1. The Last Ship of the West
"Eh. Narâk. Wake yourself."
This was followed by a painful and cold nudge - a steel-toed boot dug
into Narâk's ribs and pressed hard. He managed not to yelp, but just
"Narâk, son of Aglahad, Second Officer of the Watch! Wake up!"
"What is it?" Narâk grumbled as he finally opened his eyes and sat up,
tiredly swatting the boot away as he did. "Sky falling again? Another
Orc loose in the whorehouse?" he asked. He glanced over at the window
next to his bed. It was dark outside, but it was always dark out now.
The storm had lasted nearly four days so far and showed no sign of
letting up. "And what time is it?"
There was a sundial under the window, but that was useless now, of
course. And, of course, he didn't have a real mechanical clock of his
"Better." Urug, First Officer of the Watch, smiled toothily and
pointedly ignored that last question. He tapped his boots on the
stone floor, producing a harsh sound that echoed painfully inside
Narâk's skull. "Up!"
Narâk grabbed his cloak off the floor and hurriedly draped it over his
shoulders. [Hells... where's my shirt? And my sword?] he wondered.
"Well?" he asked while looking around in a panic.
Narâk shook his head angrily and began to crawl back into bed. "No
pranks, Urug, not today," he muttered. His head was still pounding.
"And not so loud, please," Narâk hissed.
"Not a prank. There's an Elf-ship north of the river. King's truth! One
of the watchers up the coast saw it come in this morning, and his
lordship wants us to go deal with it. Before any of the Friends get
word and riot again."
Narâk winced. The last riot had lasted more than a day, and it had
taken two more days to put out all the fires and sort out all the
bodies. "King's truth?"
"King's truth," Urug insisted, and Narâk could tell he was being
honest. Mainly because the smirk was gone.
"I hate you. I hate his lordship. And I hate Elves." Narâk sat up
again and fumbled around until he finally found his sword and
sword-belt, and a passably clean shirt.
Urug laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. "Good!" he exclaimed.
"That'll make it easier."
"It's like that, then?" Narâk asked as he slipped on the shirt.
"Elves, Narâk, think! They could be spies. With just one ship, and it
docked way up in the woods, they almost have to be spies. Now are you
ready yet?" he growled.
"Almost..." Narâk staggered over to the wash-basin at the far end of
the room and splashed some water on his face until he finally felt
awake. Or something close to it, at least.
"Elves..." Narâk shook his head. It'd been *years* since one of the
white ships had sailed into a Númenórean harbor, even Eldalondë. And
Eldalondë was thick with Elf-lovers, or had been before the King's
resettlement decrees and the subsequent riots. He turned back to Urug.
The older officer nodded slowly. It had to be something to do with the
King's latest decree, the one that had called nine out of every ten
soldiers away. There'd never been such a large muster, not even for the
last, legendary war against the Wizard. "I know."
"I wonder what they look like."
Urug stared sideways at his friend. "Just like us," he replied after a
second or two. "Well, like me. Not like you. They're not ugly."
Narâk rolled his eyes. Urug was tall, stout and hairy, as bear-like as
humanly possible. He himself was hardly a match for an Armenelosian
dandy, but he came from a nobler line and was thus a good bit more
handsome than his friend and commander.
"No, really," Narâk insisted. He'd never met an Elf. They'd turned
their proud backs on Númenor years and years before he'd been born,
and all that was left were a few pictures in old books. Urug, on the
other hand, was nearing his eightieth birthday and remembered the last
days before the Elves and Númenóreans had become estranged.
Urug turned around, blocking the doorway to the courtyard. "They're
Elves. Handsome and arrogant, just like the lords and ladies in
Armenelos. Watch what you say and what you think around them, and
don't trust a word they say."
"Yes, yes, I know all that," Narâk said impatiently. Lord Lômimanô had
warned all the young soldiers, especially the officers, about Elves.
