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King Fingon's Menagerie

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A King and his Girabbit, sculpture by Zhie


—————The Happy Ending—————

"Once upon a time, there was a Girabbit," began Fingon, for it was his turn to tell a story or sing something for the evening gathering of the household, and tales of the Girabbit's adventures and mishaps never went amiss among the younger generation. Or the older for that matter. But he didn't have a particular tale in mind for this evening — he'd been just a little distracted by a certain red-headed husband's early return from a hunting expedition, and had not thought out what he would tell in advance, as he usually did. Nothing was immediately coming to mind, either. No cues from the weather (fine and cool, perfect for early autumn), the date (no anniversary or anything of note, just an ordinary, pleasantly unremarkable day, made the nicer for Maedhros' early return), or the company (family — and even Celegorm and Huan counted as family, infrequent as their presence was — extended and chosen, Elven and other-formed, the household present or accounted for, as it had rarely been even during the long 'peace' of Fingolfin's reign in Beleriand Before). Fingon was not used to being at such a stand.

Maedhros' eyes were twinkling at him, and there was the sense of laughter in his mind, the more marked the longer Fingon did not actually start on the story. Well, the only thing to do now would be have the audience choose what tale he should tell.

"There was a Girabbit, and there is a Girabbit, listening in at his very own window. There is also the Cat that is not Entirely a Cat," — stretched out on the made-to-purpose wide top of Fingon's chair, rumbling a purr against the back of Fingon's head, apparently paying no attention to the goings on — "The Fox of the Unpredictable Number of Tails (and tales)" — curled up on the hearthrug, only one tail currently visible to all eyes, black tip covering black nose — "The Red Bees that came over from Valinor to make a home here in Beleriand Risen, the Kinked Lesser Were-Worm, the Watcher in Lake Helevorn — who isn't here of course, and Celegorm would be a better one for that story, just as Nimfalwen would be better applied to for the tale of the Narwhal and the seal-wives — and several others of whom tales might be told. What would you have?" Fingon looked out around the room, smiling.

Maedhros wasn't even trying to stifle his grin now, leaning back in his own high-backed chair, feet tucked up in the cushions. Celegorm, lazily scruffling Huan's red ears, was chuckling as well. This mode of entertainment had its advantages. The children clustered on the rug were all bright-eyed and eager. Fingon was sure each one of them would have a favorite to request.

"Only one, now, then it will be Laseros' turn, and he has a new song."

Several of the children put their heads together, but before they could come to a decision, a small voice piped up, "I think you should tell how the Girabbit came home, because I want a happy story. A story with a happy ending." Small, Luingil's voice might be, as indeed she was, but very determined.

"We are all here, The Girabbit and the Fox and all the rest of the Menagerie is here, does that not imply the happy ending?" Nimfalwen asked the child.

"No, because there are plenty of stories that don't have happy endings, and just because we are here now, and Girabbit is right over there listening and everyone else too, like you say, doesn't mean everyone listening would know. And some of the story isn't happy at all. And besides, sometimes the story changes."

Nimfalwen shared a glance with Liringil and reached out to twine their fingers together. Fingon well knew their happy ending had not been guaranteed, and had been long in coming.

The child was not wrong.

It would have been so very easy for the story to change. To be other than it had been. Who could say better or worse or merely different? And so many different places it might start.

"'How the Girabbit Came Home' it is then." Fingon paused again, thinking. That was not as simple a story as might seem. "But which coming home?" he asked, "The first, when Huan and Celegorm found him in the first place, and he came to live here after we sent the pesky Wyrm scurrying back to his master with his tail between his legs, or when Huan, Celegorm and I brought him home from the Round World?'

"Either!" said one child.

"Both!" said the twins, simultaneously, making Maedhros and Celegorm look at each other and laugh. Ambarussa had been the same. Were still the same. Were the same again. But the experience was yet new and immediate for Fingon. (He’d known them as children of course, but as a visitor, or at public and family gatherings, not so much day to day.)

Luingil waited for a pause. "Tell the one you like the best." For all she was the youngest of the five Elflings present, the others looked to her as often as not. Five eager faces turned to him like flowers to the sun, expectant.

