The Menagerie by Karri

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You are the Elvenlord of Ithilien and son of Thranduil Elvenking; you must present an air of dignity, not the giddiness of a child set loose in a candy shop! Legolas Greenleaf chided himself as he strode toward the sea of tents camped north of the city, upon the Pelennor Field.  Yet, despite the self-reproof, he could not quite stop himself from nearly bouncing with eagerness, nor dim his gleeful grin.

I can comprehend Elessar’s decision not to allow the menagerie entrance into the city, though, he mused, his nose wrinkling in response to the smells produced by animals and people as they simmered in the sweltering heat of the day.  He imagined that the shade of the tents made it bearable, at least.  I hope that is the case, for the animals, especially, he thought, for the people may escape away if they please, but the animals are captive.

His mood dimmed slightly at the thought of anything held captive, yet, soon enough, the anticipation of meeting creatures new to both his eyes and the knowledge of his peoples brought back glee.  Fairly dancing with it, Legolas passed into the roped area with wide eyes and open mind.

“Oh! You are wonderful!” he marveled aloud as he entered the first and found himself face to face with a large, sleek, deep-chested cat.  It paced the cage with an energy that bespoke its speed as nearly as much as did its muscular haunches. 

Enthralled by the cats beautiful marks—that seemed to him as perfect as a painted decoration worn sometimes by men—and oblivious to the alarmed faces of the animal handlers nearby, Legolas reached a hand through the bars to stroke the graceful black lines that drifted down from deep, scrutinizing eyes.  The animal pressed his head into the reaching palm and purred.  Legolas laughed as it vibrated against his palm. 

“Nor have I met once such as you before,” he responded, as the cat shifted its head enough to peer at him, before pressing it, again, into his palm.  “And indeed, I do think would very much enjoy running with you, though I suspect I would lose the race.”  He laughed again, but then his expression dimmed at the realization that this animal likely had not been granted space to run while in captivity.  “Someday, perhaps…,” he soothed—himself, more than the cat, as he pulled away.  “Today, though, I have more new friends to make,” he announced, before bidding the animal, “Be well,” and moving to the neighboring cage. 

This one, too, was inhabited by a large cat.  Less sleek, with shorter legs and larger head, it was no less beautiful.  The fascinating spots were, in fact, quite reminiscent of its neighbor, though it lacked the marvelous marking on its face.  Still, there was power and nobility in its bearing, and its eyes shown with a cunning intelligence that made Legolas heart ache.  Reaching his hand inside, he waited patiently as the animal—more reticent that the previous cat—sniffed the air and considered him with its deep, penetrating gaze. 

“Ah, my friend,” Legolas sighed.  “So much power and cunning…it is not meant, I think, to be confined thus.”  The cat nuzzled against his hand in seeming agreement.  “Would that I could see you stalk your prey as you once did in the days when you were free.”  A pensive gloom began to settle over him as the cat peered into his eyes, until Legolas could bear the scrutiny no longer.  “I am sorry, my friend,” he whispered, before moving on to the next cage. 

This magnificence of this creature froze him in place as he turned to face it.  Jaw dropped, Legolas could only marvel, speechlessly at it—until it nudged the cage with enough force to rattle the bars and break the spell.  Grinning at it, Legolas responded, “Yes, I am coming; you, too, shall receive your due attention.” 

Burying a hand in its long fur, Legolas rubbed the large, powerful head. “I think Glorfindel himself would envy your glorious mane, my friend,” he complimented.  The enormous cat replied by pushing harder against the bars.  “I bet you were a grand king in your homeland,” Legolas mused.  “Powerful, yet tender; fierce and protective.  Did you have a family there?”  The great animal nudged the bars again.  “I am certain they miss you,” replied Legolas, pensively.  “As indeed I miss my own, despite the friends I have made in this new land.”

Withdrawing his hand, Legolas sighed drearily.  This is not nearly as pleasant as I had anticipated, he admitted to himself.  Perhaps if I move on to another tent…, he convinced himself, as his feet carried him out one flap and in through another.  Ah, this seems less somber, he sighed with relief as he found himself facing a group of large, shaggy dogs that would have been almost wolf-like, but for the noticeable downward slope of their backs.  Fascinating…, he mused, enthralled by the uniqueness of the creature.  The spell was broken, though, as the dogs grew playful, and began to whoop and laugh and giggle and yelp in an assortment of sounds that brought a chuckle to Legolas’s own lip.  He watched grinning as the pack chased and pounced and played with one another. 

