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The Last King by Erulisse

Author: Erulisse (one L)
Title: The Last King
Rating: PG
Theme: In Spring All Things Are Possible – An AU Challenge
Elements: "I know tales," the old woman said, then smiled, showing toothless gums. "There be victories or defeats, love or hate, hope or despair, and sometimes they all be a part of a tale. Which type be ye wanting, my lords?"
-Beta: None – all errors are solely my own bad
Word Count: 4311

Summary: A storyteller in a smoky tavern tells the Tale of the Last King to a diverse audience. Who is this king, and who is the storyteller? An AU story with disturbing darkness.

Author’s Notes: Disclaimer: Tolkien built the sand box; I only play with the bucket and shovel that he left for me. No money, profit or non, is made from the publication of this story.

The Last King

"I know tales," the old woman said, then smiled, showing toothless gums. "There be victories or defeats, love or hate, hope or despair, and sometimes they all be a part of a tale. Which type be ye wanting, my lords?"

“A tale of royalty,” one voice shouted from the back. His cry was quickly overtaken by others.

“No. A tale of battles brave and bloody,” a voice shouted from the left.

“But there have to be women,” a roar of laughter and approval met this from the restive crowd.

“And sorrow…sorrow to match our world,” a quiet voice from near the kitchen spoke up.

“All good and fine, my lords, and I will feed ye a story good for the tellin' on this windy and rainy night. So get ye your drinks and settle down closer to the fire whilst I speak the tale of the Last King.”

There was a shuffling in the tavern while chairs were adjusted and tables were moved. Mugs of drink were brought out along with some food trenchers and distributed to various patrons in the smoky room. But in a short time the audience had settled down and now was looking expectantly at the ancient one who was seated close to the warm hearth.

“The Southern line of Elendil’s heirs died out bit by bit o'er the years. Death came by plague, by blood shed in many battles, and finally in front of the gates of the moon. Taken by darkness, none remained of that blood, Eärnur being the last. After his death only lesser men held the throne for the king to come again. They were kings in all but title, them Stewards, and they ruled Gondor, tryin' to hold it firm against varied and sundry foes through the many years.

“But the Northern line of Elendil’s sons continued. Their kingdoms joined and then separated, allied and then warred against each other, and finally all o’ the bloodlines had died out save that of Isildur. Reduced in both numbers and power, they still remained fruitful through the years. At least one son was born to each generation to continue Númenor’s heritage in Middle-earth. Some were good men, others not so much, but such it is with all men. Several times the north sent words and emissaries to the south tryin' to mend the rift between the kingdoms and return the winged crown to the head of a king, but nothin' was resolved. None mounted the steps of the throne room in the Citadel of Minas Tirith as Gondor’s acknowledged king.

“Finally others stepped in and took a hand, tryin’ to direct the last heirs of Elendil. Many of them were taken to a secret place and trained by elves, increasin' their skills in weapons, tactics and diplomacy.”

Exclamations of disgust followed these words, echoing around the public room.

“Elves, ptah!” one listener growled as he spat onto the filthy rush-covered floor. “If'n any of them still live, may my blade find their throats!” Cries of agreement met his statement and a newly filled mug of brew was placed in front of the speaker, a gift from another patron. The teller of tales waited patiently knowing that this would blow over and that once again her words would fall upon willing ears.

“Indeed yes!” she continued after slaking her own thirst with a deep swallow of grog. “Indeed yes, elves. The elves took personal interest in the heirs of Isildur and trained many of them through long years. In some cases they even fought the dark side by side. Those men they trained became mighty warriors and were looked upon with fear by all whom they faced in battle.

“The Enemy tried many tactics to destroy Isildur's line. He salted the seeds of plague which ravaged the lands. He also sent armies to the north from Mordor, ordering others to move down from the wastes of Angmar at the same time. These forces met tryin' to crush the Northern Chiefs between them. But it failed. Then the generals began a series of frequent raids using small groups of troops to ambush and waylay those still livin' and hidin’ across their old lands. Over time the enemy's tactics began to have an effect. The numbers of those called the Dúnedain lessened until they were but a small and scattered people living one step away from starvation. There was one grim heir still living and he married late. As he left to fight a band of orcs his young son had but recently turned two. But he never returned from that battle, fallin' to an orc arrow through the eye.

