Lord Elrond looked down at the small boy and smiled as they climbed the stairs to the roof. Little Estel was practically bouncing in his excitement. He was being allowed to stay up much past his bedtime for tonight's astronomy lesson. After all, it was rather difficult to study the stars during the day. They reached the roof and Elrond let Estel wander around and look at the spectacular view of Imladris stretched out before them. The homes were lit from within by the soft glow of candles and fires in the fireplaces. Lanterns lit the paths between the buildings. The light was not enough, however to dim the light of the stars that shone above.
The air was cold, as it was mid-winter, and Elrond had made sure that Estel was dressed warmly. The temperature might be better a few months later, but Elrond had timed things perfectly. The stars were now in the perfect position for the lesson he wanted to teach. This lesson would be sure to attract Estel's innate curiosity about the world around him. And he wanted to instill in his son the love and reverence that all Elves held for the stars in the night sky.
He called to his son, drawing his attention from the view of Imladris. "Come, Estel, it is time to start."
He spread out the blanket he had brought and sat down, then gestured for Estel to sit beside him. He started with a question when Estel was settled comfortably beside him. "Do you remember your lessons on the Valar?" Estel nodded solemnly. "Good," Elrond answered, smiling. "Do you remember who Elbereth is?"
"The Queen," Estel answered simply.
"Yes, Elbereth is the Queen of the Valar," Elrond answered. "It was she who placed the stars in the sky for the enjoyment of all the Children of Ilúvatar. Look up and tell me what you see."
Five year old Estel craned his neck and looked at the glory of the night sky above him. "Stars," he answered in awe. "Hundreds of them, thousands, more than I can count." He decided to try it anyway, and pointed to one section of the sky. "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. . ."
Elrond gently touched his arm to get his attention. He smiled down at the young boy. "You were right the first time, Estel. You will not be able to count all of the stars, not tonight. There are so many of them, that you would not be able to count all of them even if you came out here every night for the rest of your life."
Estel's eyes widened. "There are that many?" He thought about that for a moment. "But you've been alive forever, Ada. Have you counted them?"
Elrond chuckled at the innocent question. "No, Estel. Even I do not know the number of the stars in the sky. Only Ilúvatar knows the answer to that question. Though we do not know how many there are, some of those stars have names, did you know that?"
"Yes, Ada. You told me the story of your Ada. I remember that you said he now sails the sky with the Silma. . .Sil. . . with the jewel on the front of his ship."
"The Silmaril," Elrond answered. "Yes, my father, Eärendil sails the seas of heaven in his ship, the Vingilot. He appears to us as a star, Gil-Estel, the star of High Hope."
"Estel, that's my name," Estel said.
"Yes, ion-nin. For you are my hope," and the hope of all Middle Earth, he thought to himself. He did not say that aloud, though, for he would not burden such a small child with the knowledge of what his destiny held. There would be time for that later. He gazed down at the child beside him. It hurt him to know what pain this innocent young boy would go through in his life. If it were possible, he would keep him here, beside him, protected for the entirety of his life. He sighed, knowing that it could not happen that way. Estel would grow up to become Aragorn, heir to the throne of Gondor, as he must. But even with his gift of foreknowledge, Elrond could not see everything. He did not yet know if Aragorn would ever sit on the throne of Gondor and Arnor. Elrond shook his head suddenly. He was getting melancholy tonight. This was not his purpose in bringing Estel up here. It must have been the mention of his father, whom he and Elros had lost when they were still so young. He turned his mind back to the astronomy lesson. "Can you find Eärendil in the night sky?" he asked Estel.
Estel looked at the multitudes of stars in the sky. How could he pick out one star among so many? He looked back at his father and shook his head mutely.
Elrond looked back down at him. "It is the brightest star in the sky right now, Estel."
Estel took a few minutes to study the stars above him before pointing off to the west, "That one."
Elrond smiled in pride. His son was so smart. "That is correct, Estel. If you were to come out here every night over the next year, you would notice that Eärendil does not always stay in the same place. He is not like the rest of the stars. They stay in the same place when compared to the other stars. Eärendil does not. He is free to sail against the background of the other stars. Men, who do not know the true nature of his ship, call it a 'wandering' star."
