Creator’s Notes (optional):I used this article to research the desert cave.https://archive.aramcoworld.com/issue/200002/saudi.arabia.s.desert.caves.htm This story is linked to some of my other stories, please ask if you are interested
Summary: Aragorn and Faramir attend a wedding in Harad and enjoy an unexpected excursion.
The wedding feast seemed to have been going on for hours. Aragorn struggled not to fidget as he settled himself more comfortably on the heap of cushions. Beside him, Faramir retained an admirable air of quiet interest. It was a skill his King envied him from. Across the room, Ambassador Tahir was plying his young kinsman with more delicacies.
The eldest son and heir of the Kha Khan of Harad was marrying his first and destined to be chief wife, a high born maiden from one of the most powerful tribes. All the neighbouring rulers had been invited to witness the ceremony.
It was a typical wedding for Harad, albeit on a grander scale. The veiled bride and groom had been married beneath the full moon as befitted their faith. Then the couple and their male and female guests separated and spent hours feasting.
Aragorn was glad their ladies and children were safely at home. He would not have them out of his sight in this strange land. He feared the harsh climate and political situation being harmful to their health. Tahir was a good and honourable man and the Kha Khan desired peace with the West, but there were tribes and factions within Harad who were far from trustworthy. The ladies were staying together at Faramir's Ithilien home when Arwen was not required to preside over Council meetings and Aragorn was certain they would be having a far more enjoyable time than their menfolk.
Four men playing various instruments appeared followed by a servant carrying a thin silken robe. The kinsmen surrounding the bridegroom, immediately started to unfasten his elaborate wedding garments. It was time for him to be taken to the bridal chamber and see his wife for the first time. Aragorn felt sorry for the young pair. It would have been unthinkable for him to marry a maiden he had not already given his heart and soul to.
He looked away not wanting to be part of this. It surprised him when Tahir came up to him. “I would show my honoured friends some of the beauties of my homeland ere you depart. Would you and esteemed Lord Faramir meet me at dawn?”
“Gladly,” said Aragorn, eager for an excuse to escape the wedding festivities.
Tahir returned to his kinsmen and King and Steward retired to the tent that had been put aside for them and passed the night on uncomfortable low narrow couches designed for much shorter men.
Shortly before dawn, a servant brought them refreshing sherbet tea. They had just drunk it and dressed in suitable attire, long robes with trousers beneath secured at the ankles as well as the waist and head coverings, when Tahir arrived, leading three camels.
“We are going out into the desert, honoured friends, “ said the ambassador. “My servants have loaded the camels with food and water.”
Aragorn regarded Faramir's expression with a mixture of sympathy and amusement. During his time in Harad, he had learned to ride a camel and it was far from easy. Faramir was a fine horseman, but riding a camel was another matter entirely. “Watch me, then copy me,” he advised Faramir.
At a command from Tahir, the camels knelt. Aragorn slowly mounted from the side, threw his leg over the humps and mounted it then leaned backwards as the camel stood up at another command from the ambassador.
Faramir gritted his teeth and did likewise. He wobbled slightly but successfully mounted the camel.
“I will show you somewhere most beautiful, esteemed friends,” said the ambassador.
“We look forward to it,” said Aragorn. During his previous travels in Harad, he had learned that the desert did indeed have a strange fierce beauty though it was a place beset with dangers for the unwary.
“It is not far,” said Tahir. “We will be there before the sun's rays burn us, esteemed friends.”
Tahir led the way followed by Aragorn and Faramir and a small group of Tahir's guards. Faramir hung on for dear life, his features taking on a greenish hue as the camel swayed from side to side.
“You will soon grow accustomed to camel riding,” Aragorn assured him Steward.
“I should not have drunk so much sherbet tea,” Faramir replied through gritted teeth. “My stomach objects.”
The further they advanced into the desert, the more featureless it seemed to become , league upon league of seemingly featureless sand dunes. Eventually, though, the sand gave way to rocky outcrops. Before one of these, Tahir brought his camel to a halt. The beast knelt and he dismounted. Aragorn and Faramir's camels did likewise. Aragorn dismounted and stretched his aching joints then helped his Steward.
“I feel seasick,” said Faramir. “Strange as there appears to be no water for miles.”
“It is the swaying motion of the camel,” said Aragorn. “I promise it will pass quickly.”
Tahir ordered the guards to stay back then pulled out a rope ladder from his pack on the camel. He then handed round a water skin and they all drank.
“This rock formation is impressive,” said Faramir in an obvious attempt to be diplomatic.
“Just wait till you see what lies within, my honoured friends,” said Tahir. He felt across the rock face, sweeping away the sand then uncovered a hole just large enough to fit a man. He let down the rope ladder into the hole and began to climb down.
Aragorn hesitated, he had no love of small spaces. Faramir too, eyed the rock opening doubtfully. “Maybe we should refuse?” he said in a low voice.
“We cannot offend Tahir,” said Aragorn. “It would be seen as a grave insult.”
“I know he would never harm us but there could be unknown dangers within,” said Faramir. “I will go on ahead.”
“It is quite safe, honoured friends,” called Tahir. “I vow to you this place will please you both.”
Aragorn took a deep breath and started to climb down the rope ladder. Faramir did likewise. Warm humid air rushed up to meet them. Tahir led them along a low tunnel.
Aragorn's heart raced as his fear of enclosed spaces gripped him. He felt Faramir's comforting hand on his shoulder. The tunnel was mercifully short and they soon arrived in what felt like a large chamber. Tahir kindled a torch which he had carried tied to his waist and flooded the chamber with light. He wedged the torch in a fissure in the rocks.
Aragorn and Faramir gasped. In the centre of the chamber was a large underground lake surrounded by lofty displays of stalactites and stalagmites, as well as a myriad of tiny, sparkling crystal formations: dainty mineral blossoms and crystal formations that twisted and turned in all directions as if performing some wild dance.
“It is beautiful!!” cried Faramir.
“A wondrous sight!” said Aragorn. “ Our friend,Gimli would never want to leave if we brought him here!”
Tahir knelt beside the water cupped his hands and drank deeply. He smiled. “It is sweet,” he said. “Drink, esteemed friends, the water is said to bring good fortune.”
They drank and the water tasted fresh and pure. Each man filled the small water bottles they carried at their waists.
They wandered around the cave for a while, wondering at its marvels.
“Take blossoms for your fair wives,” Tahir suggested. “They are always renewed.”
Aragorn and Faramir each chose one of the mineral flowers, broken off gently and carefully stashed it within their robes.
“It is time to return ere the sun's heat burns us at noon,” said Tahir.
“Thank you for showing us this place,” said Aragorn once they were safely above ground again.
“Long will I remember this day,” said Faramir.
“This cave has been sacred to our tribe for a thousand years or more, esteemed friends,” said the ambassador. “I desired to share its beauty with you.”
“We are most honoured,” said Aragorn. He smiled at the thought of the tale he would have to tell Arwen when he returned home the next day. He had little love for caves ,but this cavern had a beauty he would long remember.