About how treacherous they were, and how sly, and on and on about the
many perils they presented. It was a favorite theme of the
Lord-Governor of Andustar and had made the oblivious nobleman the butt
of many ale-house jokes. Who cared about Elves these days? Nobody had
even seen one in decades.
"That's all there is to know," Urug said. "Lômimanô's a fool and a
milk-blood, but he's right about this. Now just keep your mouth sewn
shut and come on. I mean it," he said, giving Narâk a warning look.
"Don't forget what happened to Minal." And with that, the older
officer turned once again and ambled out into the courtyard.
[Forget what happened to Minal?] Narâk cringed. Not likely. He
hesitated a moment longer, then followed after Urug.
The rest of the garrison had already assembled and was in marching
order. Their grumbling, natural enough at being roused at this hour
(especially when so many were still bruised and wounded from the
riots) quickly subsided when Urug emerged from the officer's hall.
There were forty spearmen and twenty bowmen, all that was left of a
garrison that had once numbered nearly eight hundred men.
[King gets the best and we get the dregs,] Narâk thought bitterly. On
the bright side, all the other officers had been called up, too,
leaving him and Urug in charge. [In charge of pimply shepherds and
drunken louts, praise the Shadow.]
"Good men," Urug said as he waited for the squire to bring him and
Narâk their horses, the only two left in the garrison.
"Good men?" Narâk sighed. "How much did *you* drink last night?" he
asked in a whisper.
Urug only smiled cheerfully. "No chance of the sun before noon, I
bet," he said.
"We'll never see the sun again," Narâk muttered.
"Cheer up!" Urug clapped him on the shoulder. "We're going to kill
The garrison was on the highest hill in Andúnië, just next to
Lômimanô's grand palace, and only a single winding road led down from
it to the city proper.
Andúnië was quiet as a tomb. The riots, their carnage and destruction
still visible on every street corner, had driven the populace indoors,
and the great gloom in the heavens had kept them there. In the hour it
took to make their way through the narrow streets of the city, Narâk
saw less than a dozen people out.
There was a double watch, twelve men instead of the usual six, at the
Gate at the foot of the Nunduinë Bridge. There was another gate, and
a wall to match, on the opposite shore. Both gates were new, barely
predating the first riots of the year, and were intended to keep
people inside the city more than keeping them out.
"What're they worried about?" Narâk asked Urug, nodding at the double
watch. They were armed with steel bows and someone had even set up a
pair of heavy crossbows on mounts at the edges of the Gate.
The First Officer leered at Narâk. "Think, oaf! What're we after?"
"Elves." He frowned for a moment. "An invasion?"
Urug nodded patiently. "They're not stupid across the Sea. They've got
spies and friends here, at least for now. Who do you think the black
robes are feeding to the fire down in Armenelos?"
"But - why? The Elves would never attack us. They wouldn't dare."
Urug just rolled his eyes. "You're still half-drunk, boy, and all
stupid. Now be quiet. They'll hear you ten leagues away."
Narâk glared at Urug, but obeyed the order. [Oh, yes, and they won't
hear the boots and hooves, will they?] They were still inside Andúnië,
at any rate.
After clearing their orders with the nervous guards, the company passed
through the gate and onto the Nunduinë Bridge itself, a graceful white
span. It had been built, it was said, with the aid of the Elves in
the early days of the kingdom, but it saw little use these days, even
though few feats of Númenórean craftsmanship could match it even now.
There had once been tall watchtowers along the sides, but they were
gone now, torn down on the King's order for unknown reasons. During
the latest riot, there had been bloody fighting there, and the city
side Gate had briefly been overrun. The bridge was still blocked in
many places by overturned wains and makeshift barricades, all burnt
and blasted up in the battle.
Far below, a pair of empty barges were making their way upstream,
perhaps bound to pick up another load of mallorn lumber at the great
yards further inland. It was a soothing contrast to the devastation
atop the bridge, at least as long as you didn't think about what the
wood would be used for.