"Are there other wandering stars?" Estel asked.
"A few," Elrond answered. He knew what Estel's next question would be.
"Then are they other ships in the sky?"
"They may be," Elrond answered. "That, I do not know. I know only the story of my father."
"What are the names of the other stars, Ada?"
Elrond pointed behind them to the star that marked the direction of north. "That star is known as Elenforod, the north star. If you can find that star in the night sky, you will never get lost. That is one of the most important reasons to study the stars, ion-nin. If you can follow the stars, you will never be lost. You will always be able to find your way home, to me."
Estel looked at the star his father had pointed out. It did not look especially bright, like Eärendil. How could he find that star among all the others? He asked his father that very question.
"By studying the way the stars are grouped together," Elrond said. He pointed to a cluster of seven stars, and traced out their shape in the night sky with his arm. "That is Valacirca, the Sickle of the Valar. Do you see how the stars curve, to form the shape of a sickle?" Estel nodded, and Elrond continued. "If you follow the curve with your arm and draw a line from the last two stars in the curve, they will always point to Elenforod."
Estel's eyes sparkled in the night as he gazed up at the stars. "Are there any other shapes in the sky?"
"Many," Elrond answered. "If you look back toward the south, you will be able to see Menelmacar, the Swordsman of the Sky."
"There's a swordsman in the sky? Where?"
Elrond pointed to the grouping of stars. "He is right there. Those three stars in a line are his belt, and the three stars in a line coming down from his belt make up his sword. The two stars there and there are his legs, and the two stars above are his shoulders. If you look here, you can see that his arms are raised and holding a bow. He is an archer as well as a swordsman. He is a great hunter. Can you see him?"
Estel nodded, his eyes shining in excitement. "I see him. What is he hunting?"
Elrond pointed to another cluster of stars off to his right, in the west. "The white stag, Elnimaras, is just over there. Do you see those four stars that make a square? That is his body." He traced a curved line of stars coming from both of the lower stars. "Those are his legs, and the stars coming from the upper left star form his head and antlers. And did you know that Menelmacar has a hunting companion?"
Estel shook his head wonderingly. He never knew there was a hunt taking place in the stars.
Elrond pointed back to Menelmacar. "If you follow a line leading down from his belt, you will come to one of the brightest stars in the sky, after the wandering stars. That star is called Alcarinque, the Glorious star. It is the eye of Menelmacar's hunting dog, Elenhu."
Estel tilted his head back, looking at the stars. Elrond traced the shape of the dog that hunted with Menelmacar. He studied the positions of the objects in the sky, and a worried frown crept over his face.
"Why do you frown?" Elrond asked in confusion. He had thought the tale of the celestial hunt would pique Estel's interest, not worry him.
"The moon is between Menelmacar and Elnimaras," Estel said worriedly. "What will happen if he shoots the moon, Ada?"
Elrond gazed down at Estel in surprise. That thought would never have occurred to him. "He will not shoot the moon, Estel. He is hunting the stag, not the moon."
"But what if he misses and hits the moon? Isil will break open and the flower of Telperion will fall out and we won't have any more light at night." He cuddled closer to Elrond. "I don't want the moon to fall out of the sky, Ada."
Elrond had to fight not to laugh. Estel had such an imagination. Although Elrond had to admit that he was stunned Estel had remembered that much detail of the story of the creation of the moon and the sun. He had thought Estel had been bored when told of how the moon and sun were made to hold the last flower of Telperion and the last fruit of Laurelin, the two wonderous trees of Valinor. He didn't want to make Estel think that his questions were not taken seriously. But it was so hard not to laugh at the idea that Menelmacar would shoot the moon out of the sky. To the young, though, characters in a story could be every bit as real as people they knew. He had to make sure that he did nothing to quash Estel's imagination.
"Menelmacar is a great hunter, Estel. He will not shoot the moon, because he is not aiming at the moon. A great hunter only lets the arrow fly when he is sure of the target. Believe me, Estel, we are in no danger of him shooting the moon down. He has been hunting Elnimaras since before the race of men walked upon Arda, and he has never shot the moon down."
