Wit and Wisdom
1. Wit and Wisdom
It was quiet enough in the east wing of the King's House in Edoras that the running footsteps of the small boy seemed to echo loudly through the tapestried hallways. Panting slightly, the child slipped into an unoccupied room. This turned out to be an office or study of sorts, containing a large writing table with papers upon it, some chairs, and shelves of scrolls along the wall. Tall windows gave onto the open air, and a watcher might look out to see all the green glen stretched out below the wide-walled city bathed in the late morning sunshine.
The small refugee, however, gave little heed to these things, and looked about hastily for a hiding place, glancing over his shoulder to the door as though fearing pursuit. He was perhaps seven years of age, a well-grown and sturdy youngster with black hair and lively grey eyes. His face was fair, yet he did not resemble the children of Rohan; however his clothing was of the sort that well-born children of the Horse Lords wore. Hearing footsteps approaching in the outer corridor, he dove quickly under the table and crouched there as silently as he could, trusting to the legs of the chairs about it to obscure him from view.
He waited nervously, as two men entered the room. Both were well shod, in supple leather boots with soft soles. From the boy's hiding place, he could see nothing of the men's forms above the knees, yet his eyes widened in recognition, and he started at the sound of their voices.
"That man, Hringwald!" said the first man, sounding exasperated. "His father served mine loyally, as he unfailingly reminds me at least twice a day. Though he himself is a horse of much different mettle! He would plough up the barrows of his forefathers to plant his crops, if it would win him profit."
"Well, you could not accuse him of not cultivating the memory of his ancestors, at any rate," the second man said, with a smile in his voice. The first speaker snorted his laughter, and the second man spoke again. "If you dislike him so much, why not send him away from your court?"
"I wish I may; but he has given me no real cause, except… wherever I turn, there he stands with his oily grin, tugging his forelock and louting to the ground. I cannot seem to convince him that I dislike servility." He exhaled sharply. "What could I say to him?"
The other man chuckled. "A weighty problem indeed. You could suggest that you will never have a chance to miss him if he never leaves your presence. Do they not say that absence makes the heart grow fonder?"
Now the first speaker sat down at the table. His knees came so near that the boy who was hidden below the table flinched back involuntarily to avoid touching them. A floorboard creaked beneath him. Instantly the man's face appeared below the table to seek the source of the noise. A strong hand caught the child and drew him forth firmly, yet without force. The boy emerged to stand somewhat shame-faced, but with his chin up, to meet the astonished gaze of the two men.
The first man, the one who was seated, proved to be a tall, powerful man with fair hair falling in long braids from beneath a gold circlet that sat upon his brow.
"Well, what have we here? A scout come to spy upon the King's movements?" King Éomer asked, for the fair man was indeed he, with a well-simulated look of astonishment.
Indignation replaced the dismay on the boy's face. "No! I did not know anyone came here at this hour," he said. Then he noticed the twinkle in Éomer's eye and almost smiled, before he caught himself and turned a wary gaze to the other man.
The latter was also tall, though as dark-haired as the King was fair, and garbed very simply after the fashion of Gondor. He looked gravely down at the small boy, and asked in a soft voice, "Were you not meant to be at riding lessons this morning, my son?"
Evidently the boy knew that that tone. Faramir, the Steward of Gondor, was a kindly father, but a firm one. A mutinous look appeared on the child's face, but he did not answer, and cast his eyes down.
"Slipped away from old Gyrth, did you?" Éomer said. "You should not, you know. He taught me to ride when I was a boy. You will not find a better teacher in all of Rohan."
"I don't want to sit on a pony, and I don't want to learn from Gyrth! He's a foolish old man!" the child burst out, then bit his lip. He directed a look of entreaty at his father, who wore a slight frown.
"Why do you say that, Elboron?" Faramir asked. "He is an old man, yet one who knows much of horse lore, and he has a great deal to teach you."
"But he… he cannot even read!" There was unmistakable scorn ringing in the young, high voice. "At home, every one can read - even the kitchen maids! Father, please do not say I must obey him!"
Faramir's frown deepened. He opened his mouth to speak, but was forestalled by Éomer. "Not all wisdom comes from books and reading, Elboron my sister-son. Gyrth has seen many winters, and has learned much of the ways of man and beast. Moreover, he is a man of great wit and sense."
At these words, Elboron looked very doubtfully up at the King. Éomer patted his knee invitingly. "Come here then, and I will tell you a story to explain what I mean."
Elboron threw a glance at his father, and receiving a nod, went to sit in his uncle's lap. Éomer ruffled the child's hair affectionately, and the boy smiled sunnily back at him. He was very fond of his tall kinsman, who was always kind to him.
"Hear then, sister-son, the tale of the wise fish and the simple frog. Two fish there were that once lived in a pond, hidden away in a quiet wood. The younger was named HundredWit, and ThousandWit the second was called. Now HundredWit and ThousandWit were eager always for knowledge, and learned in many ways of lore: they had read thousands of books, you know," Éomer said.
"Like Haldor the Keeper of Books at home?" Elboron asked.
"Yes, somewhat like Haldor. Well, it came to pass that these two learned fish befriended a simple frog who shared their small pond. This frog was named SingleWit. The frog was not learned, indeed, he could not read; but he was an honest, kindly fellow, and well spoken of by all the creatures who dwelt in the pond."
"Now and again ThousandWit and HundredWit would lower themselves to speak with the untutored frog, who treasured their company and conversation, for he was one that revered the learned. For a time the fish would come to the shallow waters near the bank, where SingleWit would await them, and then they would return to lie at the bottom of the pool. One day when they had thus gathered for conversation, some fishermen came by just as the sun was setting. They carried nets in their hands and many fish were in their baskets."