After crossing the bridge, a journey that took nearly half an hour,
they passed through the old town of Ûrênâlo. This had once been
a haven for the Elf-Friends, but stood empty now, save for a handful of
soldiers and desperate, hungry vagrants. The old mansions were little
more than rubble, torn down by time, weather and the hammers of slave
As they left behind the crumbling remains of the wall, the soldiers
formed a double column on Urug's orders.
"You take six men and scout ahead," Urug told Narâk. "Watch yourself.
Elves can be almost invisible when they feel the need. Be careful you
don't run right into an ambush."
Narâk nodded. What was left of his excitement at getting out of the
city had just been killed. The reality of it, of fighting Elves,
finally sunk in. He shivered, then tugged on the reins of his horse
and went off to the front of the first column to pick his scouts.
They were, to a man, as visibly displeased at being chosen as Narâk
was, but wise enough not to voice their complaints. Fear of being
disciplined was a factor, but those great black clouds above were
surely the greater reason for their uneasy silence. And all of them
had heard tales of the Elves, grim and savage warriors who never
surrendered and never took prisoners. [A shipful of them, and six
of us,] Narâk thought, and shook his head.
Once past Ûrênâlo, even the illusion of civilization faded. Although
there was a great city just a league to the south, the grassy plain,
dotted with birch trees here and there, felt like an alien and desolate
wilderness with no end.
Off in the north, the forest could just faintly be seen, a dark patch
along the horizon. A storm was raging there, flashes of angry lightning
and thunderous echoes reaching across the plains every so often.
[Will we ever see the sun again?" Narâk wondered as his little patrol
rode into the fields that sprang up around the edge of the great
forest. The flowers, he noticed, were all withering as if from a great
cold spell. More victims of the darkness.
They kept on, and soon could see the black wall of the forest looming
ahead. It was formed of many great trees, all wrapped in shadow and
darkness... All save the mallorn trees, towering like living pillars,
so high they made even the great oaks beside them look like saplings
in comparison. These ancient trees, youthful cousins to the great
mallorns of Avalôizâyan over the Sea, gleamed like mithril spikes,
bright even in the bleak shadows. Alone of all the trees, they bore
blossoms, golden and glorious, and the other trees, even the oaks,
seemed pitiful skeletons next to them.
Even with half the forest gone, cut down to build the ships of the
Great Armament, it was still an imposing sight. How much more beautiful
had it been in the days of its glory, before the hungry axes and saws
"We're not far now from where the ship was spotted. Watch yourselves
carefully," Narâk told the scouts, forcing himself to remember his
No sooner had he said it than a fog began to roll in from the coastland
at their left. It moved quickly, and had begun to swallow them up just
as they reached the first oaks and birches.
"Stay together!" he called out. Already, he could barely see the others
as anything more than dark shapes in the white fog. [This is insane,
we'd never see them coming!]
After a moment's thought, he raised his horn to his lips and sounded
the call to fall back. But the sound seemed faded, little louder than
the whimper of a kitten.
And he couldn't see them now, not even as dim shapes.
Panicking, Narâk yanked hard on the reins, but his horse suddenly
reared up and threw him off. He swore and made a grab for the saddle,
but the stallion was already racing off. In seconds, it was gone,
swallowed up by the fog. A few seconds later, the sounds of its hooves
beating on the ground were likewise swallowed up into nothingness.
Narâk drew his sword and stood very still, listening as hard as he
could for the faintest footfall or soft breath that might mark an Elf
warrior creeping up on him. But all he heard was the distant cry of a
seagull, and the light pitter-patter of rain on the leaves above his
head. The storm had ended - no, had drifted further inland, he
realized when he heard a distant roar of thunder.
[Where did they go? They can't be that far, it's only been a few
minutes,] he thought as he began to creep through the forest - somehow,
he'd ended up off the road. At least the leaves were wet, that made
his blundering about a bit less noisy.
Ten minutes of blind wandering and it truly sank home. He was lost and
alone in the woods, perhaps even now being aimed at by some hidden
Elf archer, or perhaps just stumbling his way towards a deep ravine or
Then he heard the singing, clear and bright as the morning sun on a
warm spring day, and all worries fled.
