Author Name: Linda Hoyland
Prompt: Suns...plash! by Mirach
Summary: Aragorn loses his way in the desert.
Author's Notes: I refer to other stories I have written in this story. though it can be read on its own.
“The Gift of Tongues” introduces Fardil
“East is East” explains the ritual markings.
With thanks to Raksha
The sun blazed down mercilessly. Even the traditional head covering that Aragorn wore provided little protection from its searing heat. He raised his water bottle to his parched lips in the hope that few drops might yet remain. It was empty and as dry as the desert that surrounded him. How he hated this bleak unforgiving landscape.
He should have paid heed to Fadil’s warning that the desert was no place for a man not born and bred in this unforgiving land. He had heard tales of the nomadic tribes who dwelt there, though and wanted to meet them and learn something of their beliefs and customs.
Many things he had discovered in Harad had surprised him, not least the diversity of the folk who dwelt there. Like most Men of the West he had believed the Haradrim to be nothing but a savage race of devoted Sauron worshippers. Some indeed were like that, but the public sacrifices to the Dark Lord were poorly attended. It seemed that Harad was a culture of many tribes, some of whom followed Sauron while others followed a more ancient religion, of which he had been able to discover very little. That was hardly surprising, as veneration of any other lord save Sauron earned the worshipper the cruel penalty of sacrifice upon one of Sauron's public altars.
After dwelling for several months with Fadil and his household, he was certain that the merchant was no Sauron worshipper. He always made some excuse not to attend the public acts of worship. Who or what the merchant did revere, he had no idea as he had only once heard him say, “Lord and Lady protect us!” under his breath when a rowdy group of soldiers threatened to overturn his booth in the market place.
Aragorn knew his mind was wandering and he needed to concentrate. Fadil’s maps had shown an oasis somewhere nearby, but it was easy to lose one’s way in this trackless desert, even for one as skilled in following a trail as Aragorn. He concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, but it grew ever harder. He felt as if his head would explode, while his limbs felt increasingly weak and reluctant to obey him. He knew if he did not find water and shade soon he would die. An ignominious ending for the heir of Elendil to survive countless battles only to die as result of indulging a foolish whim.
Was that a gleam of water on the horizon or a mirage of the heat? His befuddled brain could no longer make sense of what he was seeing. Aragorn stumbled and fell. Overhead the vultures reeled as if expecting to make a meal of him in the near future. He shuddered. He painfully dragged himself upright only to fall again. He could go no further. He thought sadly of his mother and of Arwen and of the green lands of the North. Then he knew no more.
Something cold and wet against his face and neck roused Aragorn from his swoon. He opened his eyes to behold a small group of men and women together with three camels. One of the women clutched a baby. Aragorn struggled to sit up. One of the men held a water skin to his lips. He swallowed greedily.
The group were engaging in an animated discussion. Aragorn knew enough of the language to make out what they were saying, though the dialect was strange to him.
“We should take him with us, as the Lord and Lady command we show kindness to wayfarers,” said the one who had given him water.
“Mind your speech, Mohsin,” said the woman with the baby. “He could be an enemy who would destroy us all. Leave him with a water skin or two and let him find his own way.”
“The sacred law of hospitality demands that we care for him, wife,” said Mohsin.
“We can soon find out if he serves the Lord of Gifts,” said another man.
“That would shame him,” said Mohsin.
The man ignored him and strode over to Aragorn. Before Aragorn could protest, he pulled Aragorn’s robe aside and gazed intently at the flesh above his heart.
“Junaid!” protested Mohsin.
“He is too far gone to know what we are doing,” said Junaid. “He is unmarked by the Lord of Gifts. Help me get him on to one of the camels.”
Aragorn swooned again as the men dragged him towards the beast.
When Aragorn next regained consciousness, the glaring sun had been reduced to a great red ball while the sky was no longer blue but a vivid hue of orange. He found he was lying beneath a gnarled olive tree, his head propped up with a makeshift pillow. A few feet away was a small lake, filled from a running spring which bubbled up from the rocks. Sheep and goats grazed around the shores of the lake. He could smell meat roasting. When he raised his head higher and looked around him, he could see the people were gathered around a fire. The woman whom he had seen earlier noticed he was awake and came over towards him, carrying a water skin. He eyed it greedily.
Aragorn remembered his manners to use the correct greeting that Fadil had taught him. “Greetings, fellow traveller, may the sun never burn your eyes!”
She replied “Greetings, fellow traveller, may you always dwell near an oasis!” She then handed Aragorn the water skin. This time, he had the strength to hold it himself, but he was still dreadfully thirsty.
“You are safe now, fellow traveller,” said the woman. “You were foolish to wander alone in the desert. It was fortunate that my companions and I came upon you when we did or the carrion birds would have been picking over your bones by now. We were seeking a camel that had strayed, instead we found you.”
Aragorn nodded dumbly somewhat surprised at her bluntness. It seemed that the nomads did not waste time on honeyed words
“I am Rana and these are the brothers and sisters of my tribe,” said the woman. “You are welcome to share our meal if you feel strong enough to join us.”
“I thank you, mistress,” said Aragorn. “May the sun never dazzle your eyes! I am called Belzager.” He smiled at her, wondering why her name sounded oddly familiar.
Mohsin came over to join his wife. He smiled at Aragorn, revealing surprisingly white teeth. “I am glad to see you much recovered, fellow traveller. May the sun never burn you!” he said. “What paths are you travelling?”
“I desired to see the desert before returning to my home in Umbar,” said Aragorn. “I was foolish to underestimate its might. I thank you for your care and hospitality. May you always dwell in a shady oasis!”
Mohsin nodded gravely. “A man needs to be born and bred in these parts to truly understand the desert,” he said. “Even then, no wise man attempts to cross its vastness alone. My people and I are travelling towards the Great Road where we will meet with others of our tribe. You are welcome to come with us.”
“I will gladly accept your offer,” said Aragorn. “May the sun never dazzle your eyes!” He shivered slightly. Now the sun was setting, the air swiftly grew chill.
“Come eat with us and sit by the fire,” said Mohsin.
Aragorn still felt unsteady on his feet. He needed to be helped to a place near the fire by Mohsin and Rana. About a dozen adults were clustered around the fire and several children. They all greeted him courteously. Rana served him a meal of stewed goat and some kind of beans, followed by juicy dates for a dessert.
When the moon rose, the group all got to their feet and raised both their arms heavenwards.
“Gracious Lord and Lady, shine thy light upon us and guide us along safe pathways through the desert!” intoned Hohsin.
Aragorn felt a sudden thrill of understanding. The folk in this land who shunned the Dark Lord, worshipped the moon! It made perfect sense, as the moon’s light was gentle and benevolent compared to the searing sun. Then suddenly he realised where he had heard Rana's name before. It sounded very like 'Rána,' the old name that the Noldor used for the moon. He suddenly felt far less homesick. The manner in which she and her people worshipped the moon reminded him of the way the Elves venerated the stars. Maybe Lady Star- Kindler had watched over him this day, strange through the stars were in this place. He offered up a silent prayer of thanks to her. The desert sky was alight with countless twinkling stars and the silver orb of the full moon. This land was harsh but it also possessed a a majestic grandeur which gave it a unique beauty.
A/n Written for a BTME prompt last March and posted now to help readers escape the cold for a little while!