Which did he like best? They were very different stories, in some ways, though there were parallels between them. And the contexts were very different indeed. Though for a evening tale told to children, the historical background and situation were of little relevance. Glaurung the Golden and the carnival-dragon were of equal importance to the story, though not at all the same in history. Or even personally. One was a beginning, though they little knew it at the time; the other a fitting coda. (Not to mention the latter having no affect on his person, unlike the former, though even that was not something this hroa had experienced.)

Which tale wanted telling the more? That was a better question to ask himself. Which might they remember, at need, and find hope or help or comfort therein? In both the dragon was defeated, though not destroyed, and the Girabbit brought safe home, his rescuers also.

Begin at the beginning, then.


—————The Tower of Cages—————

The Girabbit was Huan’s fault, if such a rescue could be said to be a fault. (The not-a-nine-tailed-Fox was entirely on Celegorm; Huan had nothing whatsoever to do with that. Well, maybe a tiny bit.) They had been scouting near what turned out to be a lesser outpost of Morgoth’s, run by a minion of more imagination than sense (well, ‘headed up by’ was a better description — it was actually being run by an underling with much more administrative nous, though neither of them were much with military skill. That was being handled by one of the new generation of yrch. Had been being handled. None of the three of them would be a problem any longer.)

Horrifying thought, that: new generation. They no longer looked like Elves (not that all the earlier ones had either) but they still looked like … people. Most of them. Appallingly.

Not something anyone wanted to think too hard about. Especially when they were trying to kill you. Celegorm and his people (for various definitions of people) had been keeping watch on this place for long enough to have an idea of it's workings, though not what the inhabitants were working on. It wasn't supposed to be this quiet. There were not supposed to be dead higher-ups crumpled at the base of the walls, looking like they had fallen or been pushed, without a mark of blade or fist or other weapon on their twisted forms. Dead yrch were better than live, certainly, but Celegorm would like to know what killed them, so he and his could avoid it (or possibly recruit it, depending. But he had a bad feeling about this whatever it was.)

At any rate, scouting the too-quiet outpost, with an eye to how to take it out (again, hopefully permanently this time), and Huan insisting on investigating every leaf-pile and refuse heap, because there was Something There in one of them. Getting both of them absolutely filthy in the process. Celegorm knew Huan well enough to know there would be no turning him from a purpose, but he was having trouble imagining what good or use could come from one of the Enemy's discards.

It turned out being absolutely filthy was useful in keeping any of the few remaining guards (such as they were) or other inhabitants of the outpost from noticing them as not belonging. Or at all really. They were able to get right inside the (poor excuse for — hunting might be Celegorm's primary interest and skill-set, but he was Noldor, and Feanor's son; durable work was what they did) walls and fortifications. Celegorm knew pigs that would refuse to wallow in the muck that had been made of the place. Taking it out would be doing Beleriand a favor.

And then Huan found the true abomination, vileness unspeakable. Celegorm hoped he never had to hear Huan make that particular sound ever again, vain though such hope might be. He never shared what he saw in that shallow ditch, only that he rescued everything living from it. One of those things was a tiny, leathery scrap of a thing with ears nearly as long as its absurd and fragile neck, and odd mottles all over it. Huan nosed it very gently out from under several other mottled things, breathing warmth on it and licking it until it made a tiny meeping noise.

Gently gathering up the creature, wrapping it in his cloak, Celegorm looked up to see that what he had taken for a badly built wall was actually a broken wall, the wooden framing pushed out from the inside as if something had forced its way out of what had been a narrow doorway.

Inside, barely visible in the smokey light of guttering torches, were rows and rows of cages.

The other members of his small scouting party had gathered in the courtyard behind him, and Celegorm felt their presence like a buoying flame.

"See if there is anything, anyone who can be rescued, and then we are razing this place to the ground."

It was not for nothing that all the Sons of Feanor knew how to make and shape fire, even if it was a skill some of them used more rarely than others.

—————Dragon's Breath—————

Fingon was riding out with his picked patrol. Rumor of a new evil had come to his ears, and he had chosen to go hunting for it himself. They were only a day out from Barad Eithel when they found it.

There was a slither of wrong gold in the tall grass ahead of them. It moved a little like a snake, like a lizard, like a big cat, like none and all of them. It moved with purpose and with menace, and cast a shadow on the mind, for all it shone and glittered in the sunlight.