The song was like the ringing of bells and the babbling of a mountain
brook, soft and gentle at first, then deep and piercing, and finally
it faded away into a mournful whisper.
It was the most beautiful thing Narâk had ever heard. Sword in hand,
he stumbled in the direction of the singing, but soon ended up even
more lost than ever and nearly tripped over a knobby root jutting out
of the ground.
The near fall did nothing to stop him, though, and he continued on,
scrambling on all fours at times, barely aware of what he was doing.
Finally, though, Narâk came to a halt at the edge of a wide, circular
field literally covered with pale yellow and white flowers,
ûriyatinzil, the flower of sun and moon, and many blue roses, as bright
and fair as the sky before the darkness had come.
The scent of them was almost intoxicating. Perhaps too much so, for it
also served to finally bring Narâk back to his senses.
[What am I *doing*? Running around like a fool! More Elf sorcery...]
He shook his head to clear the lingering enchantment of the song and
took a good look around. The fog was thin here, little more than a haze
seen out of the corner of the eye, and he realized he was very deep in
the forest. There were mallorns all around the clearing, and very few
trees of any other kind, which created the impression that he was
standing at the bottom of an immensely vast and deep well.
"Must be east of the road," Narâk murmured, then froze, at last
realizing that he was not alone.
She was standing right out in the open, a fact that did little to
bolster Narâk's faith in his own senses. [How could I not have seen
her before?] he thought, then he looked more closely and found himself
incapable of any thoughts at all.
She was tall, taller than even the truest ladies of the ancient houses,
and beautiful beyond words. Her hair, long and untamed, spilled over
her shoulder in waves of brown curls, and her dress was the emerald
green of the southern hills. Upon her breast was a dazzling necklace,
a golden tree with delicate jade apples on its narrow branches. It
shimmered, such that Narâk thought it was glowing with a light all its
own. But no, it was just a fleeting ray of sunlight, the first he had
seen in far too many long, dark days.
Then the lady smiled at him, the sun shining in her eyes, and Narâk
fell to his knees.
"Avradî," he whispered, "Avradî Gimilnitîr..."
Who else could it be but the bright Lady of the Stars, she that the
Elves revered above all others? Once, years ago, Narâk had come across
a illuminated tome. He had time for only a fleeting glance at the words
before casting it into the fire, but one phrase he had remembered
through all the years. "Too great is her beauty to be declared in the
words of Men or of Elves," it had said, and Narâk now knew it to be
But the woman only shook her head, then laughed gently. Her laughter
was like the sun, warm and comforting, even though it made Narâk blush
for his presumption. But not, a dim corner of his mind realized, for
his sin in acknowledging that the fables of the Elves and their
Mannish admirers were true. That idea, that denial, had died unnoticed
the minute he had looked into her eyes. The King's truth was a lie.
"Nay, I am not she," the woman said, speaking the most ancient form of
Adûnaic, preserved now only in the edicts of the Kings and the debates
of wizened, childless loremasters... but it was alive when it rang from
her lips, alive and lovely to hear. "Arise, child... you crush the
At once, Narâk sprang to his feet, red-faced at having committed such
a terrible crime. But the flowers he had been kneeling on rose up
again, none the worse for the weight of his knees.
"Who... who are you, m'lady?" Narâk asked, trying to find some words
to voice his utter confusion, and his fright, and awe, and love... but
that was all he could manage and still find the strength of will to
remain standing in her presence.
"Thou may call me Inzildâirê," she replied with a hint of a smile
lifting the corners of her mouth. "Tell me your name."
"Narâk, lady," he whispered.
"Narâk." Her smile was unmistakable this time. "Thoron... No, Soron it
would be now. Thou hast a noble name."
"And you have a lovely name," Narâk stammered. His embarrassment rose
to new heights, vying with his confusion as the dominant emotion of the
moment. [Soron? That's Elvish, is she...?]