“You, at least, seem content enough,” he mused.  “That is something…”

Buoyed up by the cheerful antics of the fascinating dog-like creatures, Legolas strode once again with eagerness out of the tent and into large uncovered, though still fenced, area.    

Ooooh!  He marveled agape as a cluster of beautiful horse-like creatures came into view.  In many ways, the sturdy creatures resembled more the stocky work-horses of the shire more than the tall, sleek horses of the elves.  Still, there was something captivating about the striped black and white creatures.  It was almost dizzying to watch them as they ambled around, quite content to chew away at the grasses of the plain, paying no heed at all to the eyes gazing at them from behind the barrier.  Eventually, though, one popped its head up to peer curiously at Legolas.  It studied him for a long moment, and then ambled over to butt its head against his shoulder. 

“Hello, my friend,” Legolas greeted cheerfully.  “You are a beauty.”  The head pressed against him approvingly.  “And seem content enough to graze alongside your friends.”  The head dipped slightly, then rose again.  “But do not think me fooled,” Legolas informed, with an amused twinkle.  “I sense that rebellious spirit you hide deep beneath your serene façade; you would not be so easily tamed as horses, I think.”  He combed his fingers through the short mane, as he thought a moment, and then added, “Not even the Rohirrim could tame your spirit, I think.”  He patted the animal one final time, as he said, “That is good!  For not every creature was meant to be domesticated.  Go, rejoin your friends.”

Legolas grinned at the creature loped off to rejoin the herd.  He watched them, contentedly, a while longer, until he was nudged from behind and turned to find himself facing a large, muscular shoulder.  Dropping his head back, Legolas’s jaw fell agape as he gazed up and up and up and finally, found face peering down at him, curiously.

“Hello, my friend,” Legolas bade, as the animal bent its neck to nibble at his hair, thus breaking him free from his thrall.  “As tasty as it might look, I doubt it will please your pallet,” he quipped, as he brushed his hair away from the long, purple tongue tugging at it.   “Would that I had tree to feed you, for surely that must be your preferred food.  Why else would you be as tall as one?”  Legolas patted the long, graceful neck.  “You must miss your forest…,” he consoled, and head bent down to press against Legolas’s, as if to confirm the assumption.  “Indeed, I miss my own more often than I care to admit.” He rubbed the long nose tenderly.  “Would that you see your own again someday.”

With a sigh, Legolas gave the creature one last pat, before turning away in search of a new distraction.   A dreariness had crept over his heart, once more.  Yet, perhaps, as with the stripped horses and the laughing dogs, I may yet find some cheer in this place.

Buoyed by the thought, Legolas wandered along the fence to another uncovered enclosure, and, indeed, found himself grinning once more as the lumpiest, bumpiest creature he’d ever seen meandered into view.  “My, you are a sight!” Legolas declared, laughingly, as one of the creatures turned its head to gaze lazily upon the newcomer.  “I cannot imagine what sort of use you’d be,” he teased, “Yet I sense a willing, tamable spirit within you.”   The creatures ambled over and bowed its head, allowing Legolas to rub its neck.  “Not so much part of the show, as part of the labor, I see.”  He patted it approvingly.  “At least there are a few among you content with their captivity.  That eases my heart somewhat.” 

Cheered by the encounter, Legolas wandered away with somewhat lighter steps and hopeful eyes.  The sight that greeted those eyes next brought those steps to a standstill. 

“Ooooh,” he gasped in wonder.  Before him stood a mammoth of an animal.  Stocky and low to the ground as it was, it was a wide and solid as an old oak.  I wonder if even a dragon could move you should you decide not to be moved, he wondered to himself.  The creature peered up at him lackadaisically while it nibbled at a tuft of grass. 

“Indeed,” laughed Legolas.  “I, too, would pay little heed to one such as I had I your mass.”  Studying the creature more thoroughly as it turned toward him in search of another juicy tuft, Legolas quirked his head thoughtfully.  “You know, there were legends once of creatures called unicorns.  They were said to be graceful, powerful creatures,” he informed the animal.  “I do not know that I would call you graceful, but you are most certainly powerful.  Could it be…” he mused, then shook his head ruefully.  “I suppose all legends start somewhere, though they do not always end near where they began, so why not?”

