Written for: Peregrin Ionad
Requested: I'd like something either 2nd/3rd age involving the kings of Gondor - but feel free to work in a hobbit or elf. And some kind of Christmas symbol (it is a Christmas exchange after all)
Rating: suitable for all ages
Setting: 1598 TA to sometime around 1825 TA
Characters: Tarondor, Argeleb, misc. Arthedains, and “Little Elves”
Summary: Telumehtar Tells His Great-niece Lily (and the rest of her class) a Tale of the North
Authors Note: While polishing this, there was a story posted that may add depth to the legends of Forochel Bay; with deep respect I refer you to Aliensouldream’s “The Winter Guest”:
When my father, King Tarondor, was a young man—before he was heir to his uncle, King Minastan—he traveled up the Great North Road to Fornost to visit the King of Arthedain, our kin, Argeleb. Now, you must understand this was in the far northern reaches of the old United Kingdom of Gondor and Arnor; one of their kings had divided his country into three so that each of his sons could have their own kingdom—something no Gondorian would ever do.
By the time my father made his visit two of those kingdoms had already fallen to the Enemy. Arthedain was the only one left, and sadly, the great civilization that it had been when it was still ruled from Annuminas had diminished. He left Gondor with the permission of King Minastan shortly after his 20th birthday to make the long perilous journey, but thankfully he arrived safely and thankfully, none of his troops had been lost during the trip. His uncle had allowed for a visit of no more than three years, but insisted that he seek a Dunedain bride while he was there; if he returned home unmarried he would make a political marriage with a woman of the king’s choosing. As you may imagine, my father was in no hurry to get married, and like any young man about to turn twenty-one years old, was determined to spend as much of the three years enjoying his freedom in the great frozen North as he could.
King Minastan and King Argeleb were of course using the Palantiri to communicate at need, so Minastan was aware that Tarondor was meeting with the ladies of the court and that he was at least looking at the prospects that he had been sent to view. The King of Arnor also had few illusions that he would be introduced to a bride when Father came home.
Shortly after mid-winter, an unusual group of visitors arrived in the capital. Father told me they arrived in what we in Gondor would call a blizzard and what the Arthedainians referred to as merely a storm. In any case, the fallen snow had already reached the height of most men, and the area around the entrance to the city had to be dug out constantly so that the gates could function. They carted the snow from the city using something called a sledge—imagine a wheel-less platform about five feet long and three feet wide with walls on three sides to keep the snow in place. The newest army recruits and any soldier who was on report had to shovel the snow onto the sledge and pull it to a place a distance from the city walls, because of course, you don’t want to make it easier for an enemy to breach the walls by allowing them to climb up the piles of snow, after all. Then two of the men would grab each front corner of the sled and lift until the snow slid off, then it was back for the next load. The Captains told my father that around the beginning of harvest time all their soldiers tended to be very respectful and orderly as the penalties for breaking a rule or offending an officer could range from two loads of snow to twenty days of snow duty. And they collect and move the snow until all their punishment days have been served. Sometimes if the snow is late in coming there are can be more men assigned to snow duty than there are sledges to pair them up with. But the snow always arrives and there are seldom any men with time to serve left by the end of winter.
The visitors arrived all bundled in great fur capes and clothing such as my father had never seen. After they had been in the city for some days he was given a chance to visit with one of the Lossoth—for that was what they called themselves; it translated roughly to Snow-Men in the common speech—and was allowed to handle one of the great capes. It was made from a single skin of a large, pure white bear that was at least twice—if not three times—bigger than any he had ever heard of in his life. They had skinned the animal from its eyebrows back to its tail, the ears remaining attached, but the skull and jaw had been removed. The Lossoth man told him that the head alone could feed his family for two days. They had carefully preserved the paws and the claws were each as long as a finger on a man’s hand. The man then showed my father how when they wore the capes they slipped their own hands inside the paw and could use the claws in their own defense. Father said it was like the man had five stiletto daggers instead of fingers. They traveled on sledges that had been mounted on runners which they called sleighs. These runners moved more swiftly and smoothly across the terrain than the flat bottom of a sledge, so they could haul great heavy loads of trade goods quite swiftly and travel between their camps far faster than a wagon.
They had managed to reach the gate without of the guards seeing their approach, which was probably a good thing, or else they might have been thought to be the bears whose skins they were wearing. They had tossed back their hoods whilst pounding on the gates, so the watchmen there could see that these were men not beasts, and admitted them as far as the guard house where they were content to allow the inspection of their arms and tell the guards who they were and whom they needed to see.