"Ware ahead" Fingon said quietly, knowing his people would hear him, and hopefully the creature would not. But no, it was not a creature, an animal. Even as he thought the word, he realized the thing had a fea, was some kind of person, self-aware, likely speaking if not Speaking. And that fea was foul.

His riders spread out in a practiced pincer-shape, Fingon at the hinge point, keeping a close watch on the thing.

Just as the circle closed, it reared up, and shouted in a voice that Fingon heard as much in his bones as his ears "Fear me, puny Elves, for I am Glaurung, the first Dragon! I have already destroyed weak ones stronger than you!" It — he — spun on his tail, sunlight flashing from his scales, trying for a dazzle that missed its mark.

Liringil called out from across the circle "I don't care how shiny and gold it is, it is not coming home with us."

Fingon answered in kind, "Oh, I wholly agree, not someone anyone would want as part of their household, outside accommodations or not." His stout boar-spear was under his hand, loose and ready.

Glaurung puffed up, whipping his head back and forth between them, apparently unsure of which he should go for first. All the Elves had weapons in hand, but were staying just beyond what they guessed — hoped — was immediate range.

The dragon (small, for a dragon, if one went by the tales) darted at at Liringil, who danced her horse back a step, aiming to put the wyrm in a position for Fingon's spear. Fingon took the opening she made for him and thrust for the exposed throat. But Glaurung was quick, faster than a snake, and twisted away. Fingon's spear found the right near shoulder-joint anyway, and Glaurung let out a screech of rage and pain, the smokey blast of his foul breath catching Fingon full in the face.

Suddenly, every mended break in Fingon's arms and shoulders, hands and ribs and ankles, every chilblain and frost-burn ached and burned anew. For a moment, it seemed as though the Ice-bear had mauled him again, only deeper, His eyes stung fiercely, watering such he could barely see, and his lungs wanted to cramp, to cough, to seize up, so vile was the self-named 'dragon's' fume. (At least it wasn't fire, but he was, apparently, still young and not fully grown.) Fingon ignored his hroa's distress with long practice, and thrust harder with the spear, singing a note that rasped his now-raw throat, that sped it true and deep. He could feel the spearhead grate against bone before he twisted it hard and yanked it back, finally allowing his horse to wheel away. He'd done some real damage with that thrust, and more pulling it back. The dragon (he was not going to give it strength by thinking of it by its name) was hobbling on three legs now, and that shoulder was black with ichor.

Fingon hoped the 'blow' he had taken would not prove lasting, but that was not a thing to think about now. Instead he exchanged spear for bow, and blinked his watering eyes that he might see to shoot. He didn't think rubbing them would be a good idea.

His riders had circled in, quick to aim and shoot and wheel away. The horses were no more interested in getting too close than the riders, especially after seeing the way the grass withered under the blast of the wyrm's breath, and how both Fingon and his horse were blinking and breathing harshly. Every arrow found a mark, though none managed a more crippling blow than Fingon's spear.

After a second pass, the creature had had enough, and darted, low to the ground, between the last two horses, arrows like pins in a pincushion still in his hide. it vanished in the grass more quickly than they could follow. Not as satisfying a fight as if they had managed to kill it, but well enough, against a new foe. A dragon. Just what they needed added to the black foe's arsenal.

—————Meeting in the Middle—————

Ard Galen the Noldor and the Northern Sindar that rode by choice with them patrolled in common, following tracks, chasing orc-bands, hunting food and foe at need without particular regard for where one person/prince’s oversight ended and another’s began. They were all in this together after all, and it was much more important that the foe be harried and destroyed when possible than any borders between themselves be held. The only line that really mattered was that which separated Angband from themselves. And even that was less a line than an idea. It was unusual for Celegorm to be quite so far West, where it was not that uncommon for Fingon to be found riding East. The most surprising thing was that they had managed to meet in the middle without plan or communication. (Celegorm had one of his father's palantiri, and so did Fingon, but neither with them; both stones generally staying at their base-camp/fortress/secure place from whence they ventured out. The Stone at Barad Eithel was much too large to carry casually anyway.)

But met they had. And well met. Well met indeed.

Long under the stars they spoke, though of the cousins they were not alike, and ordinarily did not have much to do with one another.

That all sounds very well, and true even, but hardly gets at how that meeting actually went.

