Two Weeks later
It seemed that the very elements were on their best behaviour for the festival of the Great Union of the God and Goddess. A spell of earlier rain had given way to a perfect evening, the air felt fresh and clear without being chill. The vast shining orb of the moon lay low in the September sky.
All of Ambassador Tahir's family were assembled on the riverbank, including his infant daughter, Ithiliel, who was cooing contently in her mother's arms. There were only a few guests. Most of the folk from Harad who dwelled within Gondor, preferred to celebrate the festival with their closest friends and family. Aragorn, Faramir, and their ladies were the only Western folk who were present. Last year, their older children had attended too, but Aragorn and Faramir did not desire their little ones to witness any distressing display that Fikri might cause, since Tahir was still insisting that the young man attend. The two men had even suggested that their beloved ladies remain at home, but neither would hear of it.
The Ambassador was clad in a deep blue robe embroidered in silver with designs of the moon in its various phases, while his family were all clad in blue robes edged with silver in honour of the God and Goddess. Tonight, gold might have been more appropriate as the moon's sphere was a golden orange rather than silver, the annual marvel of the harvest moon. Aragorn glanced at Arwen, who stood beside him. She looked even fairer than usual in a dark blue gown embroidered with silver thread and adorned with seed pearls and tiny diamonds. A silver filigree diadem adorned her beautiful hair. Aragorn and Faramir had cast aside their usual black and silver garb in favour of blue and silver. Aragorn wore the Star of Elendil upon his brow and Faramir the Crescent of Ithilien. They wished to show respect to Tahir and to honour their own heritage. Aragorn's longfather had been named for the moon; while Faramir had spent many years defending the Moon-land and now reigned as its Prince. Éowyn wore a simple blue gown beneath the blue mantle adorned with stars that Faramir had given her during their courtship.
The golden moon, surrounded by a myriad of twinkling stars, reflected in the clear waters of the Anduin made for a scene of exquisite beauty. Arwen gazed upwards and murmured a prayer of gratitude to Lady Star Gatherer. Aragorn and Faramir did likewise.
Tahir then stepped forward and gazed upwards at the moon, raising his arms in supplication. "Gracious Lord and Lady of the Moon," he intoned. "We come to ask your blessings upon us. May our lands be fruitful and un-scorched, may we be fruitful and our herds and horses! May we be guided at last by thee to the Celestial Oasis!"
"We come in gratitude, may it be!" cried Tahir's household.
Lady Adiva then lifted up her baby towards the moon and said, "I come in thankfulness to present unto you the sacred child you bestowed upon me. I dedicate Ithiliel -Badra to her celestial father and foster mother. May she serve you both in gladness all her days!"
"I swear to protect your holy daughter with my life. May she flourish beneath your rays as a tree beside an oasis! Hear my vow, gracious Lord and Lady of the Moon!"
The Ambassador beckoned to two of his servants, whom Aragorn recognised as Aban, Tahir's body servant and Falah, Lady Adiva's devoted maid. They both carried baskets, the contents of which they shared out amongst those present. Aban's basket contained small boats made of parchment and Falah's contained small flat candles and a mixture of flowers and sweetmeats. Everyone took a boat and candle and chose either a flower or sweetmeat to place inside the boat together with the candle.
Aban and Falah then collected all the little boats and took them down to the water's edge where they lit the candles, one for every person present.
Tahir raised his arms skywards again. "Lord and Lady of the Moon, accept these sacrifices as a token," he said.
Faramir shuddered and his head began to swim. Beside him, Aragorn gripped his arm and steadied him. "Easy," he murmured. "This sacrifice is as benign as the First Fruits I offer to the One."
"I know, and I am well," said Faramir. "It is just the word, sacrifice, in the tongue of Harad freezes my blood still!" He took a deep breath and forced himself to concentrate on the ceremony. The little boats were bobbing along the river carried by the current, twinkling like the stars above them. The watchers stood transfixed by the sight.
Tahir began a hymn of praise to the moon in a deep rich baritone.
Aragorn glanced towards Fikri. The servant, appointed as his constant shadow was engrossed in the ceremony and seemed to have forgotten his charge. Meanwhile the boy was edging closer and closer to the water's edge. The servant who was assigned to guard him was further down the bank utterly apparently deep in prayer.