But Inzildâirê only smiled, unoffended by his crude flattery. She
turned and gestured at a path at the other end of the clearing, a path
Narâk had not noticed until that moment. "Thou art the last, the others
have already gathered. The time hath come. Wouldst thou walk with me?"
she asked, but the Númenórean was at her side before she even finished
Together, Narâk and Inzildâirê left the garden-clearing and ventured
up the shaded path for several minutes. The morning fog was completely
gone now, save for a few faint traces in the branches high above, and
even the gloom of the endless darkness seemed subdued.
After crossing a great tree that spanned a wide stream, they came upon
another field, this one open all the way to the sea. On the beach,
which was a half mile away, there was a magnificent white ship with an
eagle for a prow and two trees upon its sails. A small crowd was
gathered around the gangplank, all of them garbed in the clothes of
Númenórean peasants. None noticed him, but all bowed and some waved at
Closer at hand, there was a gathering of folk. Narâk's heart tightened
in his breast. Lords and ladies, four each, all as proud and as
beautiful as Inzildâirê, and with them, more than a dozen others,
less awesome, perhaps, but still fair enough to make Narâk feel as if
he was clothed only in mud, or worse.
He bowed, every movement clumsy and nervous, and wondered how this
could possibly be anything other than a dream.
"He is the last," Inzildâirê said, striding over to one of the fair
folk, a tall man (at least a head taller than Narâk), garbed in a
strange tunic that almost resembled an apron. His skin was slightly
ruddy, much like a blacksmith who spent too much time too close to
"He?" the man - the Blackmith, as Narâk thought of him now - asked,
turning a skeptical gaze towards the lost soldier. Then he scowled,
and Narâk trembled. There was anger like a blazing fire in the
Blacksmith's eyes and in his voice as he spoke. "He is naught but one
of the blasphemer's maggots."
"Be at peace, my love," Inzildâirê murmured, placing one hand upon his
shoulder. "Wouldst thou not show some pity? There is yet room upon the
ship for him."
"As you would," the Blacksmith replied grudgingly, but with a smile
upon his face. "We should not tarry. The storm will break again soon."
"I can hold it a little longer," Inzildâirê said. "But only a little.
It matters not. I am ready."
The Blacksmith bowed his head for a moment. "As am I," he finally said.
"There was less to see than I had hoped. All art is turned to madness,
all craft to misery." He turned to the rest of the noble lords. "Let us
go," he declared, and then stalked his way down to the beach without
a backwards glance. The three men of like stature to him followed
silently in his wake. One of them, Narâk noticed with a start, was
bearing a long mithril lance, the kind that only high lords of Númenor
were allowed to bear. Another, a black bearded man clad in long white
robes, carried a delicate golden casket in his arms, such as might hold
an ancient scroll or other precious heirloom.
[Trophies! They're taking trophies!]
"Nay, not trophies. Remembrances," a gentle voice said in reply to
his thoughts. It was one of the 'lesser' ladies, clad in a green
dress much like Inzildâirê's, if not so fine. Her hair was long and
golden, as bright as Narâk's memory of the sun, and so unlike the dark
tresses of her companions. Narâk judged her the fairest of her fellows,
or at least the least like a Númenorean lady. "So that not all is lost
when the waves come."
"Waves?" Narak repeated, forcing himself not to stare at her. She was
so lovely... "What waves, my lady?"
"Oh..." She suddenly looked over at Inzildâirê, worry and despair upon
her fair face. "He is truly astray... may I speak more with him?"
Inzildâirê nodded quickly. "But do not tarry. There will come one more
wind to carry us east, and then the great storm, Cuilánie." That said,
she and the other maidens, fair and fairer alike, began to follow in
the footsteps of the Blacksmith and his fellows.
"Aye, my lady," the Elf [of course, what else?] said with a bow. Then
she smiled sadly at Narâk. "This is an ill hour."
