Where the Stars are Strange?
With thanks to Virtuella, also thanks to Raksha for suggesting some plot elements
Disclaimer - These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain.
Arwen looked up from her embroidery as her husband entered the room.
"I am sorry I was delayed, vanimelda," said the King, kissing her tenderly.
"I have been waiting for you, my love," said Arwen, returning his kiss. "Eldarion's tutor has been to see me today. He is concerned that our son is lacking in enthusiasm for his studies."
"I will talk to the boy," said Aragorn. "Eldarion needs to understand that he must study hard if he is to make a good king when the time comes."
"That is not the problem," said the Queen. "The tutor thinks Eldarion is suffering because he has no other children to compete with in the schoolroom."
"I managed perfectly well on my own," said Aragorn. "I did have some inspiring tutors, though. Your father and Glorfindel were never boring to listen to."
"I told the tutor that as long as you did not object, my love, that I would invite some other children to share some of Eldarion's lessons."
"Very well, vanimelda. "Aragorn yawned as he settled himself on the couch beside her. It had been a very long day and he was eager for supper and his comfortable bed.
Arwen soon chose some fellow students to study with her son. Faramir and Éowyn's daughter, Elestelle, as the Steward and his lady were currently in Minas Tirith, Hador and Valandil, sons of Aragorn's guards and occasional playmates of Eldarion, and Elwing and Faris, the nearest in age to Eldarion of Ambassador Tahir and Lady Adiva's large brood.
The Queen and the tutor had a lengthy discussion concerning which subject the other children should join Eldarion to study. Quenya was too obscure: Eldarion was far better schooled in lore and history than others of his age and would shine too much, while in arithmetic, he would shine too little. Eventually they decided that Geography would be the perfect subject for the children to learn together.
Aragorn, though, had been less than enthusiastic when he heard of his wife's choices both of the children and of the subject. "It would have been best if you had just invited Hador and Valandil, or chosen another subject," he said. "Still now they are all invited, we can but hope for the best."
"They are all nice children from good families," Arwen protested. "I know Eldarion does not like girls much, but you could hardly not invite your best friend's daughter, while Lady Adiva is always saying how she wants her children to feel they belong in Gondor as well as Harad. I know Elwing is older than the others, but I did not wish Elestelle to be the only girl, and Faris often comes to play with Eldarion."
For the occasion Arwen had suggested that the lesson take place in Aragorn's library rather than the small study that served as Eldarion's schoolroom. The Queen had instructed that the servants place a large globe upon the table. It was a beautiful and priceless object that had been given to Arwen's father by Thorin's folk as a thank you for his hospitality. The seas were made from lapis lazuli and the land from emeralds and topaz.
The children sat around the table their faces reflecting a variety of emotions. Hador and Valandil were somewhat subdued; Eldarion was excited to have a lesson with other children. Elwing and Faris whispered to each other and Elestelle sat quietly, her golden hair setting her apart from the others.
The tutor greeted the group enthusiastically.
"Who can tell me where Gondor is?" he asked.
"It's there!" cried Eldarion, pointing to the relevant spot on the globe.
"I know!" chorused the other four.
"And who can tell me what the other lands are called?" the tutor continued.
"That one is Rohan where my Uncle Eomer is King," said Elestelle, pointing to Rohan. "The people who live there call it the Riddermark."
"That is correct, Lady Elestelle," said the tutor. "And can you show me the land where your father reigns as Prince?"
Elestelle stared at the globe then got to her feet and peered at it more closely. "Ithilien is there, I think," she said. "It looks dreadfully small, though, when really it is a vast land full of trees!"
"If a globe showed a place the right size it would have to be as big as the place itself and there would be no room left in the place," said Elwing.
"That is a very profound thought, Lady Elwing, " said the tutor.
"My father likes me to learn philosophy," said Elwing rather smugly.
"Does anyone know of any other lands?" said the tutor.
"The Shire in the North is where the Perianth live," said Valandil a trifle shyly.
"It is part of Arnor where my father was born and the other great land that he rules over," Eldarion added. "My father's kingdom is the largest and fairest in all of Middle-earth."
"Harad is larger and fairer than Gondor," said Elwing. "My mother and father took me to visit the other members of our tribe who still dwell there. We have vast deserts and beautiful oases with cool streams and bright flowers."
"The sun is brighter and the horses swifter," added Faris.
"How do you know that?" Eldarion retorted. "You were only a baby when you went to visit!"
"I do not forget my homeland," said Faris.
"Gondor is our home now," said Elwing. "But Harad is a fair land and the Great Khan is the most powerful ruler there is!"
"My father is the greatest ruler!" Eldarion contradicted angrily. "He rules Arnor as well as Gondor."
"And my father is the noblest prince!" Elestelle added. "And Uncle Eomer is a greater King than the Khan!"
Eldarion glared at her.
"But King Elessar is the greatest of them all," Elestelle added. "How can Harad be fairer than Gondor? Uncle Aragorn, um, the King says your land is all sun baked sands and even your stars are strange!"
"It is your stars that are strange!" Elwing replied. "Ours are just as stars ought to be. Harad is the fairest land there is."
"How can you say Harad is better than Gondor?" demanded Hador, forgetting that he had felt somewhat overawed until now. " If you weren't a girl I'd hit you!"
"I'll hit you then!" cried Faris, jumping up from his place.
"Our stars aren't strange at all!" Eldarion said fiercely also jumping up. The remaining children copied him.
"Return to your places!" cried the tutor.
The children ignored him. Within moments Eldarion, Valandil and Hador were fighting with Faris, whose sister rushed to his rescue. Despite being of the gentler sex, she was three years older than the boys and a tall strong girl. Elestelle remained aloof from the fray, but kept shouting. "Gondor is best!" until Elwing pulled one of her golden pigtails. Elestelle screamed.
"What is the meaning of this?" a stern voice demanded.
The tutor bowed low to the King, Hador and Valandil looked as if they feared that their heads might be severed any moment, while Elwing and Faris looked on the verge of flight.
"I was teaching the young people geography, sire," said the tutor.
"They said Harad was better than Gondor!" Eldarion cried, his young face still flushed with anger.
"And that our stars were strange and Harad was fairer than Ithilien!" Elestelle added.
"What a foolish argument!" Aragorn said sternly, glaring at the children. "All of you were born in Gondor and did you not know that the land where your longfathers dwelled will always be the most fair as will the land you choose to call home? I have travelled through many lands and seen great wonders in them all, but to me Rivendell will always be the fairest spot on Arda as I grew up there and met my lady. Now, Master Tutor, what do you suggest we do with these miscreants?"
"Please don't send us to the dungeons, sire!" pleaded Valandil.
"How about that they each write about their favourite place and what it means to them, my lord?" suggested the tutor.
"An excellent suggestion," the King replied. "I propose they write in great detail."
The children looked as horrified as if the King had thrown them in dungeons.
"Will you show us the places you have visited on the globe, sire, please," asked Elestelle. "My daddy has tried to tell me about how many there were."
"Very well," said Aragorn. He was already inwardly debating over whether to employ a different tutor for his son, but for now he would tell the children of his travels. Maybe that was the only true way to learn geography.
Author's Notes: Ambassador Tahir, Lady Adiva and Elwing first appear in "Tongues of Men and Angels" also on this site.