The King's heart sank. He could guess all too well what Fikri intended. Death was considered by far more honourable than defeat and captivity amongst all the tribes of Harad, whatever deity they venerated. Fikri was not only dishonoured according to his belief, but also a very troubled and confused young man whose most deeply held values had been overturned in the space of a few short weeks. The depths of the river must appear to offer a swift and easy death. Very few Haradrim could swim, given the dearth of water in their homeland. It would be easy enough to pluck Fikri from the water, but how would Tahir react? The Ambassador was a tolerant man, but to desecrate his holiest religious festival was a grave offence indeed. This year was especially sacred for Tahir and Adiva after the birth of their moon daughter, considered a special blessing from their gods. Anything that went amiss in the coming year would be blamed on Fikri's sacrilege. Aragorn's heart ached for the young man. He stealthily edged closer to him. Faramir realised too what was happening and crept alongside the King. Aragorn took off the Elendilmir and handed it to his friend. He moved to stand a few inches behind Fikri, poised to seize him if he made any move to jump. He feared, though that the boy would scream and struggle and prove difficult to restrain.
Tahir's song finally ended. It was now Lady Adiva's turn to lead the worship. She handed the baby to Falah and began to sing, repeating the words over and over again.
"Lady of the Moon, Gracious Goddess,
Shine your gentle rays, I plead,
Upon my precious children.
Keep them safe from every danger,
Hear a mother's plea!
Lord of the Moon, Gracious God,
Shine your gentle rays, I plead,
Upon my precious children.
Strengthen them with celestial wisdom,
Hear a mother's plea!"
Unlike her husband, Adiva did not have a powerful voice, but her tone was sweet, gentle, and low. Fikri suddenly froze and turned his head slowly towards her.
Aragorn found that he was holding his breath.
Suddenly, Tahir and Adiva's youngest son, Beren, a sturdy four year old, broke free from his nurse's grip and ran towards his mother. Adiva never paused in her song, but bent to scoop him up in her arms.
"Mother!" Fikri whispered. Tears started to pour down his cheeks.
Aragorn and Faramir hustled him away from the crowd of worshippers and took him a little way along the bank. Fikri's tears turned to great heaving sobs. Faramir guided the distraught boy's head against his shoulder. He did not pull away but sobbed piteously for his mother.
"I remember," Fikri whispered, once he had regained a little composure. "She sang this song beside the oasis near our home."
"You have returned to your own people, Fikri," said Aragorn. "These are their songs and their customs."
"I have forgotten so much," said Fikri.
"Your uncle will help you remember and guide you in the ways of your tribe," said Aragorn. "I was once much like you, as I lived apart from my tribe when I was a boy. I had to flee to safety with my mother after my father was slain."
"Did you become accustomed to the ways of your tribe?" asked Fikri.
"I did, it took time, but soon they accepted me and it felt less strange to be amongst them."
The singing ceased as the Haradrim shouted jubilant praises in honour of the moon's beauty.
"Look!" Faramir exclaimed. "Here is your Uncle."
"I wondered where you were, esteemed friends," said Tahir as he hastened towards them. "Nephew, you will miss the sweetmeats I told you about. Then we offer our thanks to the honoured God and Goddess. I have much to rejoice for, the birth of our sweet moon blossom, and the restoration of my dear nephew to our tribe!"
"I remember my mother now," said Fikri.
"The Moon Goddess has blessed you!" cried Tahir. He embraced his nephew and Fikri hugged him back. Tahir then turned back to Aragorn and Faramir. "Come, esteemed friends," he said. "But where is your bright jewel, esteemed Lord Aragorn?"
"I feared I might lose it and took it off," said Aragorn. "It is safe."
"That is most good, esteemed Lord Aragorn. As I have found a precious jewel, I would not have you lose yours!" Taking Fikri's arm, he led the boy back towards the others. A shaft of moonlight illuminated them both as they walked away.
"Anyone would almost think that the moon gods did truly bless them," Faramir said thoughtfully. "Though Tilion the steersman is not amongst the most mighty of the Maiar. He would not have such power."
"Maybe in truth the One has blessed them," Aragorn said thoughtfully. "Perhaps the Haradrim are in truth reaching out towards the One when they honour the moon? Who knows the mind of the One? I simply rejoice that two captives are now free. Now let us re-join our ladies before they think we have vanished like moonbeams!"
A/n If you have enjoyed this story, look out for new story concerning Tahir and Adiva's culture and the conception and birth of Ithiliel, which I hope to publish very soon.