“This left his young son, still a babe in arms, as the last livin' heir of Isildur. The Enemy felt close to wipin' out the hated Elendil's line and picked up the pace and scope of the hunt for him. To prevent disaster the elves acted once again, bringing the young mother and her toddler to their secret mountain fastness, there to raise the boy as one of their own.

“Raising one of the Dúnedain from early childhood hadn’t been done since the early days of the Third Age. Those who had been taught by the elves in the past mostly had their learnin’ when they were near grown. But this one, he came to them as a babe in arms, barely even walking. So the elves, they had many years to influence this child and that’s what they did.

“Sure'n they raised him to know weaponry and tactics even as all o' his ancestors had learned from the immortal ones. But they also taught him politics and languages, the varied cultures of the lands and diplomacy. Finally, when he came of age, they told him the full tale of his ancestry, instillin' in him a fierce desire for the crown of his ancestors. It became an obsession. His head swelled with the thought that he might be the one destined to once again sit on the empty throne in the White City. He had high dreams, as young men often do, but the enemy was determined to use his obsession as his path to destruction.”

Here she paused, taking up her mug and downing another deep swallow. She looked around the room searching the eyes of her audience. They were rough men; some with the look of the half-orc, some with the canted eyes of Easterners, a few who looked more like Dunlandings. Still they had coin and the beer was flowing freely. The tavern owner wouldn’t quibble with her bard’s portion of food, drink, and a warm hearth for sleep this night; she had brought him custom. She took another swallow and then continued.

“Long before, at the end of the Second Age, a great battle had been fought before the Black Gates of Mordor. For seven years the allied forces of men, elves and other free peoples had been joined in an attempt to overthrow the Master. They were partly successful but at great cost to themselves. The sword of Elendil, broken under his body at his death and wielded by his son Isildur, cut deeply into the hand of the Enemy, severing it. A baleful wound, the stories all agree. Yet this was e'en worse for the Master because his ring, a band of golden metal into which he had put much of his power and some of his very soul, had been cut from his body along with his hand. Without his ring a good part of his strength and powers were gone. Sauron was vanquished, although both Elendil and the elves' king, Gil-galad, had met their own doom just ere his defeat.

“O’er many years the ring was lost then found, then lost again. Finally it claimed a new owner. This young'un cemented his own soul to the ring by committin' murder to take and keep the band. He became a slave to the master's power held in the metal band and fled into the dark vast tunnels of the Misty Mountains with his prize. There he held it for hundreds of years - his prize, his precious. But the ring was quiet, awaitin' its Master's call. Finally the call came and the ring awoke again.

“Now the ring was not a thinkin', movin' thing. It was a part of the Master, but couldn' just pick up 'n go to him directly. No, it had to influence others to take it south and return it to its maker. Sensin' a stranger in its mountain caves it sent a callin' and pulled the creature's eyes towards it. In this way it came into the hands of one known as Bilbo Baggins.”

The listening crowd erupted into boos and hisses. Rumbles of “Baggins - may they be forever cursed,” and “That family be damned in these lands,” were heard from various corners. It was clear that the audience had heard this name before and held it in no great store. After the comments died down she continued the tale.

“Yes, the ring came into the hands of one Bilbo Baggins who wore it sometimes for nigh-on fifty years, thinkin' it was a handy trick because among other more destructive powers, it made invisible the one wearin' it. Meantimes the Master returned to his tower in Mordor and began a search for his missing jewelry. Now that he was back in his tower of Barad-dûr, he had all o' his mighty powers arrayed before him. But he still missed that which had been stolen. He cast a wide net to find it, finally catchin' the former keeper – him that we know as Gollum.

“By this time Gollum was a pathetic creature, a mere shadow of the youth who had murdered to keep the bright band of yellow metal. Nonetheless, he knew and remembered the name of who had taken the ring from him, and he whispered that name to the Darkness in the Tower. 'Baggins,' he said. 'Baggins – we hates it forever.' And so the Nine were sent out to find Baggins in the land called Shire and retrieve that which had been stolen by Isildur so many years before.

