Theme: The Stars at Night
Author's Notes: This is part of my story “Circle of Faith”, but I hope may be read alone. It is actually the shadow of the earth that causes a lunar eclipse.
Summary: Arwen is invited to witness a lunar eclipse at the Stone Circle, but does the prescence of Carnil in the sky foretell danger?
Arwen reluctantly got up from the cushions on which she had been reclining. “I promised the children I would eat the noonday meal with them,” she said. “So I must bid you farewell. Would you and Tahir like to join Estel and me for the Day meal in a week's time?”
“Alas, most honoured friend, but we cannot. Next week is a day of mourning for our people.” Adiva wrung her hands sadly. “The cruel Wolf of the Sun will devour our Lord and Lady of the Moon. We must spend the day in prayer and fasting that he will spit them out again.”
“I have not heard you speak of the wolf before,” said Arwen.
“I shall tell the story to you as it appears in the sacred scrolls, esteemed friend. The Sun desired to rule both the day and the night and all creatures to worship him. He went travelling throughout Middle-earth. One day, he came across a she- wolf and her cubs. The wolf told him to go away as she wanted to howl praises to the moon. This angered the Sun and he stole one of her cubs and using dark magic, taught him how to devour our Lord and Lady. However, the she- wolf told the High Priest and Priestess of the Moon what had happened and they taught them special chants and prayers to make her cub regurgitate our Lord and Lady. Until this day, our prayers have saved them, but it is a day of mourning for our people.
“I am sorry,” said Arwen.
“Do not be, esteemed friend, for now we are free to pray for the rescue of our Lord and Lady. When the followers of the false Lord of Gifts ruled our land, they would celebrate and dance and sing while we had to pray and grieve in secret. Now we can practise our faith openly. We will hold a ceremony in the Stone Circle at moonrise and you are most welcome to join us, esteemed friend, together with your most honoured husband.”
Arwen was thoughtful for a moment. Although, she did not share her friend's faith, she loved to be beneath the stars. “I will think about it,” she promised before embracing Adiva and bidding her farewell.
That evening, as was their custom, the King and Queen dined together.
“You look troubled tonight, Estel,” said Arwen. “You have hardly spoken to me.”
“I am sorry, vanimelda. I have much on my mind. This afternoon, the Guards found two merchants from Harad murdered in the first circle. This is the third such attack in the space of a few short weeks. Ambassador Tahir fears the rebel factions are gaining in strength as those killed were either favoured by the Kha Khan or fervent devotees of the moon faith.”
“How can you be certain that the murders are connected with the rival factions within Harad, Estel? There are, sadly, some men of Gondor who bear grudges against their former enemies.”
“All the murder victims had the Lidless Eye carved into their flesh either just before or shortly after they died,” Aragorn said grimly. “The Men of the West hate that mark too much to use it even on their worse enemies.”
“I know that remnants of the Sauron supporters are still active in Harad,” said Arwen. “But why should they kill their fellow countrymen who have settled here?”
“Tahir believes the murders are seeking to frighten the Haradrim to return home and weaken the alliance we have formed with the Kha Khan,” said Aragorn. “The prosperity increased trade between our peoples brings helps him retain his grip on the diverse tribes.” He sighed. “As soon as one rebel faction is defeated, another springs up. I will meet with Tahir again tomorrow to discuss the situation. But enough of such gloomy talk. Did you enjoy your visit to Adiva this morning?”
“She is always pleasant company,” said Arwen. “Today, though, she was lamenting that the Wolf of the Sun was about to devour the moon. She invited me to attend the ceremony at the Stone circle to prevent the catastrophe.”
“I had forgotten about the eclipse,” said Aragorn. “My grandmother always said there was trouble afoot if an eclipse occurred when Carnil was bright in the night sky.”
“I cannot recall my father saying anything about that,” said Arwen.
“It was most likely an old wives' tale. After what happened at the last eclipse, though, I am taking no chances. I am posting as many Guards as can be spared along the route to the Stone Circle. You should accept Adiva's invitation . I might even join you there myself, we should show our support for those from Harad who desire to dwell peacefully in our midst.”
“I always feel close to Lady Varda beneath the night sky,” said Arwen. “We shall accept Adiva' s invitation.
Arwen was in a thoughtful mood as she rode out of the City Gates. Watchful guards were everywhere. It seemed that every native of Harad who dwelt there was also on their way to the stone circle. Beside her, Aragorn was equally pensive. During the last few days he had seemed preoccupied.
He now turned to her and said, “I fear I have other business to attend to tonight, vanimelda, I will explain all later.” He melted away into the shadows. From those same shadows, another figure emerged. For a moment, Arwen thought her husband had changed his mind. Then she saw the newcomer was Faramir wearing a near identical cloak and sitting on a near identical horse to Roheryn.
“I fear I am but a poor substitute for your husband but I hope I may play his part tonight and escort you , my lady.” said the Steward.
“I shall be glad of your company,” said Arwen. “I trust Estel will explain all later.”