My father was in the great hall when they were announced to the king. At that point they were accompanied by a merchant whose ship had been blown off course two springs past ending up in the Icebay of Forochel. They had rendered aid and traded with him for some of his wares and they had agreed to provide him with some of their excess pelts when they could. This merchant apparently had political aspirations and hoped that by introducing a new potential ally to the King he’d be able to gain some appointment or perhaps a title to carry with him as he made future buying trips and that would ensure his ease when he grew too old to travel. But the Lossoth were not the most unusual beings that accompanied the trader for with them stood the most unique and curious thing my father has ever told me about.
When most Gondorians speak of elves, they mean the tall and radiantly fair people that reportedly live in the reaches of Greenwood the Great and other more secluded places; but these elves—the Lossoth referred to them by another name but my father knew them by the little pointy ears and the baby smooth cheeks that never showed any signs of growing a beard —were so small their height didn’t even reach my father’s waist. They were also entirely covered with thick dark fur or pelt—save for their faces, which seemed pleasant to look upon. When he saw them on later occasions—generally when inside the palace—they were dressed in dark green and brown tunics and breeches, but for some reason they seemed to prefer to wear the skinned feet of some animal rather than normal shoes. He found that he was unable to converse with them as they seemed to have no knowledge of any of the civilized languages. But Father told me they were very pleasant and eager to be of assistance to any or all that they encountered. He said that on one trip to the throne room, he passed one who had stopped to take the basket of a serving maid out of her hands, whilst another was passing boards up to a man on a ladder repairing a window that had broken in the wind, and still another was trying to help a clerk who had dropped his scrolls after sliding on a patch of ice that had formed near a door. And when they sat down to meals, these little elves could out-eat even a hungry teen-age boy who had been harvesting hay all day. There wasn’t a meal where they didn’t eat three to five helpings of everything on the table.
There was another party of visitors at court at this time that had come from the south and when one of the men from that party mentioned the names of some people he had met whilst in the Bree-Land; the little elves grew excited and earnestly tried to get him to talk more about them. King Argeleb was amused and interested in this event and made arrangements for the man in question to meet with the little elves. I suppose they found a way to communicate with each other—enough so that he told the king that they were related to the creatures who had settled in the Bree-Land. He called them holbytlan(which meant hole abiders.) So the king agreed to let the short elves travel south with the Bree-Landers when the weather permitted, and until then he would feed and house them, which was no small task based on their current eating schedule.
To be fair, by the time the little elves were leaving they had more than repaid the king for his hospitality. It seems that these little elves might have more than a little dwarf in their background as they were able to make repairs on things that no one in the city could. They showed the carpenters how to build growing frames of wood and glass, and showed the gardeners how they could make plantings out of season in these enclosed frames that would prosper despite the winter weather in secluded areas of the courtyards. From those growing boxes they kept the entire court fed on various greens and salads until the spring and the tilling and sowing of conventional gardens.
They planted flowers in boxes near the sunniest windows and grew blossoms for the young swains to give to their courting ladies. They taught the king himself how to grow and gift to his lady with miniature roses that were not even as big as his thumbnail. Father said that King Argeleb told Minastan that alone was worth the bill to feed them; his lady wife had never let him pass as peaceful a winter as that in all the years they’d been wed.
They wandered onto the farms and showed farmers different ways to improve the laying of their hens, and helped them build incubation chambers so that they could hatch the resulting chicks in quantity. They wandered out to the game preserves and helped the game wardens set up hutches for raising rabbits, as well as teaching them how to build weirs that could be left in place along a stream bed to trap the fish there. As a result the wardens could walk the streamside paths on a regular basis and collect ten to twenty fish every two days.
My father said he never saw any of them ever go out with a hunting party. Nor did they never came to arms practice to work out—instead they would sit on the sidelines and applaud the efforts of any and all, but they never once took up arms and nor showed any skill at defense. But if something grew in the ground or could be raised in captivity they could make it grow and produce four or five times better then the Arthedainians had ever achieved.
By the end of that winter the healers reported that they had treated nearly twenty percent fewer people for illnesses than they had ever recorded in the history recorded in their annals. They also reported that the number of children born and surviving past the age of six months looked to be better than they could have achieved on their own. They not only still had dried herbs from the summer and fall gathering but were starting to harvest from their own grow boxes fresh herbs months before they could begin to look for them in the wild.
The city’s children were also singing the praises of the little elves for they had devised a way to attach the long bones left over from the butchering of deer and other beasts to the bottom of boards and the children used these to slide down the slopes that were being built to keep the snow away from the walls. The little elves had convinced the haulers to stagger the dumps so that they formed a kind of wide stairs to the top of the pile and the children would carry their boards to the top, drop down upon them, and glide laughing almost all the way to the city wall. Some of the hunters were working on using the same idea to make sleighs to haul game back from hunting trips.
Even the smallest of toddling children would run up and hug any of them and would usually be gifted with a small carved animal or two. The elves apparently couldn’t bear having idle hands for they left behind a wide selection of menageries that they had carved while sitting around the fire place drinking with the adults in the evenings.