“And now the stage was almost set and all things would soon be put in motion. Only one piece remained to be placed - the king.

“For Aragorn, son of Arathorn thought of himself as a king, e'en if he held no true title yet. As such, he had cast his eyes upon the daughter of Elrond Half-elven, the Master of the Hidden Valley of the elves. The Chieftain felt that when he came to his throne - something that he knew would happen, there was no doubt in his mind - he needed a queen to rule by his side. He courted and won the love of Arwen, Elrond's daughter, and then left her behind, settin' out to win back his throne.

“Arwen was faithful to him, inasmuch as any elf can hold faith with a man. Aragorn was gone from her for many years while he wandered the world, workin' in the courts of many kingdoms and learning strange languages and customs. Yes, Arwen was faithful to him, but he was not faithful to her. He liked the idea of having an elven queen, but he was a man not an elf. He lived as a mercenary, one whose life was measured in heartbeats with a knife's edge between life and death. In a world such as that, he found himself unable to keep himself satisfied by only his own hand.” She made a lewd gesture and the audience roared and laughed with vulgar understanding. It took a short time until they settled down again for her next words.

“So instead of remainin' faithful to Elrond's daughter, he found it hard to say “No” to a buxom wench in a tight, low-cut dress or, for that matter, to a young man sporting a desire for crossin' more than just steel. Aragorn under a variety of names developed a well-deserved reputation as a courageous commander and cunning mercenary for the kingdoms of Rohan and Gondor, but he left behind a legacy of broken-hearted lovers. Rumors of his many trysts swirled around the lands for several years before they finally came to the Hidden Valley. When he heard them, Elrond was enraged. He asked his sons to find proof of the rumors while they were in the Wild and report back to him.”

Once more she reached down, grabbing her mug and taking a deep drink from a newly refilled portion. She sighed her appreciation of the cool ale, wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, and after casting a quick glance over her audience to determine their mood, dove back into her tale.

“For reasons we may never know, Bilbo Baggins passed the Ring to his ward, a halfling known as Frodo. With counsel from a wizard, the young heir set out from his home one fall, and joinin' with three companions began the long walk to the Hidden Valley, there to seek advice from the elves. It was his hope, more than likely, to pass the Ring on to Elrond Half-elven at that time, returnin' to his little house in the middle of a pasture as a naïve, untroubled youth.

“But Sauron had heard about Baggins from Gollum when the former caretaker of the ring had been shackled in the dungeons of the Tower. The Master ordered his orcs to allow Gollum's escape, knowin' that would set free one more set of eyes attemptin' to find the Ring. He also ordered the Nine to search. All of these forces were movin' ever closer to that small band of yellow metal held in the pocket of Frodo Baggins of Hobbiton in the Shire.

“Through the strong efforts and guidance of Aragorn, the Ring was safely brought to the Hidden Valley. There, gatherin' together, were those who were allowed to pass the guarded borders. They had been called by message and by dream to gather at this place 'n time. Representatives of all free peoples joined in Council to decide the fate of the Ring of Power.

“The Nine, who had found Frodo Baggins on the road, had been scattered through battles with Aragorn, the wizard and the powers of Elrond Half-elven. They had limped back to Mordor to get new steeds and new orders. But Gollum was still searching and, indeed, he found the Valley. He was unable to enter it - it was too well guarded. But he haunted its entrance hoping to regain the ring when it had left the protected valley floor.

“So a council was held under Elrond's guidance and there it was decided to send a small company out of the valley in an attempt to secret Sauron's ring back into Mordor. The goal was to destroy it by returning it to the mountain's fires wherein it had first been forged. It was a foolish plan hatched in desperation, but it fed into the desires of the Master by bringin’ the ring closer to him. Scouts, including the sons of Elrond, were sent out to determine the best route for the party to take.

“Over the days reports trickled back to Elrond's lands and late in the year his sons returned from a far-flung journey with much news. Elrond called Arwen into his offices and there he and her brothers met with her. None know for sure what words were spoken in that room, but that night, the night before Aragorn was set to leave with Frodo Baggins and the ring, she met with Aragorn and disavowed their union. Tellin' him that he had failed her trust, she said she would be leavin' Middle-earth on the next ship. Each took back their troth pledges and separated, never to be joined again. Aragorn's plans had suddenly changed.