When Celegorm saw Fingon's banner from where he was crouched behind a jumble of rocks on a low rise, his first feeling was relief. Celegorm could hand off the entire assemblage of rescuees, including the infant creature he still didn't have a name for, and get back to his own lands and out from under the louring shadow of Thangorodrim. He couldn't see the black peaks, but he was always aware they were there. He would go all the way to Barad Eithel if need be, but Fingon and Fingolfin were the refugee experts and responsible ones, not him.

His second feeling was worry.

As they got closer, Celegorm stepped out from behind the rocks and down to the edge of the small copse of trees. He was quickly spotted, and the patrol changed course to meet him, Fingon and his second — Liringil, that was her name — close behind him. Fingon was practically shining, but the color in his cheeks was hectic, not just high, and Liringil was looking equal parts pleased and concerned.

Before Celegorm could say anything, Fingon greeted him not with an ordinary salutation, but the statement "We fought a dragon!"

Celegorm, surprised, shot back with "Well I found a Girabbit." Oh. That's what its name and kind was.

Fingon sat back suddenly, stopping his horse. "A what?"

Not often Celegorm got to startle Fingon. "A Girabbit. It looks like someone crossed a giraffe and a really big rabbit, long neck, long ears, puff-ball tail, big, long feet that can kick like anything. Girabbit. It's only little as yet though."

He took a breath, and what Fingon had greeted him with actually registered. "Wait, did you just say you fought a dragon? An actual dragon, not a were-lizard or snake or some horrible combination? Not a giant Rock-Slither? Since when do we have dragons to contend with, on top of everything else?"

Even Fingon's horse was looking a little spooked. Celegorm reached out a calming hand, and she nosed it.

Either Fingon and his people had had a chance to clean up a little after the fight or it had been a fight from range — no black blood, corrosive or otherwise, nor red (or green or yellow or other horrifying colors either) stained clothes or hide, hair or skin — but they'd not had a chance to rest. Fingon was still in alt, breath just a little fast, hands too quick, having to be careful on the light rein of his equally high-hearted horse. His eyes were very bright and the gold in his braids gleamed and sparked more than the low sun could account for.

Suddenly, for all that he had known Fingon for nearly the whole of their lives, Celegorm understood (some of) what it was Maedhros saw in him. (Not sure he would ever entirely understand what Fingon saw in his brother, but that hardly mattered.)

Fingon was speaking, "Yes. An actual dragon. A great gold wyrm with a malice about him, and smoke but no flame. Foul breath. No wings either, or not functional. There were some odd bumps on his back. But I expect it was young. My patrol and I did it some damage with boar-spears and war-arrows, but it proved too quick for us, and got away before we could finish it off. It spoke, too: named itself Glaurung. I did not like the look of it, and it was harder to fight than it ought to have been. I've not heard of any other reports than the one that brought us out to investigate and hopefully deal with it, so 'when' is as of a week or so ago. Werewolves, vampire-bats" (Fingon shuddered, an all-over shiver. Celegorm hadn't seen him do that in a very long time.) "balrogs, ever-increasing hordes of orcs, and now dragons."

If Fingon thought it hard to fight, it must have been difficult indeed. Fingon’s ideas of hard and easy were ridiculously skewed.

If his cousin were a horse, or a dog, or a hunting-cat — no, not a cat, not in this — he would need gentling down, cooling off, carefully, not too quickly, or he'd do himself damage. Still, a dragon (what was a dragon, out of a wonder-tale)? But even there he should have come down more than this by now. Unless the thing's breath was poisonous? Which Fingon had obviously gotten enough of to smell, which was likely too close. That would be just like the architect of that horrible place they'd just come from. A young monster such as Fingon described could easily have done the damage Celegorm and Huan had seen there.

Huan's low throat-sound and the rub of his head on Celegorm's thigh said he agreed with that thought, both the horror-place and the poison-breath idea, and the apparent need to get Fingon settled down. Huan liked Fingon.

Celegorm's own second, Morfalir, had come out of the trees. He was carrying the Girabbit, but had left Ambalo and the rest of the rescuees in the grove. Fingon dismounted with less than his usual grace, attention caught.

Inspiration struck, and Celegorm said something soothing while scooping up the Girabbit and presenting him to Fingon, thinking, 'Here, have a ridiculous baby animal-person to hold. Ground. Center. Calm down. Nelyo will never forgive me if I let you run yourself into danger or damage out of something I could have helped and didn't.'