Finally there came a day that those knowledgeable in such things allowed that the winter weather should be behind them and that it ought to be safe for the Bree-Landers to begin their homeward trek. There was much weeping and wailing as the children prepared to say good-bye to these persons that they had begun to believe had come to the city strictly for their entertainment. For in addition to the carvings and sleds, the little elves had made and distributed many game boards with cleverly made markers and pieces; the many strategy games they then taught the children were not only fun but their parents could see were training them to think and plan ahead, having to make choices that could win or lose them the ‘game’.
Father had also shown them a draughts game that he had carried north and before they left there were no fewer than a dozen of them in use between the nursery and the barracks. Each draughts board had been completed with highly detailed playing pieces, right down to the tusks of the mumakil.
About three moons after they had said their fare-thee-wells, the little elves returned in the company of their kin. Fortunately their kin spoke the common tongue if you listened closely and allowed them time to form their thoughts. They came with heavy packs and heavily laden small ponies, bringing gifts of thanks for the people who had sheltered and nurtured them so kindly through the long dark of winter.. They had bulbs and seeds and clippings for the gardeners and farmers as well as carefully packaged samples of the types of fruit that the seeds and cuttings would eventually yield so that the gardeners could see how they should look at harvesting. Besides many bundles of un-spun wool and untrimmed pelts intended for the tailors and seamstresses who had clothed them, they also had hanks of finely dyed and spun woolen threads for needlework and even one precious bundle of silver dwarfen-made needles to share with the women who loved to do the finest embroidery. They brought something they called slings, and trained the youths on how they used them to bring down small game; squirrels, rabbits, and the like. They told the fathers of those youths that they had occasionally used them to stun larger predators so that they could escape from dangerous situations but warned that the slings could not be counted on to kill a predator and so must be used with care. And lastly (but not least, at least in their opinions) they spent hours telling the cooks about ways and means to prepare and present their wares.
Finally, two of the little elves who seemed to be in charge of the group, whose appearance indicated they were kinsmen, approached the king and presented him with a proposal for the little elves to move into an unoccupied area located south of Annuminas and east of the Baranduin River. They stated that they believed they had the skills necessary to turn it into a highly productive farming area again, adding that it could only help to improve his kingdom to have the talents and skills that they offered working for his people rather than struggling to survive in the Wilds. King Arvedui agreed with this sensible reasoning so the little elves that had travelled with the Lossoth from Forodwaith in the winter went back north to collect the rest of their kin, estimating that the entire community would arrive at Fornost in about a year’s time. Half of the Bree-Land elves would stay here to help plant and raise additional crops to supply the travelers on their return trip whilst the other half would return to the Bree-Lands with the news that they could begin to colonize the new land, which would be called the Shire. Plans were made for them to return to Fornost next year with more crops and supplies and to assist the Forodwaith elves to finish their journey south.
The Bree-Land elves were accompanied on this visit by some of the Dunedain that lived in an area they called the Angle. Amongst these were several young maidens who had heard that there was a young Gondorian who required a full-blooded Dunedain wife to wed before he returned to Gondor and were hopeful that perhaps one of them might suit his fancy and he theirs. Can you guess the name of the most beautiful of them? Shall I give you a hint?
Yes, that’s right. That is how my father met my mother, and many long years later you became one of their many, many great-grandchildren.
So that’s is the tale of how a future king of Gondor learned many helpful lessons and found his heart’s desire on a long and dangerous trip into the wilds of the frozen north. And he often told the tale of how the King of Arnor stole the toy-making elves from the Snow-men of Forodwaith in the years since. After all, what self-respecting elf that can grow anything would want to live in a land that never thaws? And how much easier it was to get the toys to the new owners if you didn’t have to load them in a sleigh first to get them across the frozen tundra?
Here, let’s read some passages I’ve marked in his journal:
‘One day whilst sitting in my office and telling my son of the first days of my kingship, I pointed at the detailed map on my office wall, “Would you believe that the little elves are responsible for that map? The spring I was to leave Arnor and return to Gondor they arrived ahead of schedule to show the king how things were improving in the Shire. They brought with them a great map made from grafting pieces of sheepskin together. One of their artisans had expertly painted the landmarks most prominent in the area. Each member of the delegation used that map to show King Arvedui where their farms were, where grazing lands were, where forest and groves were, and where they were planting orchards and vineyards. As no one elf knew everything about the whole land, each spoke of the area he was living or farming on. Afterwards they asked the king and his advisors about where the best places to make their towns so that people traveling on the road would be able to be in a safe and respectable area when night fell. They planned on building way-stations or inns for these travelers in the towns so they would have a safe place to spend the nights. I had a copy of that map painted on the wall and every time a commander reported to me I would have him show me which places were worst hit by failed harvests and other disasters as well as where there were gluts of crops with no one left to harvest them. In that case, we could send troops augmented with civilians to do the harvesting.”
