3. The Teacher and the Taught
Every second night, however, Faramir came to his rooms and they studied together for several hours. Mithrandir obtained permission from Ulbar to bring certain manuscripts out from the archive, though the wizard did not mention that the Steward's son as well as himself would be reading them. The rapid progress that Faramir made startled Mithrandir.
"You said that you found Quenya difficult, and yet your ability has developed so quickly," he remarked to the young man one evening as they rerolled the scrolls they had been examining and tied the ribbons to bind them.
"It is because of the way you showed me that Sindarin and Quenya have common roots," said Faramir. "Take the word for eagle, which in Sindarin is thôr, or theryn if there is more than one; the Quenya soron, or sorni, seems quite different. Yet once I understood that the word used before the two tongues were sundered was probably thoron, it all began to fall into place.(1) I had been studying Quenya on my own, as you know, but I had never quite seen the connections between it and Sindarin in that way before you explained it."
"I see. I must say that I do not know what else I can teach you of High-Elven. From now it will simply be a question of learning unfamiliar words as you meet them in reading; and that is the case with any language, Westron, Sindarin, or Quenya," said Mithrandir.
"Perhaps there is other knowledge you might share with me?" Faramir asked diffidently. "You have traveled so far, seen so much."
"Mmph. Yes, well, we can discuss some things, the night after next, if you wish." Why do I feel that there is something particular he hopes to learn? Perhaps I am imagining things.
When Faramir knocked at the door of Mithrandir's rooms two nights later, he looked glum.
"What is the matter?" Mithrandir inquired.
"Bad news from the western provinces, around the cape of Andrast and up the valley of the River Lefnui. I think I have mentioned that the harvest was poor in that region last year? And the spring has been late and cold. There are reports of shortages, even famine," said Faramir. "The Steward is still gathering information, but he speaks of sending me to organize aid."
"Have you thought of how you will do it?"
Faramir frowned. "A little. The trouble is that nowhere in Gondor was the harvest exceptionally good last fall, and our stores everywhere are low at this time of year. Tarondor's law of the seventeenth century establishing granaries in each province with fifty thousand or more inhabitants was a good one, but when there is no grain to put into the bins, it is not very effective. The greatest reserves are here in the east, but to transport enough grain to where it is needed will not be easy, even if we can spare it from the army's stocks. And then there is the question of payment. Some of the grain supplies are owned by the Steward for Gondor, but much is in other hands. They cannot be denied a reasonable price and profit, but neither can they be allowed to gouge the western farmers, or it will do as much harm as good. I think the Steward will have to decree a fixed price, high enough to tempt the sellers, but low enough that the hungry can pay it."
"And if they cannot pay?" asked Mithrandir.
"I do not know. I suppose that there will be some who may be forced to sell whatever they have, in order to eat. Some may lose their holdings and have to travel to seek employment as far away as Edhellond, or Linhir, or even Minas Tirith. But I hope that the lords – Golasgil son of old lord Herion of Anfalas, and Urthel of Andrast, for instance – will be prepared to help their tenants who are most in need, insofar as they themselves are able. The land is only as strong as its lord's protection makes it. Or would you recommend a different course of action, Mithrandir?"
"No, your plan seems suitable. As long as there is not another failure of the harvest there this year, it ought to suffice," Mithrandir said, sipping from his goblet.
"Another thing that I am suggesting to the Steward is to instruct the mints at Pelargir and Edhellond to coin a larger number of halfpennies and farthings," said Faramir. "Not a greater amount of money in total, but more of the smaller coins in proportion to the larger."
"Why do you propose that?" Mithrandir sounded puzzled. "If grain is scarce and costly, would it not be that more pennies and even crowns are needed to make transactions easier, rather than the smaller denominations?"
"For exactly that reason." Faramir's face shone with enthusiasm. "I think that if men must trade with great bagsful of small silver, they may remain more reasonable in their demands. Moreover, it will allow the poor to purchase smaller amounts more readily. If a farthing buys a single loaf, better to do so daily, fresh, instead of having to buy more than is needed or wanted at one time. There may have to be a proclamation to fix the price of bread as well as that of grain, but Minas Tirith has long had such regulations. The smaller towns will live with it just as the White City has."