(Fingon's scouts were quite obviously relieved. Celegorm could imagine them thinking something along the lines of 'Oh thank whomever, someone he'll listen to about taking care for himself. Who isn't beholden. Not that he doesn't listen to us, most of the time. But, it's not the same. None of us are Princes. And some of us feel that more than others. Even when he never treats any of us as lesser. Though did it have to be Celegorm, of all the bloody Feanorians? Why not Maglor, or Maedhros, or one of the Twins? At least it isn't Curufin! (Curufin makes really nice swords and armor, though give him that.')

Fingon leaned against his horse, and let Celegorm put the creature — Girabbit? — in his arms. The weight stopped the faint tremble in his wrists, which was a relief. He was speaking soothing words as Liringil dismounted next.

Celegorm was talking quietly to Liringil, asking her something, glancing over at Fingon. Then he raised his voice a little to be more generally heard. "Why don't we all camp for the night here? It's a good grove, my rescuees could use the rest, and I'm thinking you all could too."

He was not wrong about needing rest. It was a good idea. Fingon nodded when Liringil glanced at him.

Liringil agreed, and set the patrol to setting camp. Ambalo and Huan brought the rest of the rescuees out from where they had been hiding since they had first seen Fingon's riders.

Liringil pressed a cup into Fingon's hand — he'd been talking to, engaging with the Girabbit, and had not really noticed what had been going on around him. (Yes, he was that out of it. It frightened him a little, which, indeed, it should.) He drank it. It had a bite like miruvor but sharper and not so healing-quality, but it would serve. If nothing else it eased his throat.

Someone else had brought him his little travel-harp, and Fingon slid down to sit on the ground, back against one of the young trees, the Girabbit all legs and feet and neck, attempting to get as much of himself in Fingon's lap. He settled for keeping his head there and one front foot-paw on a knee. The other knee was occupied with the harp, Fingon playing very carefully and mindfully.

Camp assembled around him, practiced, efficient. The trees were good ones, the grove large enough to have a spring and a tiny stream. Soon there was a shelter rigged overhead, so the predicted rain would not chill the young creature — or indeed the other handful of rescuees that Celegorm coaxed out of hiding, out of his pack and from down his tunic (that was the twisted lesser were-worm, who had recognized Celegorm through the group-sense of its kind).

Gradually, the antic, almost fevered jitteryness cleared from his mind, and Fingon could think again in measured steady thoughts. He looked down at Huan, whose head was anchoring one of Fingon's feet, and up at Celegorm, who appeared to be carefully cataloguing the available game that might be found to feed the dozen elves and an uncertain number of other beings. "Thank you."

Now he could look properly at the odd creature that Celegorm had rescued (and this was obviously a true rescue, especially considering the other odd, bedraggled creatures he had brought with him, all of them with a faint and thankfully fading tinge that was shudderingly familiar to the poisonous breath of the dragon) was warm and surprisingly soft, behind the ears at least. It nuzzled at Fingon's chest, and sighed at finding nothing of use to him there. Fingon was reminded of hungry infant cousins and siblings, seeking likewise fruitlessly, and concluded the creature was no doubt hungry, and still young enough that while milk would be best, vegetable broth would probably do.

Mottled shapes on the neck, shoulders, haunches in warm shades of straw gold and earthen brown that had little to do with the summer grass and turf of the northern lands the Noldor lived in. A creature like nothing he had ever seen before, but obviously intelligent, likely even Speaking, though he could not quite imagine what language it spoke. Celegorm would know. How fortunate then that Celegorm was here as well, with an entire motley assortment of … people. Of some kind. Where had he found them, and why bring them all to him?

Because of all the Lords of the fence of the North, he was the one, other than Celegorm, who could perceive that they were all … people. Of some sort. With feär.

——

The Girabbit took to Fingon immediately, and was instantly at home in Barad Eithel and the house near Lake Mithrim. He provided no little relief from the stresses of his life. When he wrote to Maedhros telling him about the whole adventure, the letter he got back was full of laughter, but also understanding.

With food and care and affection, the Girabbit swiftly grew. His neck could stretch out astonishingly far, and contract back short. He liked to lift his head to the top of the East Tower and rest his chin on the parapet (when he couldn't rest it on Fingon's shoulder.) Fingon would climb up and spend a little time feeding him leaves from the plants in barrels that had appeared one day. It was a retreat, a refuge, a place where he could think, while scratching behind the Girabbit's ears and listen to his opinions on the weather.

