…No Matter How Tall
“Not a spider; do not tell me it is going to be a spider!”
There is something eerily similar to an exhilarated smirk in the woodland queen’s face as she hears those words, but for now King Thranduil will be lenient and let it pass for a sympathetic smile.
“Why in Arda,” he hears his beloved lady stifling a completely not-regal snigger, “do you think he would ask for a spider of all things?”
Thranduil can be not-regal, too. He snorts. “Because he is your son.”
“Oh. Indeed?” She tries to display a scandalised face but fails gloriously. Glee somersaults over her features.
“Yes. Because you taught him to love everyone and everything.”
Eryniel smiles. “I can see no fault in that.”
“’Oh, ada’,” he says, the sarcastic arch of his brow battling with the attempted high pitch of his voice, the not-so-successful imitation of a spirited elfling’s piping. “’Oh, ada, look, she’s a nana. She has a nest of babies. May I keep them?’”
The High Lady of the Woodland has both her hands pressed to her mouth, but above her fingers Thranduil can see the golden mirth twinkling in her green gaze. “You could have said ‘no’,” she reminds him when she finds her voice again.
“He had already named them. And they were only tiny dust spiders.”
Silvery laughter drifts through the chamber. “You cannot deny him much, can you now, meleth-nín?”
A sigh is the only answer, not quite a concession, but it leaves room enough for interpretation. And if Thranduil is completely honest, his wife’s assessment is not far from the mark.
“And you might want to consider allowing him a spider after you heard what he actually wants,” Eryniel continues ominously.
“I am almost afraid to ask.”
“He wants…” She has a gift for story-telling, everyone knows that. For singing and story-telling (and for healing, but this talent is not required now. Yet…) and she uses that gift mercilessly. “He wants something special, something…exceptional. Something…”
Thranduil exhales loudly. “Oh, do tell already. Surely, it cannot be worse than a spider. What does he want?”
The king blinks. “Legolas wants to have an oliphaunt,” he says, just to be abundantly sure, to make no mistake about it. “An oliphaunt?”
“An oliphaunt, yes.” Eryniel’s face is bright with merriment. A jolly humming fills the room, like clear spring water dancing over sparkling rhinestones.
Thranduil sips from his mint tea. He wrinkles his nose–too much honey. It must have been served from Legolas’s batch. “Well, if that is so,” he pronounces, “you will have to talk him out of it.”
“Oh, no. You will have to talk him out of it.” Eryniel is serious about that. Stern. Matter-of-fact. There will be no negotiating. “You were the one who promised him ‘anything, anything you want, Legolas, if you sleep in your room from now on, and not slip in ada’s bed and wake him with your cold feet in the middle of the night.’” She shakes her head. “Honestly, melaran-nín, what were you thinking, tempting your son so? You know he cannot resist a challenge.”
Thranduil groans. Yes, he did promise that. Knowing Legolas’s competitive nature, he already had rejoiced at the prospect of undisturbed nights before he had seen Legolas’s eager nod and heard his solemn “it is done, ada.” He promised it expecting a request no more troublesome than…well, mayhap the permission to touch adar’s long knives or a dinner in the woods. A ride on the royal steed. A “real” bow at most. But not a pet. And most certainly not an oliphaunt.
Eryniel rises, pats her husband’s hand. “I have every confidence in your ability to explain Legolas why ‘anything’ does not include oliphaunts,” she says as she turns and leaves the chamber to get the little prince.
She appears far too amused for Thranduil’s liking. Far too cheerful, far too…much pleased with his predicament. She is enjoying this.
As would he, were their roles reversed. He has manoeuvred himself into this corner; it was entirely his own shrewdness that has brought him here. The magnificent King of the Woodlands brought down as he tried to outsmart a mere babe. Wonderful. This had better not be spread.
Legolas looks positively ecstatic as he is led into the chamber at his mother’s hand. He bounces on the balls of his feet, beams brightly at his father, and even lets out a small squeal.
