#11 The Moon and the Madman
I had intended to stay here for two weeks, but here we are, nearing the coldest season two months after. The bard’s made something of a name for herself, and the arnädraig seem to adore her tunes. I often catch myself humming River of Ale and Fair Moon Maiden.
Aiga’s finally blooming as a bard, and I’m proud to be here to witness it. The winds are already carrying her name and songs.
“Aren’t you joining the feast tonight?”, I get asked every day.
“I’m good, thank you”, is all I reply. By the gods, why must there be so many celebrations? Harvest is supposed to last one through the winter.
“Are you sure?”, they insist. They try to buy me with the promise of ale and an attentive public for my tales. But how attentive can a drunken youth be?
“I am certain”, I respond apathetically.
The lads look at me with disappointment, though it’s always momentary. They look forward to a merry night of singing, dancing, eating and drinking, draining their purses away until their very last coin.
I had forgotten how many travellers come to Arnara during the harvest festivities.
Ah, the harvest. There are so many legends surrounding the—
It’s the innkeeper. She’s a jolly lady of no more than sixty, who according to Aiga has had her eye on me ever since we arrived.
“We’re having a get-together tonight after dinner, would you care to join us? Perhaps with one of your tales? We would pay, of course”, she adds with a wink and a smile.
Ah, money. Of course I’ll join.
“Certainly”, I reply. “I will be there.” Just to be sure, I ask: “Any tale in particular?”
“The Moon and the Madman, the version as told by Zaigan Eulym”, she says. “A classic tale for this time of the year.”
Oddly specific, but I concede.
I am there right after dinner and a crowd of about thirty elderly people are sitting around the central fire of the inn. The vast majority are Arnwellii, their hare ears standing out from the rest of the crowd. Some folk from Nariv, too, so short I almost can’t see them.
It’s the first time a public as big as this gathers around me. They’re all paying attention to the story I am about to tell.
The Moon and the Madman
When Jain Tarsel became the next moonspeaker, he fell in love with the moon.
“He is out of his mind”, his neighbours said. The moon! As if there were not enough mortals to fall for. “What do you talk about with the moon, Speaker? Oh, that’s right. Nothing! Because the moon is a rock!”
“A satellite, actually”, Jain wanted to reply, but he always refrained from entering into academical discussions. What would those people know! They were unable to comprehend what he felt. It was not a mortal love, full of conditions, of misunderstandings, of disagreements, fleeting, one where death would do them part. His love was unconditional, immortal, something that came from the roots of the heart—
“A jolly night at the tavern and a large pint of ale, that’s what you need.”
Jain would lock himself during the day and open the window during the night to contemplate the mystery and beauty of that unreachable and incomprehensible moon.
Unlike the people surrounding him, the moon had always been there, keeping him company in his gloomiest moments and illuminating his darkest nights, guiding him back home without expecting anything in return.
He talked to her often. He told her about his day, his hopes, his dreams, how he wished people would just leave him alone, how much he enjoyed learning her language. Some days he would show her his drawings of her during the different times of the month.
Realising she was perhaps a little far and could barely hear him, he sold his humble house and built a tall tower atop one of the tallest mountains in the world. He was finally isolated, the nearest form of civilisation at least a hundred miles away.
From atop the mountain the moon’s beauty was even more astounding, incomparable to that of any mortal being. And he wouldn’t have to deal with those nosey neighbours, always prying into his conversations. What would they know of love! Even if it was one-sided, it did not make it any less true.
One day, after twenty years of talking to her every night, the moon finally answered.
From the moment he heard her voice, Jain forgot his own needs. She knew his name! She had seen his drawings, listened to his poems, his tragedies, she had accompanied him as he isolated himself from those terrible people. She was beyond what he could have ever imagined, and she had so many stories to share.
“Dearest”, the moonspeaker said after many conversations; “I cannot bear to see you only at night. I must be with you every day. Always and forever!”
He admired her. He loved her. She was the embodiment of perfection, and he wished to serve her and only her.
The moon fell prey of his selfless devotion and his words, and moved forward. “Finally will we be together”, Jain rejoiced.
But as the moon moved forward, the oceans spiked and roared. The winds screamed and the earth shook, and her presence flooded the shores and the oceans crawled up to the inland cities. Whole islands had to be evacuated as they were devoured by the seas.
Oblivious to what happened to the world beneath the mountain, Jain observed how the moon grew closer every day, her voice as powerful as her presence.
Until the day the Guards came.
Jain tried to fight them, but he was weak and malnourished. He could hear the moon cry. Of course they did not want them to be together. They were jealous of their immortal bond!
“Command her to go back!”, the Guards yelled. And of course, Jain refused. He knew they wouldn’t kill him. Were he to perish, someone would have to inherit his mahrym, learn for years, and finally be able to convince the moon to take several steps back.
Unable to convince him, a man from the desert was sent to move the moon back to its place. His name was Asdaun Orune, master of eclipses, and he cared very little what Jain Tarsel believed to be love.
For many long years, Asdaun used his mahrym against Jain’s to prevent the moon from getting any nearer. Jain was, of course, imprisoned, and despite they tried to talk some sense into him, break into his mind, he was completely impermeable to any methods they used against him. So strong was his love.
With every year Jain grew older, frailer, weaker, until one day he finally breathed his last words to the moon: “I’ll never forget you.”
The world fell prey to panic as the moon, infuriated, could no longer be held back by Asdaun and broke free from his mahrym.
She cried and cried, and her silent lament brought death and destruction never seen before in Alor.
But as the moon was about to impact against the world, Asdaun battled her atop the lunatic’s tower, and condemned her to be aligned with the smallest of the two suns, Jahra, until the next moonspeaker was able to convince the satellite to move back in place after almost two generations.
Some nights, the moon still cries at the loss of her beloved Jain.
“Here’s your coin, love”, the jolly innkeeper says as she hands me over a handful ræ. “And some ale on the house”, she adds as she takes hold of my arm.
I spot Aiga entering the inn and I let go of the innkeeper’s firm grip. I call for the bard.
“No! What are you doing?”, she exclaims. “You both look great together!”
“We do not”, I retort. I see a young lad accompanying her, or rather, being dragged along by her.
“Nice story, sir”, the lad blabs as if I were her father. He’s a tall Arnwelli, probably around twenty, with little else to do with his life. He turns to the bard and says: “I’d be in love with you even if you were the moon and destroyed all of Alor.”
Ah, desperate attempts at romance. My favourite.
“It’s because of people like you that the Mrygat bans interesting mahrym”, I mumble.
Aiga laughs as they both disappear somewhere at the far end of the inn. The night has long fallen, and the moon, lonely, shines bright in the sky.