Not just part of the menagerie, part of the household.


King Fingon's Menagerie, sculpture and photo by Zhie


—————Menagerie—————

Valiant: possessing or showing courage or determination
— Origin: Middle English (also in the sense 'robust, well-built'): From Old French vailant, based on Latin valere 'be strong'.

Steadfast: resolute or dutifully firm and unwavering
— Origin: Old English stedefaest 'standing firm'

Menage: the members of a household
— Origin: Middle English: from Old French menage, from mainer 'to stay', influenced by Old French mesnie 'household', both ultimately based on Latin manere 'remain'

Menagerie: [A collection of wild animals kept in captivity for exhibition]
Figurative: A strange or diverse collection of people or things

——

Those who spoke of the King's Household as a menagerie were not generally intending to be complimentary. Those who spoke of Prince Fingon's household in those terms, as if he and they were a trial Fingolfin must put up with and manage, were even less likely to mean well by their words.

Anyone in either household knew better, and would either ignore, laugh or attempt to persuade the speaker of their error. Fingon and Fingolfin themselves were far too busy to do other than generally ignore the disapprobation. They had other things to worry about.

It was a menagerie in the sense that many different creatures, Speaking and not, chose to live there, cared for, respected and part of the life of Barad Eithel, always free to come and go. Part of the greater Household, and many part of Fingon's personal household, will he nil he. (He never could say no to a person in need, and it had never mattered what shape or kind that person was. Which was not to say he could not say no to specific requests, or that he was careless of danger or safety, or available resources. He was — had been taught to be, both by schooling and experience — very aware of the uncertainty of life and the ubiquity of peril in the lands they warded. He chose to face those uncertainties and dangers with hope and optimism, and was often rewarded beyond sense with trust and loyalty in return.)

It was never that they were held in cages or subject to display and exposure to uncaring eyes, however curious or appreciative. That had been Morgoth's way of handling things, and no few of creatures and people had experienced those cages and that cruelty. Fingon would have none of that, during the long leaguer or after.

——

The whole 'strange and diverse collection of people of differing kinds had started with a perfectly ordinary cat. Or what looked and felt and acted like a perfectly ordinary cat anyway, and a difference the *makes* no difference *is* no difference, no? Not to mention that everyone on this side of the Sea was far too busy to worry about that kind of philosophical question. Leave that elaborate logic to the Vanyar back in Aman. Oh, and the dogs and horses didn't count. They were productive members of the Hithlum community, not some Marred creature on display. (The dogs and horses totally *did* count: they *were* part of the community, and would tell you themselves, did one care to ask them and listen to the answer.)

Anyway, the cat. The perfectly ordinary cat. Celegorm might have said it was too ordinary to actually be ordinary, but he wasn't there that day or for many days thereafter, and Fingon’s stablemaster had never ridden in Oromë’s train. Or been particularly fond of cats beyond their use as mousers and other pest-control. The cat that padded up to Fingon one day as he was arguing with someone about something, his back getting straighter and his level tones becoming increasingly firm, sat on his feet and MRRRPPP!?ed at him, stopping the argument abruptly.

She stayed, of course. And despite her otherwise looking and seeming just like an ordinary cat. most of the people regularly in and out of the Barad Eithel fortress (and the people who were usually at Fingon's establishment in Dor Lomin) were sure she could walk through walls.

——

Next to arrive had been the fox.

Celegorm (of course it was Celegorm, who else?) had arrived unannounced and entirely unexpected, at the gates of Barad Eithel, leading his horse, Huan ranging further away than usual. He was carrying something the guards did not look at too closely (it was Celegorm, he could be carrying almost anything). Fingon had seen him arrive from the east tower, and found him in the courtyard inside the gate, waiting with unusual patience, still holding the whatever-it-was. He appeared to be talking to it.

Indeed, Celegorm was sufficiently distracted that Fingon had stopped in front of him before he noticed. Fingon eyed his cousin, "Have you a message from the Eastern Marches?" That was the usual reason for one of the Sons of Feanor to come to Barad Eithel, though messengers were more common, and it was not common for any of the brothers to come alone on such a duty.

"No."

