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Where the Stars Are Strange

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She prays for a quick death. She prays for the beasts to come before nightfall, to rip at her throat so she will never feel the pangs of thirst.

This, of course, is blasphemy.

Were her faith strong enough, He would keep the beasts away until He could arrive. Such are His Gifts: pain, but also the strength to transcend the pain, to rise above the body’s weakness. If she survived, her blood might strengthen Him, so He would be stronger.

She prays nonetheless – she knows not to whom, for certainly the Gift-giver will not hear, but she still prays.


The days pass, but no beasts come. She wakes twice with the morning sun bright in her eyes; twice she lies awake well past sunset, her sluggish mind languishing between awareness and sweet sleep. Her arms ache from the sun and the lack of drink ‘til she can hardly lift them.

At last the Beast arrives. Not a cheetah, nor the wild dogs; they might grant her death’s release. No, he is a dhimmi, a mercenary. He lifts her up, carries her off as he stumbles in the half-light.

She’d curse his name, if she still had the breath.


He does not beat her, does not rape her, as her father warned those Northern kuffār often did. By day he treats her well, almost as kin. But at night he brings her water, tips the cup into her mouth as she drifts toward dreams: still aware enough to swallow, but too asleep to resist. He would twist her soul, steal her purpose.

So she reaches up as he hovers over her, grasps chin between thumb and forefinger; and once more she prays. Not to the One, but to him: that he would understand. He must let her die.


He no longer offers her water, and for that she is grateful. Could she still refuse? His trembling arms around her, the steady beat of his heart, even the stench of his sweat – these are the things that anchor her to time.

One night she wakes from restless sleep, forces her eyes half-open. Above, the Runner shines down at her. She remembers him; her brother taught her the star-patterns as a child. Was he running to or from? Whichever it is, now he stands still.

Does he wait for her? But how will she ever climb so high?


Beyond the towns and the caravans there is no duty save one. Family fades, as do kingdoms, and protocol, and oaths; in the end only self remains. That is the desert’s blessing, and her curse. Yet there is a rot even here, and he wonders how far it spreads. Harad taints her sons with empty ritual, and Gondor with fealty to one man. And what of his own people?

Aragorn kicks hard at the sand, strikes the dead girl’s ribs. He would howl at the stars, for there is none to hear him; but, tonight, even the stars are deaf.