Sound thinking – mostly, at any rate. I shall be interested to see if his ideas about coin prove workable; I do not think such a strategy has ever been tried. Not in my recollection nor in any of my readings either. "Where did you learn that idea?" Mithrandir continued his thought aloud.
"Nowhere, really," said Faramir. "I saw in the annals kept during previous years of famine that one of the hardships experienced by the poor was the inability to buy small amounts. I do not know that simply having more small coins available will solve the problem, but I think it will not hurt, and may help."
Mithrandir nodded gravely. "It may. Have you considered looking outside of Gondor for help, too? Or do you think this not a great enough crisis to warrant such action?"
"Look to Rohan, I suppose you mean? It had not occurred to me. They are horse-breeders, mostly, not grain-growers; though they do also till some fields, I have not known them to sell much of their harvest outside their own lands."
"I was thinking less of wheat and barley than of some of the other crops: cabbages, onions, potatoes, and the like. All of those store and travel well. Not as well as grain, but well enough. If you send north to Rohan now, barges could be bringing food down river perhaps within a week, and begin reaching the western districts within a fortnight, in time to make a difference. The spring flood has crested on the rivers and transport should be little trouble," said Mithrandir.
"That is an option I had not considered," Faramir mused. "Which I should have done. Yes, I will suggest that to the Steward as well. Thank you, Mithrandir, for the idea."
The wizard shrugged it off. "There will still be the question of paying Rohan," he said.
"Oh, indeed, but I think that we can manage that. Grain may be scarce but we have stockpiles of fine fabrics, some our own make and some traded from the Southrons. The Rohirrim are usually eager to buy both," said Faramir. "The pot could be sweetened further with weaponry, if necessary, though I hope it will not be. In such troubled times as these it is good to have large store of weapons for our own army; that was one of the reasons why Tarostar Rómendacil was slain in battle by the Easterlings in the early days of the realm, because his men did not have sufficient arms and armor available to re-equip themselves when needed. Or so the chroniclers have told it."
The two talked for nearly another hour, turning aside from the concerns of the present to discuss the tribulations of past rulers, and how they had overcome them or failed to do so. Faramir at last yawned and apologized, saying that he should leave before the night grew any older.
"If my father does send me out of the city to cope with the western troubles, however, I will be sure to let you know before I leave," he promised.
Five days later, a well-folded and sealed message was delivered to the wizard as he was immersed in deciphering an especially faded document, deep in the recesses of Master Ulbar's domain. Mithrandir thanked the messenger and waited until he was gone to break the seal.
Dear Mithrandir, he read. My apologies, but I will not have time to come bid you farewell myself. The Lord Steward is sending me to Rohan to treat with Théoden, arranging to trade cloth for root vegetables as you suggested. There are also further matters for negotiation, but of those I will not speak at this time. I expect that I will then travel directly to Anfalas to organize the distribution of those and also what grain is shipped from our eastern provinces. It may be a month or more before my return; I hope that I may see you then. Your pupil, Faramir.
Mithrandir refolded the parchment and thrust it into his pocket, wondering just what the "further matters" might be. Rumor had it that the news from the eastern front, in Ithilien, was good. Baranor, one of the guards stationed in the Citadel, had told him the previous night that there had been a skirmish lost, but that Boromir had then led a company to wipe out the nest of Orcs responsible, and done so with almost no losses for Gondor. That was the only important news of which the wizard was aware, but surely it had little to do with Rohan, except inasmuch as fewer Orcs in Ithilien meant fewer raids across the Anduin into Rohan as well.
He frowned to himself. It would not be something to do with Curunir, now would it? He knew that his fellow wizard had also spent much time in Minas Tirith, searching for any information that might further his pursuit of Ring-lore. Curunir's dwelling in Orthanc was not within Théoden's dominions, but marched with them; though if Faramir had been ordered to treat with Curunir, Mithrandir thought that the lad would have said as much, even if he did not say why. There was no point in inquiring of Denethor. The Steward had scarcely acknowledged Mithrandir's presence since his arrival. Time would have to reveal what Faramir had merely hinted.
(1) The information on the Sindarin and Quenya terms for "eagle" is derived from The Lost Road, volume 5 of The History of Middle-earth, in the section on the Etymologies, with additions from the website Ardalambion, specifically http://www.uib.no/People/hnohf/sindarin.htm#expanded.
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