Fingon's eyebrows rose inquiringly. A glance at Huan was uninformative, a palpable air of 'not my responsibility' in the angle of the hound's ears and gently moving tail. For all his general air of self-sufficiency, Fingon perceived an element of … embarrassment? Resignation? It reminded Fingon of long-ago days spent with his cousins in Formenos, when Ambarussa and Celegorm would wind each other up with dares and bets, the loser required to confess all to Maitimo — and/or Findarato or himself — as the eldest of their respective sibling-sets, and accept a forfeit, or just the embarrassment of having to admit losing.

"I trust Ambarussa are well?" Celegorm's expression said it all. Fingon carefully kept from laughing that he had guessed correctly. "Was it a dare? A bet? Something else entirely?"

If possible, Celegorm looked even more sheepish. “Yes. All of those.”

The bundle of red fur — precisely the color of Maedhros’ hair — butted sharp head bones against Celegorm’s chest, turning clever bright black eyes to meet Fingon's, and Fingon’s eyebrows rose yet higher. An — no, more than one, several — elegant red tails with black-tufted ends waved in and out of perception.

A Fox with, it appeared, more than one tail. At least sometimes. It was mischievous certainly, but not evil, not warped or twisted out of its true shape and nature. Fingon had learned to sense that — almost a smell, only not perceived with the nose. And there was nothing of that here. It really was not helping that its fur was the color of Maitimo"s hair.

Something akin to the intangible but very real weight of Fingon's responsibilities pressed down on him, “Would you care to expand on that? Or rather, no, just explain, whether you care to or not."

As one might expect, the tale was long, complicated and improbably yet patently true, since the creature was here, and seemed determined to stay, even once it's burnt paw was long healed.

Perhaps the (sometimes) many-tailed fox would enjoy the company of the deceptively ordinary cat.

(When Fingon wrote Maedhros about the cat and the fox and the gradually growing collection of very assorted people, he hoped the letter would bring him some joy, or at least give him a laugh. Maedhros' reply was lighter than many previous had been, and so Fingon continued to send news of them, even if only a line or two. It was not until much later that he learned just how important those small tales had been, sparks of warmth and hope for the whole of Himring, not only Maedhros.)

——

After that, creatures and people of assorted sorts found their way to refuge, some staying but days, others a season or so, some never leaving at all. The dogs — red-eared and otherwise — had swiftly come to the sensible decision to leave most of the fey creatures strictly alone, whether they spoke or not.

If Fingon was to home at Barad Eithel, or the almost equally populous house in Dor Lomin, in the Western Ered Wethrin foothills, out and about, he was rarely unaccompanied by members of the menagerie, whether Elf, Man or other-kind. Most of the animals were content to be near, not necessarily next to, or on top of, or directly underfoot, though there were some who tried, in the beginning or periodically tested the limit of Fingon (and Fingolfin, and Maedhros, and everyone else)'s patience. There were places that were strictly off-limits, including most of the actual living spaces — bedrooms, study, library, kitchen — to all but the working animals. Not that nuisance-creatures such as mice were a major problem, especially when they could be spoken to and accommodations made. Actual pests and devices of the Enemy were another story. Those the cats and the fox and the one kinked lesser were-worm were encouraged to dispatch.

Fingon suspected his father occasionally despaired of properly housing and caring for some of the rescuees and refugees, that arrived mostly in ones and twos, occasionally in larger groups, but if he did, it was never reflected in his welcome or his support of even the most odd or damaged or belligerent. On the other hand, he had tasked Fingon with the actual details and arrangements, so it was not usually Fingolfin being shouted at, wept on, slobbered on or otherwise required to confront the dreadful results of Morgoth and Sauron’s handiwork. But he would not have it otherwise.

What were a prince's responsibilities but to help take care of the people, of all kinds? That Fingon himself found comfort and satisfaction in seeing them settled, healing, becoming less skittish and afraid, finding things they could do to help each other, taking part in the community, generally living life with hope rather than despair, was all to the better. Even when that meant he spent weeks being a climbing-pole for young rock-slithers, and the sympathetic ear of choice for any number of children, Mannish, Elvish and We Are Not Asking How They Came to Be Here.

And thus it was that people began calling the assemblage Prince (and later King) Fingon's Menagerie. From them, it was a positive name, meant with love.


