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Author's Notes

For Dwimordene's birthday, May 2008; she asked for an Alternate Universe in 100 words, and I humbly hope this serves.

Last Stroke (Nominee 2008)


~~~

Oh, you thought this was about Éomer at the Battle of the Pelennor? That's because I steal from the best!

Seriously, the soul-stirring quote about Éomer on the Pelennor is one of my favorite passages of The Lord of the Rings, and it provided the inspiration — and much of the language! — for this drabble:
It was even as the day thus began to turn against Gondor and their hope wavered that a new cry went up in the City.... In that clear air watchmen on the walls saw afar a new sight of fear, and their last hope left them.

For Anduin, from the bend at the Harlond, so flowed that from the City men could look down it lengthwise for some leagues, and the far-sighted could see any ships that approached. And looking thither they cried in dismay; for black against the glittering stream they beheld a fleet borne up on the wind: dromunds, and ships of great draught with many oars, and with black sails bellying in the breeze.

'The Corsairs of Umbar!' men shouted. 'The Corsairs of Umbar! Look! The Corsairs of Umbar are coming! So Belfalas is taken, and the Ethir, and Lebennin is gone. The Corsairs are upon us! It is the last stroke of doom!'

And some without order, for none could he found to command them in the City, ran to the bells and tolled the alarm; and some blew the trumpets sounding the retreat....

The Rohirrim indeed had no need of news or alarm. All too well they could see for themselves the black sails. For Éomer was now scarcely a mile from the Harlond, and a great press of his first foes was between him and the haven there, while new foes came swirling behind, cutting him off from the Prince. Now he looked to the River, and hope died in his heart.... But the hosts of Mordor were enheartened, and filled with a new lust and fury they came yelling to the onset.

Stern now was Éomer's mood.... He let blow the horns to rally all men to his banner that could come thither; for he thought to make a great shield-wall at the last, and stand, and fight there on foot till all fell, and do deeds of song on the fields of Pelennor, though no man should be left in the West to remember the last King of the Mark. So he rode to a green hillock and there set his banner, and the White Horse ran rippling in the wind....
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
These staves he spoke, yet he laughed as he said them. For once more lust of battle was on him; and he was still unscathed, and he was young, and he was king: the lord of a fell people. And lo! even as he laughed at despair he looked out again on the black ships, and he lifted up his sword to defy them.

And then wonder took him, and a great joy; and he cast his sword up in the sunlight and sang as he caught it. And all eyes followed his gaze, and behold! upon the foremost ship a great standard broke, and the wind displayed it as she turned towards the Harlond. There flowered a White Tree, and that was for Gondor; but Seven Stars were about it, and a high crown above it, the signs of Elendil that no lord had borne for years beyond count. And the stars flamed in the sunlight, for they were wrought of gems by Arwen daughter of Elrond; and the crown was bright in the morning, for it was wrought of mithril and gold.

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 6, The Battle of the Pelennor Fields
But my wicked muse whispered to me: what if it were the flag of Sauron that was unfurled on the lead ship instead? It is, after all, also black:
[The Mouth of Sauron] it was that now rode out, and with him came only a small company of black-harnessed soldiery, and a single banner, black but bearing on it in red the Evil Eye.

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 10, The Black Gate Opens
And this drabble resulted. It is what might have happened if Aragorn had not captured the Corsair fleet, and Gondor not won the Battle of the Pelennor. For, in that case, I think Sauron would have used the Corsair fleet to attack the Grey Havens to cut off the path of escape for all Elves (and Peredhil) left in Middle-earth:
Only the 'immortals', the lingering Elves, may still if they will, wearying of the circle of the world, take ship and find the 'straight way', and come to the ancient or True West, and be at peace.

The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Edited by Humphrey Carpenter, Letter 131 to Milton Waldman, late 1951?

To [Elrond] therefore was granted the same grace as to those of the High Elves that still lingered in Middle-earth: that when weary at last of the mortal lands they could take ship from the Grey Havens and pass into the Uttermost West....

The Return of the King, LoTR Appendix A, Annals of the Kings and Rulers: Númenor

[They]... looked on the distant Sea; and so they rode down at last to Mithlond, to the Grey Havens in the long firth of Lune.

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 6, Ch 9, The Grey Havens

At the Grey Havens dwelt Círdan the Shipwright, and some say he dwells there still, until the Last Ship sets sail into the West.

The Return of the King, LoTR Appendix A, Annals of the Kings and Rulers: Eriador, Arnor, and the Heirs of Isildur
And Círdan's people are the ones who build the special ships needed to convey the Elves to the Undying Lands:
The 'immortals' who were permitted to leave Middle-earth... set sail in ships specially made and hallowed for this voyage, and steered due West towards the ancient site of these lands. They only set out after sundown; but if any keen-eyed observer from that shore had watched one of these ships he might have seen that it never became hull-down but dwindled only by distance until it vanished in the twilight: it followed the straight road to the true West and not the bent road of the earth's surface.

The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Edited by Humphrey Carpenter, Letter 325 to Roger Lancelyn Green, 17 July 1971
So the loss of the Grey Havens would leave all Elves still remaining in Middle-earth trapped there, and vulnerable to Sauron's revenge, which would not be long coming. And a particularly tragic side-effect is that no ships would arrive in the Undying Lands afterwards, so no one there would ever learn what happened to their loved ones, nor could they ever return to Middle-earth to find out:
As [the straight road] vanished it left the physical world. There was no return. The Elves who took this road... had abandoned the 'History of the world' and could play no further part in it.

The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Edited by Humphrey Carpenter, Letter 325 to Roger Lancelyn Green, 17 July 1971


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