Estel relaxed back against Elrond as he thought. "If he has been hunting the same stag that long, he can't be such a great hunter, Ada. A great hunter would have gotten the stag a long time ago." He said the words around a yawn.
Elrond chuckled. Trust a child to make that point. He glanced down as he felt Estel snuggle in closer. He was nearly asleep. Elrond pulled the blanket up around Estel and glanced up into the sky once more. It was so peaceful out here, with all his old friends keeping watch over him and the young boy that Elrond could not have loved more had he been his own. He looked up at Wilwarin, the butterfly, Soronúmë, the eagle, Anarríma and Telumendil. The red star Carnil and the blue star Luinil winked down at him, with Elemmírë, the star jewel and Lumbar, the Shadowhome keeping their places in the nightly march across the sky. On another night, he would teach Estel their names and stories. Tonight had been a good start. Estel had shown an interest that would stay with him throughout his life. Elrond hoped that in the future, Estel would be able to look up at the stars wherever he was and remember the lessons here, with him. The stars would forever be a reminder of Elrond's love. He sighed and gathered the sleeping child into his arms. He took Estel back to his room and tucked him into his bed. He leaned down and brushed a strand of hair from his eyes. "Sleep well, ion-nin." He straightened and gazed at his son for a long moment before turning and walking out of the room.
Fin ( The end )
Author's notes: The inspiration for this story came from a question from Jayse, my five year old nephew. We were talking about the sun, and the stars, and the nature of these celestial objects, when he asked me 'What would happen if you shot the moon?' I'm still not sure what prompted the question, but we had a pretty good discussion about it. I happen to be an astronomer, so I try to make sure that he has an accurate idea about the nature of the solar system and the stars beyond. The question stuck with me, however, and when I was trying to think of a new story idea, that question popped into my mind. This story developed from that question and my experiences teaching astronomy labs at the college level.
I researched in the Silmarillion, Tolkien's World from A to Z: The complete guide to Middle-Earth, and The Languages of Tolkiens' Middle Earth to find the names of any constellations and stars that Tolkien mentioned. Some of the constellations I wanted to use were specifically named, some were not. I made up the names of a few. To avoid confusion, I'm giving a list below of those that were named in Tolkien's writings, which ones I made up, and which of our constellations they correspond to.
Menelmacar - The Swordsman of the Sky. He forbodes the Last Battle that shall be at the end of days.
This constellation is clearly Orion, and is specified as such in the index of the Silmarillion.
Valcirca - The Sickle of the Valar. This is a crown of seven mighty stars that are a sign of doom. This has been identified as The Great Bear, Ursa Major, also known as the Big Dipper.
Wilwarin – The butterfly, this was speculated to be Cassiopeia
Soronúmë – The eagle, was thought to possibly be Aquila.
The named stars that Tolkien mentioned were Carnil, Luinil, Nénar, Lumbar, Alcarinquë, Elemmírë and of course Eärendil, also known as Gil-Estel. I am sure that Eärendil is actually Venus. Since planets were first called 'wandering stars' I put that into the story.
I needed to use the constellation Canis Major for the hunting story, so that constellation became Elenhu; Elen- star and Hu- dog. The star that marked his eye, Sirius in our sky, I named Alcarinquë, the 'Glorious star' from Tolkien, because it is the brightest actual star in the sky.
I also wanted a creature that would typically be hunted, and since Ursa Major had been identified as a sickle and not a bear, I had to come up with something else in the night sky. I looked at some star charts and decided that a little re-working of Pegasus would create a great stag in the sky. This constellation became Elnimaras, El – star, nim – white, and aras – deer.
I also had to point out the north star, Polaris, so that became Elenforod, Elen – star and Forod – north.
This may have been overthinking things a bit, and if you don't like astronomy, this note probably doesn't mean much. But as an astronomer, I couldn't write anything that wasn't accurate, even if I had to use Tolkien's explanations of the planets, 'wandering stars' and the creation of the sun and moon. But since the elves didn't quite have our knowledge of the true natures of these objects, I didn't mind.