"Wealth and want equally harden the human heart." - Theodore Parker
Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. – The Bible – Luke 6.38
The named characters belong to Tolkien and his heirs. Only the OCs are mine.
With thanks to Deandra.
Written for the Teitho "Money" challenge where it was placed second.
Eldarion loved to visit the marketplace, especially when his father was able to take him. He liked going with his mother, too, but she spent too long looking at the stalls that sold threads and fabrics, both of which Eldarion considered extremely boring. Wandering around the interesting stalls with his father was almost as much fun as going out in the wilds and being a Ranger; almost, but not quite. Still, it was great fun to see all the strange and wonderful things that the merchants had on sale, and to watch all the comings and goings as folk from all over Gondor and beyond came to buy and sell.
Eldarion was especially fascinated today by a stall that sold intricate model ships. He had liked ships ever since Lord Imrahil had taken him, his mother and father, Uncle Faramir and Aunt Éowyn sailing around the bay at Dol Amroth a few weeks ago, just before summer had turned to autumn. The merchant had assured him that the model ships would float and Eldarion wanted one more than anything else in Middle-earth.
"How much are they?" the boy asked.
"Ten coins, young sir," said the merchant.
Eldarion took out his purse and counted. He only had seven. He showed them to the merchant.
"You do not have sufficient coin, young sir," the man said. "I am sorry."
"You will have sufficient next week after you receive your allowance, ion nîn," said Aragorn, coming forward.
"My lord!" cried the merchant. "I did not realise it was the young Prince. Of course, he can have the model ship free of charge. My sincere apologies."
"Thank you," said Aragorn. "I fear we must decline your generous offer. You have a living to earn. Maybe, though, you could put the ship aside until next week?"
"Ada!" groaned Eldarion.
"One day you will be King, ion nîn," said Aragorn. "It is important that you learn about money and how life is for most of your future subjects who have to save up to buy things they would like. When you are older, too, you will realise that waiting and saving up for something special, makes it all the more precious when you finally get it."
Eldarion still looked unconvinced. His father led him away from the stall and towards another that sold assorted comfits. He purchased a bag for them to share between them.
"Did you have to wait for things you wanted when you were a boy, Ada?" asked Eldarion.
"No," said Aragorn.
"Then it's not fair I have to wait!"
"I had every luxury I could desire as a boy," said Aragorn. "In fact, I was rather spoilt. It made it very hard for me when I went out into the wilds and became a Ranger. Everything in the Ranger villages was in short supply and often I lacked sufficient coin even to take refreshment at an inn on my travels. I am glad now, though, for those times of hardship, as I can understand how my people suffer and try to make things easier for them."
Eldarion thoughtfully chewed a sugarplum. "I think I understand," he said. "Can we come back, though, when I will have saved up enough to buy the ship?"
"I have a free afternoon next week," said Aragorn. "We can return then to the market. Now we should be returning home. I promised Naneth we would not be late."
As the two left the marketplace, they passed an old man wearing shabby worn clothes who was arguing over the price of a loaf of bread at a baker's stall. Aragorn pressed several coins into his gnarled hand and walked swiftly away. Eldarion struggled to keep up on his shorter legs. "Please, Ada, do not go so fast!" the child pleaded. "Who was that old man?"
"I do not know," said Aragorn. "I intend to make enquiries. We should always try to help those less fortunate than ourselves, though."
"I don't understand," said Eldarion. "You gave more coins to that old man than I needed to buy the ship I wanted."
"You will have a good meal waiting for you when we get home," said Aragorn. "Then you will sit by a warm fire and play with your many toys before you fall asleep in a soft bed. I doubt that old man had any of those things."
"I don't always like what I have to eat," Eldarion grumbled. "And I think it would be fun to sleep outside more often than when you and Uncle Faramir take me camping!"
"You would soon appreciate how fortunate you were if you could not take the luxuries you enjoy for granted," said the King. "You have a great deal to learn, ion nîn."
Eldarion would have argued more, but seeing his father's serious expression, decided it was better to remain silent.
The next few days passed with agonising slowness for Eldarion. It seemed that the day on which he received his allowance would never arrive. Then when it did and he finally had sufficient coins to buy the model ship, he still had to wait another two days before his father had a free afternoon to take him to the marketplace.
The little boy spent his every waking hour thinking about the model ship. His mother had promised to make it some special sails decorated with the White Tree and his father had promised to take him to sail it in a stream on the Pelennor. Eldarion constantly counted his coins and imagined the moment when he could hand them to the merchant.
At last, the great day arrived. Eldarion was so excited that he could hardly eat his noonday meal until his nanny sternly admonished him that if he did not eat, she would suggest that the King forbid the outing as it was bad for the health to go to the market on an empty stomach! Eldarion ate, hardly tasting the beautifully cooked food that the cook had prepared for him and scarcely noting that it was his favourite apple pudding for dessert.
Aragorn and Eldarion set out to the marketplace, accompanied by two guards who walked a few discreet paces behind. They had almost reached the stall where the model ship was displayed when one of the nobles, Lord Turgon appeared. He bowed low to the King. "May I have a word, please, my lord," he said. "Duties at home prevent me from attending the next meeting of the Council and I am concerned about how the new taxes on wool might affect my flocks."