“One day while studying that map it dawned on me that if you want a good soldier you should have him train in arms from a young age, but if you want to raise a brawny man who can do many things, you need to have him live somewhere that he will get the best and freshest food, lots of fresh air and plenty of muscle-building work—a farm. That is when I started enrolling ten and eleven year-olds in training camps that took them out to the farms in the spring and brought them back to the city after harvest and then put them in schools with teachers and arms-masters so they could learn the skills that would protect Gondor and also perhaps save their own lives. The poor folk of the city benefitted from the arrangement by having their boys earn their keeping and a wage from their work on the farms in the summer and their meals and education in the winter whilst allowing them to live at home whilst in the city. Those who had property and money, such as the nobility and rich merchants, helped subsidize these poor children by paying for their sons’ room, board, and tuition. Some of them complained of course, and I pointed out that by keeping the youngsters usefully employed, active and learning they were less likely to be running amok and causing chaos.”
You realize that’s why most of you are here now, except for the girls, of course. All of the girls—if they learn their lessons well—will have the chance to be ladies in waiting for their queen and other ladies.
My father wrote much more about these little elves in his journal… Ah, I thought you’d like to hear more.
“Another thing those little elves thought was important was feeding the waste from food preparation to the pigs. ‘It makes all of a food valuable,’ they insisted. They had started the farmers and the cooks collecting the leftover bits and scraps from the kitchens and grinding it into a kind of soupy product that they called slop, which they would feed it to the pigs; and let me tell you, by the third year of my reign we were raising some big pigs. The farmers would come to the city with their fresh crops and before they returned home they would each collect the scraps from the inns and kitchens and bakeries and such and take it home to feed to their pigs. In some cases the owners of the inns would actually buy a piglet and leave it with a farmer; in return for raising the inn’s piglet the inn would save all of their scraps for that particular farmer. One farmer told me once that by the fourth year of slopping pigs he had a herd of fifteen pigs, which he was raising for nine inns, three bakeries (who were sharing one pig for personal eating) and two orphanages. That left him three pigs for his “profit”. In the fall he butchered fourteen animals, delivered twelve to their designated owners, sold one for cash, and bred the live one. In the spring he sold each of the inns, the bakers and the two orphanages a piglet from his brood pig and raised the herd again. He was telling me this after raising pigs for about ten years, and said that he only needed to go somewhere and buy extra piglets once. And in that case he traded for a load of hay for the piglet.”
“I think I learned more from those three summers in the north than I thought at the time. Economics isn’t just about making coin, it’s about moving surpluses to deficient areas so that no one loses and everyone thinks they got the better deal. The night soil and manure business were started in the same way as the slop business; the city had too much waste product to handle properly and the farms were in need of fertilizer. In the beginning we used soldiers who were being punished to shovel the stuff; remember the snow detail? Then the owners of the stables realized that the farmers were willing to pay for it and had empty carts when leaving the city after market days. A couple of the stable owners came to a council meeting and proposed that they would buy spare carts and fill them between market days if we would release them from providing us with the punishment detail for the soldiers. Then they approached farmers about the arrangement and soon a farmer would drive one cart into the city full of fresh produce, sell their load off that cart, drive to the stable that they had made a deal with, trade carts and drive a load of nice ripe manure out to their fields. After shoveling it where they needed it they had a week to clean out the cart and get it ready to reload with produce. At first I insisted on spot checks to be sure that the carts were being cleaned between manure and reloading but after losing the right to trade in the city for up to a year, the farmers were very willing to comply with the rules. Night soil took a little more work because it needs time to ripen before it should be used on food crops but again once they understood that sanitation was the most important part of the process. This has developed into a fairly reliable business for some families.”
“By using your troops as eyes and ears as they patrol the kingdom, you can generally stay one step ahead of most problems. You know which areas got too much rain and were delayed in sowing crops; you know which area got too little rain and runs the risk of crop failure. If there is a horrible incursion of orcs or other enemies raiding in an area, you can ‘borrow’ harvesters from other areas to go in and assist the remaining civilians. If a crop gets burnt out, arrangements can be made to shift things in a way that you aren’t trying to move food from the far side of the country to the other but are having each unaffected area shift part of their crops north or south , east or west so that everyone still ends up with some.”
“Perhaps the most important thing I learned from the little elves was something I didn’t learn in the three years I spend in the north but from random glances in the palantir over the years: occasional joyous celebrations do much to keep a group focused and content—a big and generous party once in a while reminds one that laughter is still available regardless of circumstances.”
I hope each of you remembers the lessons of the little elves and pass them on.