56. The Last King
The gaunt, haggard man stumbled over to the hut. He collapsed before he reached it. His clothing was torn, his hair was a tangled mess, and every spare ounce of flesh had been gouged from his body. He looked, in short, like one of the more unfortunate refugees who were pouring out of Arthedain.
The Lossoth opened the hut's flap and looked down at the man. "Are you alive?" he asked.
The Lossoth nodded, grabbed the starving man and hauled him into the warm tent. There he proceeded to brew some tea and mix up some stew.
"Feeling better?" he asked when the man had eaten.
"Thank you," the man said. "Thank you so much. I haven't eaten for days."
"It's dangerous to be out in the winter," the Lossoth said. "I suppose the Witch-King drove you from your home?"
The man nodded. He was still shaking despite having furs and blankets piled on him.
"Unfortunate. I hear Gondor's sent an army to drive him out."
"Too late," the man muttered. "Too damn late."
"There is a village of my people some few miles away. When you are feeling better, shall I guide you there?"
The man shook his head. "This is the Ice Bay of Forochel?" he asked.
"Then I will stay here. My wife…my son… They are coming here."
The Lossoth shrugged. The people from Arthedain usually had some valuables on them. This man carried a large bag as well as an interesting-looking ring. Perhaps he would offer one or both to the Lossoth for payment.
Days passed and the man grew stronger. His name was Arvedui, a name which didn't mean much to the Lossoth. He kept up with the large news, but ignored such trivial matters as who was king at the moment. They changed so often, it was futile to try to learn the king's name, and if you finally did, there was a new one on the throne.
No Nazgul, no orcs, no wildmen approached Forochel. It was a haunted, cursed land. No one liked it. Except for the Lossoth, who reveled in its cold and bitterness.
"There is a ship on the horizon," the Lossoth reported one morning. "It's probably for you." He'd gathered that his guest was important, important enough to have a ship sent into the dangerous Ice Bay.
"It's for me," Arvedui said. He looked at it and he smiled for the first time. It looked oddly demented and mad on his gaunt face. "Cirdan."
The Lossoth pursed his lips in displeasure. "The Shipwright makes fine boats for elves of the south. But for men of the north? It will break like a twig in an avalanche."
"I have to take it," Arvedui said. "I must. I will reclaim my throne in Arthedain. I will help Earnur win the battle. I will not let it be said that Arvedui stood by and did nothing while Fornost was retaken!"
The Lossoth cast him a pitying glance. This guest had clearly gone mad. "That ship cannot hold against the ice."
Arvedui shrugged. The brash, mad bravado vanished in an instant. In its place was a shell of a man. Someone who had seen the end of their world and unfortunately survived it. "What does it matter? There is nothing left. Arnor crumbled when it was divided into three kingdoms. Now with the fall of Arthedain it has been destroyed. It shall never rise again. The line of Isildur will perish."
"Very well," the Lossoth said. "This woman you spoke of, Firiel. If she comes, what shall I do?"
"Give her this," Arvedui said, taking his ring off his finger. Two serpents with emerald eyes, one devouring the other, and one crowned with golden flowers. "It is an heirloom of my house. A gift from elves to men. Perhaps this ship is another."
"Or it may be a curse."
"Then I shall die," Arvedui said. "I am as Malbeth the Seer prophesied: the Last King of Arthedain."
"And the man who shall summon the Dead of whom he also prophesied?" the Lossoth asked.
"I am not he," Arvedui said. He walked toward the ship, which had docked near the shore, bag over his shoulder.
The Lossoth stood alone, watching as the ship slowly drifted toward the entrance of the Bay, toward the great sea beyond. In the middle of the bay it struck an ice floe. The thin elven wood shattered against the mighty ice. The ship went down within minutes. There were no cries for help. No screams of sailors. It had been magic, the snow-man realized. A boat guided by magic. No one had been on it save Arvedui. And he was the only one who perished.
There was nothing he could do. As the mast of the ship sunk beneath the ice, any hope of rescuing Arvedui vanished. The Lossoth could not have reached the middle of the Bay in time in his small kayak. He would have been dashed to pieces against the ice floes that had claimed Arvedui.
The Lossoth bowed his head, mourning for a life gone. The ring suddenly felt cold and worthless in his hand. He nearly cast it into the sea. But then he thought better of it and put it in a small bone box in his hut.
It was a month after Arvedui had drowned that the Lossoth got another visitor. It was a woman dressed in rags, carrying a baby in her arms. She staggered and looked half-mad. The Lossoth suspected it was Firiel. She had the same look as her husband.
"Do you wish for something to eat?" he asked as she approached.
"No, no," Firiel muttered. Her hair was in tangles around her. Her face was dirty and pale. Her eyes were wild and haunted.
"Is your husband Arvedui?"
"Is he here?" Firiel gasped, joy lighting up her face. "He's here! I knew I'd find him!"
"I fear not," the Lossoth said. "He…left some time ago." He couldn't bear to tell this distraught woman that her husband was dead.
Firiel's face fell. "I must go find him," she mumbled. "Here." She handed the baby to the Lossoth. "I can't take care of him. Keep him safe and well. If an elf comes here, give him to him."
The Lossoth was too stunned to reply and just held the baby, staring at large gray eyes. The baby was nearly as thin as its mother, but thankfully not as bad as its father had been.
"I must find him," Firiel muttered. "I will find him." She started to stagger off.
"No! Lady! Don't leave!" the Lossoth exclaimed. "Your husband is dead! He drowned in the Ice Bay! Stay here! You'll die!"
"I must find him," Firiel repeated.
"Your child! Think of your child!"
"He doesn't need me. I must find Arvedui."
"At least tell me his name!" the Lossoth cried. "Give him something to remember his parents by!"
"Aranarth," Firiel said. "His name is Aranarth. Chieftain of the Dunedian." And then she stumbled away and was gone.