Thranduil does not admonish him for this unprincely behaviour. He is so young still. Perhaps in a few years he will be expected to present himself in a fashion more appropriate for the heir to the throne of Greenwood the Great, but for now the king concedes him leniency. And, truly, compared to an oliphaunt a little bouncing and squealing is absolutely acceptable.
“Your adar has something to tell you,” Eryniel says, the echo of silvery laughter lingering in her voice, as she releases Legolas’s hand and nudges him towards his father. The queen then sinks down on to a comfortable chair, neatly crosses her ankles, and drapes her long skirt into a rippling waterfall that pools around her feet. Her hands lie folded in her lap, her back is casually straight, her chin lifted—she is a display of relaxed regal attention. Only the golden sparkle in her eye gives her exhilarated anticipation away.
Legolas does not waste time. He scampers over to his adar, tugs at his robe in demand he be scooped up. Duly, Thranduil obeys, and the elfling crawls up to settle himself happily in his father’s lap, automatically snuggling into the broad chest. Thranduil, in an equally automatic motion, closes his arms around his son and cradles the golden head to him.
He flashes his wife a desperate look, which she answers with the odd combination of an encouraging smile and a sarcastic twitch of an eyebrow.
No help from there, Thranduil deduces.
He shifts Legolas a little so as to be able to look into his face. Tactical error, he realises immediately. Legolas gazes at him with big, round sky blue eyes, clearly expecting miracles from his adored father. Or oliphaunts.
Valar, help me.
He manages a weak smile before he plunges in, “Iôn-nín, your mother has informed me that in reward of your sleeping through the night in your own chambers you desire an…oliphaunt.” No need to procrastinate it any longer. Thranduil is no coward.
He desperately hopes neither Legolas nor Eryniel have detected the slight falter in his speech.
Legolas, of course, is too excited to notice anything besides the essential. “Yes, ada,” he chirps. “When can I have it?”
“Legolas, do you actually know what an oliphaunt is?”
The elfling’s small face is a picture of indignation. “Ada!”
Thranduil cringes. Legolas’s voice can be very shrill—most notably when he is upset—and he is quite close to his father’s ears. Despite his son’s outraged response, though, the king decides to pursue his chosen approach. It might be a desperate attempt but it is his only hope, and he will cling to it. “But how? You have never seen one, have you now?”
Legolas all but snorts. “I saw one in the book nana gave me to practise reading.”
Ah. So this is Eryniel’s fault after all. He is going to have a word with her about suitable reading material for their very impressionable son.
“So you saw it in that book. And you liked it.”
“And now you want to have one for a pet.”
“Legolas, have you any idea…” Well, Legolas does not need an idea; Thranduil needs one, and very quickly. And there it is—he cannot believe he has not thought of it before. “We do not have room for an oliphaunt. Where would we keep it?”
Legolas does not waver. “It can sleep in my bed,” he says. “I don’t mind if it has cold feet.”
A choked sound comes from where Eryniel sits. The king shoots her a glare, then concentrates again on the more urgent problem.
“It is too big to sleep in your bed. It is too big even to sleep in the palace. It would have to stay outside.”
“Then we must build him his own house.”
Yes, apparently they must do that. And obviously that was not the desired way out of this predicament. Perhaps another approach… “An oliphaunt needs a lot of food. Greenery, leaves. And you know how little of that is left in the wood.”
“I would ask the trees. They would not let my pet starve.”
Thranduil closes his eyes. No, the trees would not let Legolas’s pet starve. The trees would do anything for their beloved lady’s golden child. Perhaps even feed an oliphaunt. If they did it for anyone then for Legolas.
They would sprout new leaves. Green and lush.
An oliphaunt could not live in the woods, though. Unlike the lighter jungles of the South, Greenwood is a thick forest, its trees standing closely together. No oliphaunt could pass through without damaging them.
