. "Galadriel counselled him [Celebrimbor] that the Three Rings of the Elves should be hidden, never used, and dispersed, far from Eregion where Sauron believed them to be. It was at that time that she received Nenya" (UT).
    – Eugene
    May 20 at 10:51
  • I know it's minor but I missed the first 'e' in "someone" in the last sentence of the block quote in your question. Apologies for that. @BMWurm
    – waxwing
    Jun 30 at 8:45
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    @waxwing No problem, fixed it :)
    – BMWurm
    Jun 30 at 8:53

1 Answer 1

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Once Sauron forged the One, the wearers of the other rings heard him intone the words inscribed on the Master Ring as he took control over them. It is unknown who was wearing the lesser rings at this time (or even if all of them were Elves; the house of Durin, at least, claimed they had already received their ring from Celebrimbor). It is not known whether, or to whom, Celebrimbor had initially distributed the Three—although there is a good chance that he had retained one of them to wear himself. However, after Sauron declared himself as Lord of the Rings, the Elves never again wore the Three until the dark lord's downfall at the end of the Siege of Barad-dûr. Had they worn them, anything they had created with the Rings' powers would have fallen under the dominion of Sauron.

Tolkien's comments on how the Three were hidden and distributed are not entirely consistent, but we know that they eventually came into the hands of Gil-galad (Vilya), Galadriel (Nenya), and Círdan (Narya). It seems extremely unlikely that any of those three Elves would have let their rings pass out of their immediate keeping; although they could not wear them while Sauron had the One Ring in his possession, they would not have risked leaving them behind anywhere where they might have been found. After their initial secret distribution, two of the Three changed hands one additional time each. The tale of how Círdan surrendered the Ring of Fire to Gandalf is laid out in the appendices to The Return of the King. There is no certain statement about when Gil-galad passed the Ring of Water to Elrond, although it seems most likely that this was done upon the high king's death. In "The Council of Elrond," Elrond states that the final battle, when Sauron strode onto the field personally, pitted the Dark Lord against Gil-galad, Círdan, Elendil, Isildur and Elrond himself. The two kings were slain, but Isildur cut the One Ring from Sauron's hand, ending the war. Most likely Gil-galad passed the ring to Elrond as he was dying, in the wake of this final combat, but I do not believe that the details were ever spelled out. Gil-galad was accounted the last high king of the Noldor (although Tolkien's ideas about his parentage with the House of Finwë changed over time), and after his death, Elrond was probably the most plausible claimant for the kingship. Although Elrond seems never to have claimed the title of "king" for himself, the passage of Vilya from Gil-galad to Elrond seems symbolic of the passage of the leadership of the senior line of the Noldor royalty.

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    'History of Galdariel and Celeborn' in the Unfinished Tales states that Gil-Galad gave Vilya to Elrond at the end of the War of the Elves and Sauron. I'd say it's most likely that Gil-Galad gave Elrond the ring to help defend and preserve Rivendell, which was founded at about the same time. That said, it should be noted that History of G & C isn't entirely self-consistent, and contains a contradiction regarding Narya. In one place it is stated that Gil-Galad gave this to Cirdan immediately, and in another it says he kept it until he left Lindon for the Last Alliance. May 21 at 10:35
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    The same essay also indicates that Gil-Galad took both Vilya and Narya out of Eregion (Galadriel taking Nelya at that time), and Gil-Galad gave Narya to Círdan (though whether immediately or only before leaving for the War of the Last Alliance is unclear).
    – chepner
    May 21 at 16:36
  • It seems far more sensible to leave Vilya behind when going to directly attack Sauron, rather than risk Sauron killing you (as he did) and taking it back.
    – OrangeDog
    Jun 30 at 15:20
  • Some semi-canon/semi-speculation by me here: scifi.stackexchange.com/a/235966/106769. I think the "three elven kings" were Celebrimbor, Gil-Galad and Galadriel of the houses of Fëanor, Fingolfin and Finarfin respectively, as it makes perfect sense. Who else would the 3 Kings/Queens be? Elrond is the only other feasible candidate (but never called himself King), as Círdan, Celeborn and Thranduil were not Noldor.
    – Amarth
    Jun 30 at 15:24

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