LAST TIME ON THE FALLEN KING
Liam is called to learn the old tongue, but denies the call, wanting to leave his small village instead. After denying the call, monsters lay siege upon Lownire, and he fends them off.
Six years before
“I’m soooo booooored,” Little Liam said, face down on the floor.
Arwen smiled, stoking the fire. “Then maybe you should find something to do.”
“But Papa said I can’t go outside, now that’s rainy and dark,” Liam pouted, continuing to lay face down on the stone tile floor of the lighthouse.
“Find something to do inside then,” Arwen responded. Liam was often in these moods. He was a restless child and always needed to be doing something to be happy.
“There is nothing to do inside. There are only old stuffy books, and stuffy old grandpa, and old stuffy chores,” he said, rolling over.
Arwen looked over at her eight-year-old brother, who was now staring up at the ceiling. “That’s no way to act if you want to be a hero. Get up off the floor,” she scolded him. In an instant, Liam was standing up, a defiant expression on his face.
“Heros are also allowed to go outside,” he pointed out.
“But you must first become a hero. No hero was born with a sword in their hand and training in their head. If you want to become great, you must first take time to learn and listen,” Arwen said.
She stood up the ashes that had collected on her dress. “Now, you have two options: Do your chores and learn the meaning of hard work, or hear a story.”
“Don’t you think I’m getting a little old for stories?” He asked, pushing his hair out of his face.
“Well, then I guess you want to do a chore?”
He shook his head in terror.
“Very well then, you will hear a story. No one’s ever too old for stories, especially not heroes. Stories are the greatest teachers of them all. They invite us to our greatest heights and warn us of our most terrible follies.”
“You sound like Grandpa.”
“Wrong, Grandpa sounds like Mom, and I sound like Mom,” Arwen said. She had only spent five years with her mother before her untimely death, but she cherished that short time in her memory, making sure to look back on them often, so they didn’t fade.
Arwen took her little brother’s arm and dragged him across the room. He was reluctant, but only in jest. “Now, unless you’d rather go scrub the lens, sit down right here,” She deposited him on a chair.
“I shall tell you a story that will train you to be the greatest hero of them all.” She took poker off the rack and swung it through the air like a sword. Arwen, like the great bards of history, was a performer as well as a storyteller. When she spoke, her arms, eyes, voice, and even feet would dance along with the rising and falling of the plot. “For this story, I demand complete silence and close attention.” She said, giving him a piercing look. “I shall tell you of the Old One, the greatest hero ever to touch this earth.”
Liam opened his mouth to protest. He had, of course, already heard that story, but Arwen leveled the poker’s tip above his forehead. “I said silence, and I will enforce that!”
Liam giggled and closed his mouth. Their father never quite learned how to make him quiet - no one ever would - no one, except Arwen. Attempting to control Liam was folly, and she knew that, so she guided, coaxed, and loved him into submission using a solid but gentle hand.
“Once, when the kingdom was great, there ruled a heroic king.” She swept the poker through the fire dramatically, sending gleaming sparks dancing through the air. Liam’s eyes followed each spinning point of light.
“The King had been put in place by the Stars themselves. He was ruler above the earth, the seas, the beasts, and even all man. With his three gifts of kinghood, the raiment of purity, the crown of sparkling silver, and the sword of bright flame, he ruled justly. All men followed his command, and no one fought or bickered. Death was a sweet slumber that came only when people were very, very old. Every child had enough food and could play outside even when it was dark or rainy.
“The king himself had many beautiful things. A tall royal castle. Artworks of gold and silver. Horses that were so pure and submissive that even the gentle queen could ride them. Hounds that were so loyal and gentle, they could play with children. He even had hogs that were uncorrupted and could be eaten.
“But something came to shatter the perfection of this great kingdom. A monster older than the roots of the mountains and the dancing tips of the sea.” Arwen leaned in close to the little boy. “The Beast,” She whispered. The very name was not to be spoken lightly, and Liam knew that, its sound sending shivers prickling along his arms.
“This horrible Monster went to the capital city of the kingdom. It was cloaked in a shadow not even the rays of the high sun could pierce. It threw aside the buildings in Its way, cast down the castle walls, and gobbled up the men who guarded the king.
“None of the soldier’s weapons could break its veil of shadow, and no wall was strong enough to hold it back.
“This great and terrible Monster arrived in the throne room and faced the king. The king told It to approach no further, but not even his command could not halt the Monster. So, he drew his mighty sword and charged the Monster, striking it with his Star gifted blade.”
Arwen swung the poker hard down on the hearthstones to make a sharp clang. “But even that could not harm the beast. The sword broke upon striking the Monster, leaving only the hilt in the king’s hands.”
Arwen threw down the poker and leaned close to Liam again, going back to the dark whisper.
“The monster slew the king, and in doing so, It took his kingdom and throne for Itself. The Monster’s horrid Corruption and Darkness spread to everything the king had ruled. His own palace became a place of evil. His grounds and woods twisted into unhallowed lands. His stallions, hounds, and swine warped into dark and dangerous beasts.
“With their king dead, many of the soldiers fled, but none could escape the coming Darkness.
The Darkness caught those fleeing men and, to punish their cowardice, made them small with gleaning black wings and shrill, ugly voices. They became the ravens, the scouts, and spies of shadow.