—————The Center Cannot Hold—————

After Dagor Bragollach, the population of Barad Eithel grew, creatures and people fleeing the destruction of Ard Galen and the devastation of much of the eastern marches. Without Fingolfin, Fingon's responsibilities grew exponentially, and as High King he no longer had time for much if any of the hands-on oversight and care of the refugees, though he saw to it that they were cared for. He still made time for those he could — and those stolen moments were very much needed.

Those who knew him knew not to disturb Fingon when he was atop the east tower unless it was truly urgent. That was where the tubs of greenery for the Girabbit were grown, and a few minutes spent in the Girabbit's company were never wasted. From the vantage the tower gave, he could assure himself that there were no enemies within their perimeter, and he could give thought to those far away in body, yet close in spirit.

As the Union of Maedhros took shape, Fingon made a point of speaking to all those of his own household (and those of the Household as well). To those who would fight, those who would stand as part of the support-train, those who wished or needed to be sent West to Cirdan, South to Nargothrond, East to the strongholds of the Dwarves. He wished none need fight, but that was generally their choice to make, not his.

Fingon sincerely wished all to be safe, even the ones who insisted on fighting with him. Alas that most of them would not survive the day. The fox did, and Liringil, to both their distress. Alas that that day went so ill.

Though after the Nirnaeth there was no menagerie. There was no Household, no fortress, no safe place in Hithlum or indeed all of what had been Ard Galen. Many of the creatures had chosen to stand with Fingon and his household, and those that had not had been encouraged and helped to find safer abodes. Had Maedhros' plan been successful, they could have returned. As it was they were scattered very widely, the fate of no few unknown.

Not the end of the story, though it seemed so at the time.


—————Beleriand Risen—————

Fingon had never asked people to find or rescue or persuade creatures to come to him. He'd never had to: they did so without any prompting, and often enough came without any intervention by Elf or Man. And caring for the creatures had never been a demand either. Fingon never hesitated to clean stalls or shovel muck or scythe hay or any of the other tasks needed, but it was rare he had too. (Rare, then, that he had had time or opportunity to; rarely enough as Prince, as King essentially impossible.) People would vie for the honor of working a stint in the menagerie quarters, and several discovered a talent and calling for the work.

Here, in recalled Barad Eithel, the creatures brought themselves, to visit or reside, and there were always willing hands to welcome them. Some of them came on the ships that sailed between Aman and Beleriand Risen, some seemed to manifest themselves from air or earth (and most probably came from the Bent World, taking advantage of the overlap of Here and There. Celegorm carefully did not think about that too hard. It made his head hurt.)

Fingon had taken to climbing the Eastern tower again, (and it wasn't to watch for Nelyo's comings and goings, what with their living together more often than not — married even! — and knowing the other unthreatened by orcs or other evil when they were apart, which they were just now, Nelyo spending some much delayed time with Nerdanel) and lavishing care on the tubs of greenery that grew there. Missing the Girabbit, Celegorm had finally realized. And if the Girabbit could come, he would be here already.

So, why wasn't he here? They'd Sung up out of memory any number of other people-beings (animals, river-spirits, tree-spirits, the creature that slept in Lake Helevorn …). If the Girabbit had still been in Beleriand when it fell into the Sea, surely he would have been recalled to life here. Not like anyone who had known him would not remember. Which strongly implied that he'd not been in Beleriand at the end, and was somewhere else. Somewhere in the Bent World, across the physical-metaphysical divide. Somewhere in Middle Earth, no doubt in trouble, or about to be in trouble, because he hadn't taken advantage of the overlap that so many others had. And it stood to reason that he, Celegorm, would need to be the one to fix that.

Because it needed to be fixed. For all their sakes.

—————And After—————

"But the tale of how the Girabbit was rescued from the Round World and brought home again to us here is a tale for another day, and better told by Celegorm than I," Fingon said, wrapping up the tale. The firelight was gilding the still attentive faces of the children, and no few of the older Elves. He'd stopped before any of the battles, though the thread of the story was present in his own mind as well as Maedhros', judging by the warmth of his hand in Fingon's own.

They were all home, and safe, in a land that might contain peril, but not the evil they had fought so long. In the morning he would go up to the top of the East Tower, and the Girabbit would nibble leaves from his hand, and talk about the weather. And if he liked, now that he was returned from his visiting, Maedhros would join him.