“Even though he had lost his queen, he was still Isildur's heir and could possibly win the throne of Gondor. Now he was leavin' the power of the elves and goin' ever closer to Mordor with each step, a mighty weapon carried next to him in the possession of a halfling.

“He began talkin' with the Steward's son, one Boromir of Gondor, who was a member of the party. Between them they began to make plans to get the ring from the halfling and bring it to Minas Tirith – a desperate plan to be sure, but one that they hoped would spare the White City from Sauron's wrath. The Ring was workin' it's powers on the members of the party and they were as like to fight between themselves as work together.

“The two men kept their plans close, not trustin' that the other members of the party would see how sensible an idea it was. As the journey continued they lost members of the company – the wizard in Moria, two of the halflings at the Falls of Rauros, and finally the other two halflings within a day afterward . The small ones had crossed the river Anduin and started for Mordor but the two men knew that the Ring must not be captured by orcs, not if they meant to bring it to Gondor’s aid. They caught up with the halflings a day later and took Sauron's ring from Frodo Baggins, leaving the two hobbits behind them as they recrossed the river and continued towards the White City, avoidin' the elf and dwarf, the final members of the company.

“Gollum, seeing the destruction of the close-knit group, watched the two men begin to work their way to the southwest. He veered off and started his own journey south to Barad-Dûr. Finally arrivin' at the tower he told Sauron the tale of the Ring, beggin' for mercy because he had not accosted the two warriors directly. But our Master saw the value in leaving his Ring with the men and showed mercy, allowing the creature to live and granting him a position within the Tower.

“Now we come to that which is more recent and probably more familiar to all of you.”

She leaned over her lap and dusted off her worn, multicolored skirts. Taking one more swig from her brew she looked over her audience with satisfaction. They were veterans, some few of them, and she felt certain that they had fought in many battles, perhaps even in the one she was ready to describe. 'Now to play it up,' she thought. 'With the right tone I might make some coppers tonight.'

“The two men came to Minas Tirith and there were met by Denethor, Steward of Gondor. He was a cold and ambitious man who ruled with a heavy hand. The enemy was pressin' in on all sides and he was unable to see a way out for his city and his people. Now his eldest and most beloved son had reappeared on his doorstep escorting one to whom he referred as 'My King'. Denethor was nervous. Who was this man who commanded the obedience of his own son?

“As the two men approached the Steward’s chair he was startled to see that he recognized the taller of the two. 'No, it can't be. He would be long dead by now,' he thought. But when the two were standin' in front of him he realized that his fears had been true. The mercenary he had known as Thorongil stood before him and Denethor was aghast.

“Boromir spoke while Aragorn looked past him to the stairs leading to the king's throne. ‘Father, may I introduce you to Aragorn, son of Arathorn, my boon companion on this quest and in possession of a weapon the likes of which we may never see again. A weapon which may allow us to save our people.’

“’Let me see this weapon that you have given up our city for, my son,’ Denethor spat out in anger. He stood and motioned the two men closer. Affixin' his eyes upon Boromir he spoke softly but with great clarity. ‘This mercenary, this Thorongil, enchanted your grandfather but I was able to pull free of his influence. And now you bring him back here, to the land that he was nearly given without regard to his lineage? When did your wits leave you, my son?!’”

“’No, father. It is not like that. Aragorn is a man of great strength and skill, descended from Isildur himself and trained by the elves in weaponry and tactics. He will take Sauron's ring and through its use he will protect us!’”

“’Sauron's Ring? His RING? In the hands of this man of base birth?’”

“Aragorn's hand swept out, striking Denethor to the ground. ‘I should slay you as you lie on these flagstones trod upon by our ancestors for that insolent remark.’ He walked away from the Steward, approachin' the stairs leading to the throne. ‘I am Isildur's heir, descended in direct line from Elendil himself. This kingdom, its peoples and its property are mine by right.’

“He reached beneath his tunic and pulled out a chain fastened around his neck. A golden ring was suspended from it. Denethor and Boromir saw the ring and fell silent as the world seemed to hold its breath for a long moment.