Just then Adiva approached them accompanied by her maid and her children. There was no sign of Tahir. “May the sun never burn you, honoured friend!” she said. “I am glad that you can join me on this doleful night. Alas, my esteemed husband is stricken with a sudden severe malady and he cannot rise from his bed! He said that I and our eldest son should lead the ceremonies.”
“Alas,” said Arwen. “That is ill news indeed. Have you sent for the healer?”
“My honoured husband had me send for him, esteemed friend, but he cannot tell what ails my husband and can do nothing. Our people are most upset. It is most inauspicious that my honoured husband should fall ill upon this doleful day. I did not like to leave him as all the servants are coming to the ceremony tonight, but he insisted.”
“Maybe Estel could heal your husband,” Arwen suggested. “He was to be here too, but other matters called him from my side.”
Adiva glanced up at the sky. “We must hurry or our prayers will be of no avail to the Lord and Lady of the Moon.”
Arwen had always been told that a lunar eclipse happened when Arien became angry with Tilion's pursuit of her and blotted out his light with her chariot for a time. She doubted, though, it would ease Adiva's sorrow to tell her this and she remained silent. The devout Ambassador's wife believed fervently in her people's faith.
It seemed that the entire population of immigrants from Harad were assembled within or around the Stone Circle. There were also a few Gondorians who knew this was an excellent place to get a good view of the eclipse. They stood a little way apart from the moon worshippers.
The moon shone brightly in the night sky. Arwen, as always looked for the Star of Earendil. How often when she and Estel had been courting, had she been comforted that it light shone upon them both. Tonight she could see Carnil's reddish glow nearby. She hoped that Dame Ivorwen had been wrong about it signifying trouble. She glanced around her. The presence of the Guards, hovering in the shadow would surely prevent anyone trying to disrupt the worship here tonight. The stars twinkled like diamonds against an almost black sky. It was beautiful and Arwen sent up a silent prayer of gratitude to Lady Varda.
Suddenly, a shadow fell upon the edge of the moon. The Haradrim let out cries and moans of distress. Some fell to their knees while others raised their arms to the sky.
Adiva and her eldest son cried out together in a loud voice, “Be of good cheer, great Lord and Lady, we, your faithful servants stand beside you in your hour of need. Cruel Sun, tether your savage wolf! The day is your domain! Do not covet the night which belongs to our Lord and Lady.”
The chanting and crying continued as more and more of the moon disappeared. For a while it appeared as if indeed some giant beast were nibbling at it. Time passed and Arwen marvelled at the patience of the mo0n worshippers. In her experience, the second born children of Eru Ilúvatar usually were restless and prone to fidgeting. In the background, the Guards coughed and yawned, but the Haradrim maintained their vigil.
When the last sliver of light vanished and only a dim reddish circle was left, the crowd fell silent, If a leaf had stirred in the breeze, Arwen would have heard it. The Haradrim began to weep and Adiva spoke a prayer in a tongue that Arwen had no knowledge of. She then started to howl like a wolf and the others joined her. Arwen shivered.
“Are you well, my lady?” Faramir enquired.
“I am, but the sound is quite disturbing.” Arwen had almost forgotten the Steward's presence at her side. In the darkness, he could easily pass as her husband.
She gazed up at the stars, which now seemed to shine more brightly than before.
A tiny sliver of light appeared on the moon's surface. The crowd seemed to be holding its breath as the sliver grew larger.
Arwen started as Tahir's voice cried out, “Return to us, Lord and Lady! May our prayers give you strength!”
“Vanimelda, mellon nîn!” He took Arwen's arm and led her away from the worshippers. Faramir followed.
“Did you heal Tahir?” Arwen asked.
“He was never ill. I am sorry I did not confide in you,vanimelda, but I feared you would wish to reassure Adiva about her husband's health and it was vital that all the Haradrim thought he was helpless and confined to his bed.”
“And I took the King's place tonight so everyone would think the City was devoid of her ruler and most of her Guard,” said Faramir.
“You gave me the idea, Arwen, as to how we might catch the killer who has been preying on the Haradrim merchants when you told me about the ceremony for the eclipse,” Aragorn continued. “I feared that the killer might next attack Tahir as the leader of the peace loving Haradrim in Gondor, so we laid a trap. We knew the murderer was a follower of Sauron and would not go to a ceremony to honour the peaceful moon deities whom they despise, so Tahir pretended to be ill in his bed, while I and six of my best men concealed ourselves nearby. We caught the killer climbing in through the window with a knife in his hand. The Guards took him away to await trial. He was yelling “All hail the Lord of Gifts” as we took him away.”
Arwen shuddered. “I am glad he will prey on the innocent no more,” she said. “It saddens me that although Sauron is no more, his evil lingers and-”
A sudden shout of joy from the Haradrim worshippers interrupted her. She looked up and saw that more than half of the moon was shining brightly again.
“There will always be evil but there is also much good,” said Aragorn. “Let us rejoin our friends as they celebrate.”