Summary: Bread, battles, and the ending of an era.
Disclaimers: Not Tolkien or related to him – please don’t sue. A very late entry to the Old English challenge. And now back to the depths...
The King’s Riddle
… and after the feast, after the joy, men gathered, singing their sorrows: The new age has come, we must bury our dead.
Life and death, and life again – perhaps. The chroniclers shall tell the tale in time, and whatever of charm they put into the telling, men must now strive to earn.
Aragorn notes the harvest days running swift away as Anduin, and calls his council, puts the riddle: How shall we feed Gondor after the fast that was the siege? How to feed men, with so few to plough and so much to mend?
Perhaps, says Anorien, ‘tis who…
Riddle: The Counsel of Princes
Who, indeed – some in the south say the Haradrim should render tribute. Anórien reminds men how often the Easterlings harried the Lands of the Moon and the Sun: Let them repay!
And many say, yea, though Ithilien remembers that Dorwinion bore the brunt, though it was no part of Gondor.
Then Dol Amroth, city of swans and ships, suggests: alliance may strengthen all – give Dorwinion allies, and Gondor wheat and a buffer…
And good trader that Dol Amroth is, where, asks Lamedon, shall the coin come from to pay for such?
Then answers come less swiftly.
But the riddle remains.
Calendar: The Ranger’s Road
Once upon a time, war had led him south and east. Once upon a time… pray not again soon.
Aragorn contemplates maps in the war room, seeing more than inked lines: memory marks times and places – the teeming coastal cities, the roads running out into dust and hunger in poor-soiled lands.
He remembers Sauron’s orcs occupying the farmlands, forcing the farm-manors to surrender more harvests, as Mordor levied poor city lads and bred more orcs.
Armies leach food and steel: for every new company, a village fell into slavery’s bondage, grew thin – grew thinner, starved.
Who, indeed, shall feed men?
Chronicle: The Hungry Years
Who studies the Exiled Kingdoms knows: with war, comes hunger. When Aranarth became chieftain, his foe was famine. In the North, the Long Winter – the long war against the wolves and weather, enemy agents – brought lean days. In the South, war-wracked lands lost more to hunger than wounds – especially after losing Calenardhon.
Today, Éomer, too, suffers sleepless nights, for such a muster, after siege and burning in the Westfold, and flight in the Eastfold, leaves lands fallow. Battle has robbed Rohan, as Gondor, of hands to bring in the harvest.
Faramir’s field tallies tell no differently: they’ll want this winter.
Charm: Cast away treasures at need
Maps, more maps, and council reports at length give him lists: Pelargir, Minas Tirith, Anórien, Lebenin, Lamedon – war-ravaged, they’re heaviest hurt. Dol Amroth, Lossarnach, and Anfalas lost men in the levies, but were not tested by siege and burning.
They’ve some grain to spare.
Yet ‘twill not suffice, Dol Amroth protests. Aragorn agrees, and sends merchants east to Dorwinion, and couriers to southern fiefs for what help can be begged or bartered.
He’ll need such charm as can feed cities to back their pleas – gold works best.
We’ll mortgage the kingdom, Faramir warns.
We’ll live to regret it, Aragorn answers.
Elegy: The New Age
At least this year, they will live to regret it, but the problem of men’s stomachs shall return – in the form of raiders from Harad or Rhûn. For they have many to feed, yet dry lands and old ways strain under the burden, force them out to take from others – or starve the lowly for the higher.
Gondor knows that way, too – needs no slaves to know it. Aragorn wonders how long old ways can last. It is a new age – he must find new answers to bury old questions.
Yet for now, answers stretch only so far: one year.
Tale: The Tale of Years
After-years bring war and hunger, hunger and war – they breed each other, and debt, their sister.
So farms become sheepfolds, making meat and coin faster, with fewer men. The dispossessed become soldiers – or tradesmen. That brings more coin, better ploughshares – someone must till.
Then comes Gimli, talking of ten-scythed harvest wheels – hardly a man needed!
Uneasy thought: Aragorn takes reports of unrest among men who lost land to sheep. And should they lose to soulless scythes…?
Foresight suffers lately, but there’s war in that notion, he thinks, he knows – war, and an ending.
Pray his people shall meet it well!