“But those who turned to fight their new king had a much worse fate. Soon beaten, they were madeIts horrid knights. The shadows of great men unable to rest, serving their new king of Darkness.”
Arwen sighed and sat down in the chair opposite him. “It seemed all was lost, that all of light and life had been crushed by the Monster, forever. The few remaining in Kings City were hiding out in the Drumix Suil, but they were surrounded by Darkness on all sides.”
She burst out of her chair and onto her feet, “But then, suddenly, a Hero burst forth, like the rays of the rising sun, he brought hope like no other. He cut down the Creatures of Darkness. Creating a path through Corruption, he led them out of the Drumix Suil. He was the Old One, possessing more knowledge and power than the greatest king and older than even The Beast. With his ancient power, he rent the land in twain, made the seas heave, and called fire down from the heavens to fight back the Darkness. He led the people away from the Corruption and into a valley where they could be safe. There, the people began to prosper again. While he held back the darkness, they planted seeds and built homes.” She leaned over the hearth and looked into the fire, watching it dance. She listened to the flames mutter and whisper. The flames that had been gifted from the heavens themselves in the time before even the kingdom.
“But, he could not stay forever. He had a greater quest. Not even the Old One could kill The Beast himself. Only the true king could challenge the beast and regain the kingship. So, the Old One would leave and find this new king. But as he started to go, the people all cried out, begging for him to stay. Without him, who would protect them from the creatures of Darkness?
“The Old One turned back and called a stone wall out of the ground. One high and strong, within which they would be safe. He chose the noblest of blood to keep the wall and protect the people.
“Then, as he started to go once again, the people wept. How would they drink or eat? Without him to cleanse their food and water, they would all fall into Corruption. Seeing their sorrow and understanding their fear, the Old One shed a tear with them. Where that tear struck, a well of purest water sprung up. So clean, a drop of it could cleanse ten drops of briny ocean water. The Old One then went and picked the purest of the common folk. He taught him to keep the well and teach the people to be pure.
“Then, the Old One started to leave once more, but the people tore their clothes in fear. Without the light and guidance of the Old One, how could they see where they must go?
“The Old One knew they needed light, so he stopped and tore his own skin. He gave them a drop of his ancient blood. This drop burst into a flame that would never cease, so it could always give them guidance. He took a woman who had lived in the forest, an outcast who knew to listen to the trees and the rivers. He selected her to listen to the fire and guide the village with its light.
“With his three Keepers, who would protect, guide, and teach the people until he came back, the Old One started to go again. But one last time, all the people cried out. They thanked him for the walls to protect them from creatures of the night, water to cleanse them from Corruption, and light to guide them through the darkness, but they said none of this could stop The Beast Itself. Only the Old One had ever been able to fight The Beast. No others could appease it, hold it back, or even look into its face.
“So, the Old One returned and gave each of the Keepers one more job. Every year, they would have to choose one youth to go up to The Beast in the stead of the Old One. To battle it. To pay tribute to it. To appease its hunger.
“The Keeper of the Wall would select the most honorable and noble. The Keeper of the Well would select the most pure and wise. The Keeper of the Light would listen to the fire to select the brightest and bravest. Together, they would choose one that possessed all the authority and qualities of all three keepers, like that of the Old One’s, and send her up as tribute.”
Arwen smiled and looked out the window at the sea. It was sparkling with ripples from the falling drops of autumn rain. Atop the water floated the white-sailed fishing boats, sometimes rising atop the hill of a wave, other times disappearing from sight into the valley between. Past the ships and the sea was little Lownire. Visible through the rain, it looked distant and cozy, with its perfectly round wall enclosing the many bright windows and smoky chimneys. At its center was the beautiful marble Keep.
“He named it Lownire - the city of light - and left it, promising to return.”
“Where did he go after that?” Liam asked excitedly, looking up at her face. He always asked it as if he expected she might finally tell him.
“Well, no one knows that. Some say he went up and created the moon. Others say that he still wanders the earth. All that matters is that the Old One will once come to Lownire like a burst of dawn. He will return with our king, who will slay The Beast and establish the kingdom.”
The door creaked open, and Father stepped in, the rain peacefully playing across the landscape behind. He closed the door and shook off his cloak. She turned to look at her father, and he met her eyes. He was smiling, but his eyes were shimmering as well.
The smile was more full than one that simply came from happiness. Not simply brimming with painless pleasure but shone from love shadowed with sorrow.
She had only seen that look once before. She had seen that expression when her father had gazed upon his newborn son whose birth had taken his wife from him. Today he had the same mix of pure love, pain, and pride.
She knew what his meeting had been to discuss. She knew what he’d heard from the flame of Astrum. She knew where he would guide the village.
She knew who the noblest, purest, and brightest youth was in the village that year. She had heard it. Like the women of the forest, she had heard it spoken by the birds above and the rocks below.
Arwen looked back down at Liam. Little Liam would have to take that role of the Keeper when she was gone and do so much more.
She hoped he would do it, for her, if for nothing else.
Questions for reviewers!
1. Does the knowledge of the backstory that is revealed here make the story feel more or less magical?
2. Does it make sense that Arwen would have a large influence over her brother, even four years after her death?
3. Do you like Arwen's style of storytelling?