Laughing, he turned to stroll away, but his gaze promptly fell upon a sight that froze his steps and chilled his heart.  Steeling his resolve, Legolas sucked in a deep breath and forced his feet forward to the waiting creature.  It gazed at him with curious innocence that lacked wholly the recrimination Legolas half-expected to see there.  Massive and lumbering, it simply waited for him to come to it. 

“Hello,” Legolas managed to choke out.  The creature reached it trunk toward him, and Legolas closed his eyes as it settled on his shoulder.  Reaching a hand up, he stroked the long nose, letting the animal’s peaceful calm settle his own rattled spirit.  “You are not as I would have expected,” Legolas admitted to the creature.  “When last I met one of your kind, it was looming with fierce anger and bent on destruction.”  He reached his other hand up to stroke the long nose’s underside.  “Yet, that image seems so contrary to the spirit within you,” he sighed. 

He had thought little at the time of killing the Oliphant amidst the battle on this very plain.  He had simply done it and not looked back as the animal fell; there was too much battle left to fight to trouble himself with it, then.  Yet, now… Now, he could not help but feel a twinge of remorse, for perhaps the fierce anger that had emanated from the beast then had not been its nature, as he had assumed at the time, but had instead been inflicted upon by men who desired to harness its power. 

“I am sorry I did not have a chance to know that animal as it might have been away from the killing field,” Legolas lamented to the gentle creature before him.  “I am sorry, too, that you have been brought here, far from your home,” he added. “As peaceful and content as you seem, I would that you were free from the influence of Men.” 

Legolas pressed his head against the trunk, sorrowfully, until the long nose pulled back and the massive creature ambled away.  Gloom dimmed Legolas’s spirit as he watched it go. 

“I worried when Faramir mentioned you intended to visit.” 

Legolas started at the sound of the voice.  Gathering himself with a deep breath, he turned to grace his friend with wan smile. “It is good to see you, my friend,” he said, stepping forward to embrace the King.

“Indeed,” Elessar returned. “Yet, you seem not glad,” he observed.  Legolas opened his mouth to argue, but his friend waved him silent.  “I worried such would be the case when news reached me that you intended to visit the menagerie.”   Legolas ducked his head pensively.  “I would have advised against it, had my opinion been sought,” Elessar added, chidingly. 

Legolas smile half-heartedly.  “Long has it been since I sought permission to indulge in harmless entertainment, my King.” 

“Yet, it seems not to have been so harmless, after all,” replied Elessar. “For your spirit is dimmed and your heart burdened.” 

Legolas turned away, his gaze wandering back to the Oliphant. A youngling, still, he mused, for as massive as it was, it was still quite small compared to the creatures they’d seen in battle.  “It does not sit well with me,” he finally confessed to his friend.

“No, I would not have expected that it would,” acknowledged Elessar.  “It did not sit well with Arwen, either.”  Legolas turned back to face his friend, his head quirked attentively.  “Captives, torn from their homes, from their families…locked away in cages, unable to run free.  Indeed, it did not sit well with her, at all.”

Legolas turned his gaze back toward the Oliphant and sighed. 

“Which is why,” Elessar continued, grinning as his friend spun around and fixed him with a hopeful gaze, “I have purchased the menagerie.”

Legolas quirked an eyebrow.  “But whatever shall you do with…?”  He flapped his hand around vaguely.

“Well, it may take some time to arrange, but it is my hope that many of the animals can be returned home,” Elessar explained.  “Though I may keep the striped horses, I think, and perhaps the lumpy creatures; they are quite entertaining and seem not to mind it here overly.”

Legolas laughed.  “Indeed, they seem quite content with a bit of grass and some room to wander,” he agreed, but then sobered.  “Perhaps…” he began, but then hesitated.

He was saved by Elessar, whose gaze wandered to the Oliphant.  “And, perhaps, I’ll keep the Oliphants.  I am told their chances of living unmolested in their homeland is not good, and they seem content enough here, as well.”

Legolas grinned again, as the burden lifted from his heart and his spirit soared.  “Thank you, my friend,” he whispered, wrapping an arm around his friend’s shoulder as they watched the Oliphant pup graze away. 

The end. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




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