“As Aragorn pulled the chain from about his neck, breakin' it and allowin' it to fall on the ground, the small sound of the metal against the stone flagstones broke the spell that had seemin'ly been cast upon the others. As the tall and lanky man mounted the first step towards the throne he looked down at the gold shining from between his fingers and a fell smile came to his face. While he continued to climb, the two men at the base of the stairs recovered themselves and stood, shoulder to shoulder, unable to speak, their eyes reflecting their terror.

“Aragorn son of Arathorn reached the top step and turned, facing the corridor of the kings in the audience hall of Minas Tirith.

“’I am Isildur's heir, the last of his line. Through much travail has this ring come to my hand. And now, when the White City that was founded by mine own ancestors and kept from Darkness by their blood is once again in danger, a mighty weapon is in my grasp. Only I have the right to place this on my hand. Only I can turn aside the dark and by using this weapon, turn the forces arraying against us to fight for our cause instead. With this ring I can do this.’

“’For the sake of my lineage and this fair city, I, Aragorn, son of Arathorn, do place this ring upon my hand. May the line of Isildur prove stronger than our Enemy.’”

“He raised the ring into the air so that all saw it clearly, and then raisin' his other hand to it, slipped the ring onto his finger. A crack of thunder sounded in the clear sky and a hollow laugh sounded from the would-be king standin' in front of the throne. He trembled, then fell back into the throne, convulsin' and movin' his arms as if he was in battle with an unseen foe. Those who were positioned close enough clearly saw his eyes change color from the grey-green of the men of Númenor to blood red and then back again, several times. Finally the struggle ceased and the man on the throne settled himself more firmly upon the sanctified seat. Opening his mouth, he spoke the following words that have come down to us to this very day:

'Ash nazg durbatulûk,
ash nazg gimbatul,
ash nazg thrakatulûk,
ash burzum-ishi krimpatul

“Laughter came from the throne where the shell of Aragorn sat, overtaken by that which had been bodiless for so long. Far back, behind the red eyes, a silent scream sounded, cried by the man who was no more. The conquest of our Master was complete and the rest of Middle-earth soon followed the collapse of Minas Tirith. Within a few years all was secure and our lives became better under the rule of His Darkness.

She looked once more around the room, then whispered, almost as an aside as she finished her tale.

“It is said that the body of the Last King still sits on the throne of the ruined city, madness now shining from his eyes; his body still livin'. But his mind was broken that day, no longer to return.”

She picked her mug up once more and downed a great swallow, listening to the cheers and comments of her audience and the clink of coins being thrown into her begging bowl. 'Yes,' she mused, 'the story of Aragorn is always a good one for a mixed military crowd like this one. Now to get the troop movement information for Círdan and return to the eastern shore before our final battle.' Arwen pulled her artificially greyed and thickened hair closer to her face and adjusted her head scarf, helping to hide the sharp tips of her ears. Looking at the crowd still ordering ale and food from the tavern keeper, she nodded and began collecting her begging bowl and walking stick. She headed for the kitchen where she would spend the night in warmth by the cooking hearth. As she left the main room she allowed a quick hope to cross her heart that Legolas had succeeded in his quest to slay Aragorn. Unfaithful or not, he had been her love and she could not bear his suffering. If the wood elf was successful their parts to play in Middle-earth would be complete and they could return to the haven and leave this darkened land forever to share a new life together in Western lands. The noise of the tavern diminished as the kitchen door closed behind her.


( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 27th, 2013 08:16 pm (UTC)
Another awful AU! So, Aragorn wasn't continent in this one and so destroyed his own future? Why am I not surprised? A nice, eerie one!
May. 28th, 2013 01:14 pm (UTC)
A dystopean view, to be sure, but so was the way that my prompt pushed me. I had no idea who my storyteller was until the end of the story when she identified herself to me and I shared that with all of you. The quest was always a knife's edge away from failure and so many things could have gone wrong. This was just one of myriad ways.

Thanks, as always, for your reading and your review. I appreciate it very much!