"How many fish, Uncle? Were they big fish?" Elboron asked. Clearly he felt these were important details to know.
"Dozens, my inquisitive young pup, but none as big as HundredWit or ThousandWit," Éomer said. "Why, each of those two fish was as big as this!" he said, spreading his arms wide by way of illustration. Elboron, much entertained, imitated his uncle by stretching his arms out, and giggled helplessly. Éomer grinned down at him.
"Well, when the fishermen beheld the pond, they said to one another, 'Lo! Here is a pool we have never seen before: there must be many fish here, and the water is quite low. What a catch we will get here - let us return tomorrow!' So saying, they went home."
"Now as you may imagine, my cub, these words struck the three friends like a thunderbolt, and they took counsel with one another: The frog said, 'Oh, my dearest HundredWit and ThousandWit, what shall we do? Should we not flee this place, though it has been our home for many years?'"
"But ThousandWit laughed and said, 'My simple friend, do not be afraid of words alone! Men have not come here before this day, and these we saw will likely not return. But even if they do come, I shall protect myself and you as well; am I not the master of water lore? With the power of my learning I shall save you, for I know many pathways through the water.'"
"And HundredWit said, 'Yes, what ThousandWit says is true. Why should we abandon the place of our birth that all our forefathers have dwelt in, merely for a few idle words? Why, it would be dishonourable! Unworthy! We must not retreat a single step! I also will protect you through the power of my great reasoning.'"
"But the poor frog said, 'My friends, I am not as wise and learned as you are. I have but one wit, and it advises me to flee. This very night I shall go with my wife to another place. Will you not come with us? For she and I can bear you safely hence to a little pool we know of, smaller indeed than this one, yet where men cannot come easily, for it is overgrown with many low hanging plants.'"
"But the fish scoffed at his advice, and said, very superbly," here Éomer raised his chin and stared down in his nose in aristocratic hauteur, making his nephew gurgle with laughter, "That they for their part would stand their ground. They pitied him for his foolish fears; after all, he was not as well read as they. And they said that perhaps he would come to realise his own folly and return one day. And so the frog sadly went away with his wife to the other forest pool."
"Early the next day the fishermen came, like the servants of doom, and spread their nets over the pond. All the fish, turtles, frogs, crabs, and other creatures that lived in the water, be they great or small, learned or unlearned, were caught in the nets and captured. Although they escaped for a while by swimming to and fro, HundredWit and ThousandWit were caught at last in the nets."
"That evening, the fishermen happily set off for their homes. Because they were so very heavy (with the weight of all their knowledge perhaps), our two learned friends received special treatment: HundredWit had to be carried in a basket all by himself, while ThousandWit was tied to a string and dangled from a rod across a fisherman's shoulder."
"Now SingleWit, who was crouched beneath the branches of the low hanging trees on the bank of his pond, saw them pass. Greatly he marvelled at the sight, and he said sorrowfully to his wife, 'Alas, my dear! Look: Sir HundredWit is in the basket, and Sir ThousandWit is hanging from a string.' And his wife, who was a sensible frog lady, replied, 'So they are; but Sir SingleWit, my dear, is still safe and snug in the free water.'"
"Now: who would you say was the wisest of these, sister-son? Was it ThousandWit, HundredWit, or SingleWit?"
"Oh!" Elboron exclaimed. "SingleWit, I suppose, uncle. The fish were not very intelligent, were they? They should have gone away from the pond too."
"Quite so. The frog at least knew the limits of his own ability, and was clever enough to run away from a danger that was beyond his powers. Do you understand now what I meant when I said that all wisdom is not to be found in books?"
Elboron nodded thoughtfully. "I think so. Do you mean that Gyrth is like the clever frog?"
"Gyrth is even better than the clever frog, young one. Ask him to tell you stories. If you are good at your lessons, he will favour you with marvellous tales, much better than this one, which I learned from him when I was a boy your age."
Elboron's eyes widened. This was quite unexpected! Why, anyone who could tell stories like that might be quite an interesting person after all. He gave the King a quick hug and slipped off his knee. Then he walked up to his father, and looked up at him very seriously.
"I am sorry I ran away from my lesson, Father. And I am sorry I said those rude things before. I know you do not like it."
Faramir stooped to embrace him and kissed his brow. "Go and apologise to Gyrth." He straightened and smiled down at his son, and gave him a friendly pat on the back to nudge him out the door. "Be off with you, scamp, and do not let me hear that you were in any more mischief for the rest of the day!"
As Elboron ran off, he heard his uncle and father laughing, and their voices drifted down the corridor after him. "Well done, Éomer King," Faramir said. "I had no notion that you were so gifted in the telling of moral tales."
"Recollect, my dear brother, that I also have a young son now who demands entertainment of me. I am become quite the instructive father, these days," Éomer said.
"So I perceive. I thank you for instructing my wayward offspring. No doubt after this experience you feel able to deal with Hringwald with equal dispatch?"
Éomer groaned at this reminder. "Now that is a cruel jest, Faramir. Perhaps I should send you to deal with my problem, as I have dealt with yours." Their voices faded away as Elboron ran down through the hall, thinking of all the wonderful stories that would be in store for him that summer.
Note: The story of the learned fish and the simple frog is adapted from the Panchatantra, an ancient collection of folk tales from India. Legend has it that this collection of stories was originally created to teach wisdom to the young princes of a famous kingdom of old.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.