"Aye..." Some dim, buried part of Narâk's heritage surfaced at that
moment, or perhaps it was some gift from Cuilánie. Whatever it was,
when he looked to the west, he saw a great wave, a wall of black water,
in his mind's eye. Then the vision faded and all was quiet upon the
western sea. "No," he whispered. All the talk of storms and waves had
begun to alarm him, and greatly, but now he *knew*.
He could not think, was about to run, when warm fingers pressed into
the base of his neck. It was the Elf maiden, and she had him in a
strange, but very effective, grip.
"Do not. Please," she said, relaxing her grip ever so slightly. "Where
would you run?"
"I..." Narâk sighed and slumped down, would have sunk to the ground but
for that hold Cuilánie had upon him. "Nowhere," he sullenly admitted,
unaware he had begun to weep.
"There is hope."
Narâk looked up at that radiant face and frowned. "Hope? What hope?
When morning comes, every single stone will be buried under the sea."
"You are not chained to the stones. As my lady said, there is room yet
upon the white ship. You could come."
"And go where? To Avalôizâyan?" Narâk snickered. "I doubt they would
give me a warm greeting there."
"No. No man will ever again set foot upon those shores," Cuilánie
confirmed offhandedly. "Not for many ages to come, at the least. But
this ship will reach other shores before it carries us home. Refuges
lay waiting to receive the last of our friends from these shores," she
said, gesturing at the last few Men still lingering on the beach.
"Refuges..." Narâk shook his head. "To what end? We are a doomed
"This land is doomed. The people may survive," Cuilánie retorted.
"Others have made longer journeys through greater peril and yet lived,
and found light and hope," she said, her eyes momentarily drifting
away to a place and time far away. Narâk shivered a little. How old
was she? Older than the King, no doubt, but by how much? Was she as old
as the Kingdom itself? Or even more ancient? And what had she seen in
all the long years of her life, what ancient peril did she speak of?
He shook his head once more. "Perhaps, but I will not follow them," he
She released Narâk at last. "Come, board the ship. You need not be
drawn down into the doom of this land."
"Why should I not?" Narâk wondered gloomily. "I have... done things...
worthy of what awaits." Fire danced before his eyes, burning books and
screams of pain and fear.
"All Men err," Cuilánie swiftly pointed out, tearing Narâk away from
his thoughts. "And not a few Elves, as well. But by some grace, you
have a chance to begin anew, away from the dark spirit of Númenor.
Come! Little time is left here, but long years, perhaps, on farther
shores. We will wait a little longer for you," she said, already
walking through the grass towards the ship.
Narâk watched her for a moment, then turned back to the south.
Somewhere, well beyond the trees, was Andúnië. He wondered what the
people there were doing. Hiding away from the soldiers, most likely.
And what about those soldiers? Where in all of this were Urug and his
What were the eastern lands like? What strange fate awaited them when
the yoke of Númenor was cast down? How would they fare without its
guidance? Without its tyranny?
Sighing, Narâk looked south, and then west. After a moment's thought,
he smiled and made his choice.
"Keep at it, you maggots!" Urug snarled, impatiently glaring down at
the troop from atop his horse. "Or I'll have you all tossed into the
fire," he added. [Fools! Dung-eating fools!]
All day and through the night they'd been scouring the forest, and
still had yet to find either the ship or that young fool Narâk, hadn't
found anything except some very dazed and lost scouts. But Urug
refused to give up. Especially since it would mean a verbal, or perhaps
even literally, flaying from that pompous milk-blood of a
"Captain!" one of the spearmen, a straw-haired boy from the hill
country, cried out.
"You had better have found - " He suddenly fell silent at the look
upon the boy's face. He was pointing seaward with his spear. Urug
turned and swore, then all was silent.
The sea had turned into a wall.
There was a roaring sound that tore at his ears.
A wall, then an invisible fist. [Damn.] Then darkness.
Far away, the white ship sailed on, racing ahead of the unleashed fury
of the greatest storm, carrying the last pitiful refugees of the
Faithful of the West.
In time, the darkness and the storm faded, and the sun rose.
Narâk looked back to the west, but of Númenor, nothing remained save
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