"Very well." Aragorn looked somewhat irritated. "Could you not arrange a meeting in a more suitable place, though, Lord Turgon?"
"I had intended to, sire, but my wife's health means we must urgently leave the City."
Aragorn turned to Eldarion. "This might take some time, ion nîn. Why not go on ahead with one of the guards? I will join you as soon as I can."
Eldarion dragged his feet as the young guard led the way to the stall selling model ships. He badly wanted his ship but he wanted Ada to be there when he bought it. It would not be the same buying it with just a guard for company.
He stopped in front of a stall selling material, not the silly silks and linens that his mother liked to look at, but thick, warm cloth.
"Ada says Rangers' cloaks are made out of this stuff," Eldarion informed the guard, eager to show off his knowledge. He fingered the ten shiny coins in his purse as he spoke.
The young man smiled. "Soldiers cloaks are made of wool too. It is lovely and warm. We often use our cloaks to double as blankets."
Just then, a stick-thin young woman, wearing a threadbare shawl approached the stall. In her arms, she clutched a sickly looking baby, while a skinny boy of about Eldarion's age trailed at her side. "How much does enough fabric to make a cloak cost?" she asked the stallholder.
"Eleven coins, mistress," said the stallholder.
"Alas, I only have one," said the woman. "Do you have any damaged material I could have cheaper? My little ones and I are so cold."
The stallholder shook his head. "I sell only the best woollen cloth, mistress."
The young woman turned away sadly. Eldarion's fingers ran over the ten coins in his purse again. The lady and her children looked very cold, and hungry, too. He was wearing nice warm clothes and his nanny had promised him his favourite foods for supper. He called out to the woman, "Mistress, wait!" He thrust his shiny coins into the stallholder's hand and said. "Some warm material for the lady, please."
"Thank you, young master. May the Valar protect you!" The woman looked close to tears.
Eldarion hurried away, averting his eyes from the stall where the model ship was displayed. He almost bumped into his father who was striding towards him.
"I am sorry I kept you waiting, ion nîn," said Aragorn. "Are you ready to buy your ship?"
"I've changed my mind. Ada, I'd like to go home now." Eldarion sounded close to tears.
"Whatever is the matter, ion nîn?"
"Nothing, I just don't want the ship any more. You told me I had lots of things to play with."
Aragorn raised his eyebrows and was about to press the matter further when the young guard said something to him so quietly that Eldarion could not hear. The guard marched swiftly away at the King's bidding. Without another word, Aragorn took Eldarion's hand and led him home.
After supper, Eldarion's nanny helped him prepare for bed. Usually his mother or father, or both of them, would come to the nursery to tell him a bedtime story, but tonight they were late. Rather to his surprise, his nanny let him stay up and read his favourite book by lamplight.
Suddenly, his father appeared. The nanny curtsied and left the room.
"Why did you lie to me earlier, ion nîn?" Aragorn asked Eldarion gravely. "One day you will be King. A king must be a good man who does not tell lies. I know you still want the model ship."
"The lady looked so cold, Ada!" Eldarion blurted out. "How did you know?"
"The guard told me everything," said Aragorn. "Why did you not tell me about her? You should know I desire no one to be cold or hungry in my realm and I have passed laws to help the poor."
"I don't know," said Eldarion, staring at his feet. "You weren't there and I wanted to help. I was thinking about what you said about me having plenty of toys and lots to eat."
"I am proud of you for that, ion nîn," said Aragorn, kissing the boy affectionately. "You have a generous heart."
"I hope the lady and her children will be warm tonight," said Eldarion.
"Indeed they will," the King replied. "The guard discovered where she lived and I have ordered food, blankets, and firewood to be delivered to her lodging. Your mother will arrange for mending to be sent to her so she can earn a decent living for herself and her little ones."
"Why is she so poor?" asked Eldarion.
"Her husband was killed in an accident," Aragorn explained. "She came to Minas Tirith from the country hoping to find work, but was unable to do so."
"Her little boy can have some of my old clothes and toys," Eldarion offered.
"That is a generous offer. We will see what we can find tomorrow," said the King. "Now it is way past your bedtime." He looked up at the doorway where Arwen had appeared. "Naneth has come to tuck you in for the night."
When Eldarion was left alone and the lamps extinguished, all save one that burned very low, giving off a comforting glow in the darkness, he was both happy and sad. Happy that the poor lady would no longer be cold and hungry, but sad that we would never own the beautiful model ship.
"Wake up, Master Eldarion!"
Eldarion blinked as the bright sunlight streamed into his bedroom as his nanny pulled back the curtains. He looked across at the broad windowsill and could hardly believe his eyes for there stood the model ship of his dreams.
"Where did that come from?" he gasped.
"The King put it there last night after you fell asleep, Master Eldarion. He wanted you to have a surprise when you woke up. Now hurry up, you need to get up and eat your breakfast before your tutor comes."
Eldarion bounced out of bed, a huge smile on his face. Today, not even the prospect of lessons could dampen his spirits.