- Erulisse (one L)
May. 27th, 2013 08:24 pm (UTC)
Wow. That's a shocking and chilling tale. Thank goodness history -- and the nobleness of Aragorn -- did not take this dark turn.
May. 28th, 2013 01:15 pm (UTC)
I am very grateful that the original didn't have this twist and that Aragorn was noble enough to overcome the temptation to wear and use the Ring. But...we were supposed to write AU and this, most certainly, qualifies as that :-)

Thanks for reading and reviewing!

- Erulisse (one L)
May. 27th, 2013 10:36 pm (UTC)
This was truly chilling.It was indeed through his goodness and fidelity that Aragorn triumphed in the book. Had he been different, this is how it might well have been. Love the twist about the storyteller.
May. 28th, 2013 01:18 pm (UTC)
The storyteller was an anonymous old female to me until the end of the story when she stood up in my mind and said "Yo...here I am." It was a bit of a surprise to me also :-)

So much could have gone wrong with the Quest. I just examined ons of many possibilities here. Thanks for reading and reviewing, I really appreciate it :-)

- Erulisse (one L)
May. 28th, 2013 12:34 am (UTC)
That was quite the twist on canon, Erulisse. Well written, and well twisted at the end. I loved the narrator before - and loved it even more to discover it was Arwen.

Great story!
May. 28th, 2013 02:02 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! I had a much more enjoyable time with this story than I should have had - given the subject matter and my own dark AU.

Talk at you tomorrow :-)))))

- Erulisse (one L)
May. 28th, 2013 01:07 pm (UTC)
Oh, what a twist! Such a dark AU!

But I loved the ending.
May. 28th, 2013 02:04 pm (UTC)
Thanks and thanks again. It was a great prompt that made the storyline clear to me immediately when I received it. The ending, however, was a total surprise to me until my fingers actually typed it out. Then, of course, it was a case of "Of course it was her - who else could it have been?" - LOL.

- Erulisse (one L)
May. 28th, 2013 05:56 pm (UTC)
An AU that has me thinking it should be continued, dammit.
May. 28th, 2013 06:43 pm (UTC)
Thank you, I'm flattered. Perhaps sometime Arwen's story in this AU might well be continued. I think she might be willing to expand on her role ;-)

- Erulisse (one L)
May. 28th, 2013 06:46 pm (UTC)
I'll have my fingers crossed!
May. 29th, 2013 06:33 pm (UTC)
Wow, really great AU. You achieved such a dark and anxious atmosphere, and at the same time, the story is very tense. What happens next? Did the whole world fall into darkness?
The end is surprising, but interesting. So well done, dear.
May. 30th, 2013 02:22 am (UTC)
Thanks so much for your kind words. I had the perfect prompt that led me right into a dark AU - no hesitations. The storyteller was there, the words were at her beck and call, the only question was "Who is she?" and that was answered by her at the end. I fear that in this AU the world did indeed fall into darkness, although small pockets of light must still exist if they are holding out at the Havens.

- Erulisse (one L)
May. 29th, 2013 10:56 pm (UTC)
This is great. I love the sort of meta commentary about storytelling thrown into this story (I'm a sucker for that kind of thing), with the teller reflecting on what she can best play up to win her audience over. Makes one wonder how much is true, and how much exaggerated.
I was going to ask whether you'd intended the protagonist to be Arwen all along, but I see that's been answered in comments already. I do love your Arwen though, whatever the universe.

Well done!
May. 30th, 2013 02:26 am (UTC)
Thank you so very much. I think any storyteller judges her tale in terms of her audience. A tale told to children will be different than that told to adults and that told to adults will be different than that told to seasoned warriors just out of active battle.

I actually had no idea who my narrator was until she told me shortly before the end of the story. Then she pulled my hair and said "Duh!" and I resigned myself to elvish schemes and circles within circles again :-)

Hmmm...not all of the tale is necessarily 100% true? What a concept - LOL :D Tales are tailored for the audience to maximize interest and monetary gains... Yes, I also like my Arwen in this.

- Erulisse (one L)
Jun. 1st, 2013 04:01 pm (UTC)
Really interesting and chilling look at one possible chain of events.
Jun. 1st, 2013 04:15 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much for reading and your comment. Yes, all things are possible in AU and this one took a darker turn. Actually, a lot of my stories do so I guess I'm comfortable with the Dark Side :-)

- Erulisse (one L)
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )


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