Albeit…the Haradim are said to have captured oliphaunts, that they have tamed and trained them for battle. So it is possible to keep them…and perhaps, one could build a large compound a little further afar from the palace…. It would be an interesting challenge. And oliphaunts might be useful in the battle against the Shadow. If one could breed them, they might be domesticated one day…become a merchandise…. He can see it, right there before his eyes…he will sell them for gemstones, mithril…
He is wrenched out of his reverie by Eryniel, his beloved wife, who can read him so well. She does not call him by his given name very often, and if then mostly in admonition—and this is no exception. He blinks at her, struggling to understand...oh. He sees the white gemstones and elaborate trinkets made of mithril in his mind one more time before they shatter to pieces. No, the risk would not be worth any jewel.
And there is still the tiny sprite sitting in his lap, who looks so trustingly and confidently at him. His only child, his starlight and sunshine, his little leaf.
He seizes the elfling at his waist, lifts and turns him, settling him astride on his knees so that he faces him directly. “Legolas,” he says. “I am afraid I cannot grant you that wish. An oliphaunt is as tall as the tallest tree–it will not fit in any elven bed. It will not fit in anywhere. They are dangerous beasts, iôn-nín, too dangerous to have around. And they are wild. They need to be able to roam about. One should not fence them in. They need to be free.”
Legolas bites his lip. His eyes never leave his father’s as he contemplates what he has heard. Then he nods. “Very well,” he says very solemnly. “I understand.”
Thranduil sees compassion in his son’s eyes. Genuine affection. “You really do,” he says, amazed, even though he should have known better. After all Legolas is—as has been stated before—Eryniel’s son, too, taught to love everyone and everything.
“The oliphaunt would not like to be locked up. It would be sad.”
“Yes, it would.” Thranduil draws Legolas to his chest and kisses the crown of his head. “Mayhap you have another wish?”
There is some struggling, then Legolas has wriggled himself out of the confining embrace. His face, serious and almost distressed a mere blink ago, brightens considerably as he breathlessly asks, “May I have cream pastries for dinner?”
He does get cream pastries, and even pancakes with elderflower syrup and honeyed milk for dinner that day, and also for the whole following week.
One evening, just after he has secretly licked syrup from his thumb, Eryniel presents him with something bundled in a plain green linen cloth. Thranduil watches Legolas fiddle with the string that holds the bundle together and fold back the fabric; he hears his son’s delighted exclamation.
Not a few elves in the dining hall turn at the shriek, some even sport alarmed expressions—which soon clear into enchanted smiles.
For the oliphaunt—and, yes, it is indeed an oliphaunt that sits on the table in front of Legolas—is tiny, not much bigger than Thranduil’s hand, it is friendly enough looking, and it is artfully crafted of felt, specially fashioned for the little prince. And Legolas…he is all impossibly radiant smile and huge summer sky eyes as he reverently studies the toy.
Eventually he picks the oliphaunt up, carefully pets its back, strokes over its trunk, fondles its big ears. Then he clutches it to his chest. “Tondorn,” he declares. “You are Tondorn. I will not lock you up. You can sleep in my bed. You are not too tall, my Tondorn.” He casts a glance at his father, and his smile transforms. From overwhelmed and delighted to…mischievous. “And your feet are not cold at all.”
There is some substance to that statement, Thranduil finds out a few nights later. Legolas’s feet, though, are as icy as ever. But it does not matter. It is almost morning, almost time to get up anyway, and Legolas is sitting on his heels next to his father as he lets Tondorn, the magnificent oliphaunt, roam over the width of the blanket, hither and yon, free and unrestrained. He jumps on to nana’s arm that is draped over ada’s chest, and climbs up to both their faces, to nuzzle them with his trunk. And back he goes, hides in the blanket’s folds, dips under the edges, canters over the open ground, tip-toes on the cliffs and ridges, stomps on the quivering plains.
Trampled by an oliphaunt, Thranduil thinks. What an interesting manner of being woken up.
But he would not want it any other way.
A pet is a pet, no matter how tall. ~ Not really Dr. Seuss anymore
*** fin ***
Sindarin, just in case...
ada = papa
adar = father
nana = mama
naneth = mother
meleth-nín = my love
mell-nín = my beloved
melaran-nín = my beloved king
iôn-nín = my son
Tondorn = tall tree