The stuffed mice three stuffed mice
The streets of Dale were buzzing with life, there were people everywhere and even some rather rare elves or dwarves. The market was so crowded those carrying stuff had problems getting through the dense mass of people and the noise was unbelievable. Some merchants were shouting to make the potential customers aware of their goods and they all tried to shout louder than their neighbor. It was a cacophony and the smells added to the whole experience and made it truly unforgettable. The mixed smells of food, perfume and manure mingled in a most peculiar way and you had to have a rather toughened nose not to become overwhelmed by it all.
A group of elves stood in a corner that was a bit more peaceful and less crowded than the rest of the marketplace, they all wore cloaks and looked as if they had travelled for a while, and they had. They came from Mirkwood and were there to trade and buy supplies, there was much they needed which they couldn't produce within the forest and once a year they would come to the great market to renew trading agreements and refill their supplies. Normally it was the king's butler Galion who had to go and make sure that everything was done the right way. Some of the merchants would try to trick even an elf if the opportunity presented itself and a pair of keen eyes and a mind used to dealing with less than honest people was needed.
The king had sent someone else one year, one of his advisors and the elf had ended up buying several barrels of wine that had turned to vinegar and some cloth that hadn't been properly dyed and left whoever wore it with blue skin for weeks. Thranduil didn't want that to happen again so he had given the important task to Galion who promptly reorganized the entire storage system of the palace not once but thrice just to make sure that they had everything under control and knew exactly how much they would need of everything from wheat to salt and wine. This time it was a bit different, the king himself had joined the group and he had brought his young son with him. The king had determined that it was about time that the lad saw the world of men for the first time and he had introduced the prince to the city in careful doses.
The young elf was still the equivalent to a five year old human, he was just the sweetest child anyone had seen and the humans had been beside themselves with awe and the prince had been showered with attention and gifts. The ladies at the market had given him enough sweets to cause the sugar high of all times and one aging man had even given the young elf a very nice little dagger. Legolas was naturally extremely enthusiastic about the trip and he had been nagging for months upon months about it, now that he was there he was a bit overwhelmed and at first he had hid behind his father holding his hand rather hard.
Huge blue eyes had stared at all the strange and unfamiliar things with both curiosity and a bit of fear, tbe humans were so noisy and they did stink. But they were nice though, they smiled at him and some even tried to pet his golden locks. He was safe when his ada was there, for nobody was as strong as his ada and more than that, his ada was the king and so everybody had to do what he said. Legolas had perhaps been a bit overprotected but he was loved by everybody and he was a trustful child, he soon forget his nervousness and got all excited. Thranduil had promised to buy him something nice and Legolas saw so many amazing things he really wanted.
They had looked at everything from clothes to small weapons and the elfling had huge problems with decisions, there was just too much to see there. They had been there for two days, Thranduil was negotiating a new treaty with some merchants from the south who could provide them with lots of valuable spices and medicinal herbs they were unable to grow within the woods. Thranduil had discovered that the sight of a beautiful child often softened the hearts of humans and so he had kept the elfling in the room when he was talking with the men and they had indeed melted and he had managed to get a very good deal indeed. He was in a very good mood as a result of this and now Legolas was scurrying around like a squirrel, staring at all the goods on display.
Suddenly Thranduil heard Legolas call out to him. "Ada, ada, look, look"
The excitement in the elfling's voice told him that this was something special and so he walked over to where his little son stood, jumping up and down and pointing. "Oh ada see, aren't they cute!?"
Both Thranduil and Legolas wore ordinary clothes, they looked like the average elf but everybody in Dale knew who Thranduil was and greeted him with the outmost respect and the salesman stood there with his nose almost touching the ground. Thranduil saw what Legolas had spotted, it was a cage and it was filled with some very small white mice with red eyes and soft fluffy fur. Yes, they were cute, terribly so but Thranduil had his doubts. Mice are after all not your average pets. "Ada, may I have one? Please? Oh please please, I promise I will be good for a whole yeni, I swear"
Thranduil was caught between a rock and a hard place, he didn't want to disappoint his son and at the same time he wasn't so sure that this was a good idea. The salesman smiled and bowed even deeper. "My lord, they are great pets for children, they do not bite and they are quite tame too. They do not require much care either, just some food and water and a good cage."
Legolas was staring at his father with the most adorable puppy eyes ever. "Oh ada, please, I promise I will look after it and feed it and love it and never do anything bad again."
Thranduil had to smirk, that would be the day mount Orodruin did freeze over, Legolas had a peculiar ability to cause trouble, it wasn't that the boy in any way was mean or meant to do anything wrong. No, things just happened around him, the last incident involved a serious blockage of the privies of the royal wing of the palace. The lad had explained it with his usual curiosity, he had tried to see if there was room for a pillow and a bag of flour inside of the bowl, needless to say it wasn't and the result was a very heavy flooding and some nasty stains the servants still were working on.
"Ion nin, they need a cage, and I do not think that this nice man has any cages now does he?"
Thranduil was crossing his fingers but he was disappointed when the man smiled. "Oh but I do have cages my lord, plenty. They are in my carriage, I can go get one if you like to see?"
Legolas was bouncing up and down, his eyes shining. "Yes, oh yes, I want to see!"
Thranduil sighed, rolled his eyes and fell into the very infamous parental trap of being to yielding to his child, he didn't want to see Legolas sad and after all, it was just mice wasn't it? The man went and came back with a cage, it was perhaps a meter tall, a meter wide and half a meter long and made from very dense netting, it looked as if it could hold some mice without any risk of them getting away. "See? This is excellent workmanship and it is after all very good for children to have pets, it teaches them responsibility."
Legolas was listening to the man with his mouth open in a silly looking grin and his son was so cute Thranduil couldn't help it, he gave in, or rather, his resistance crumbled like a rotten tree in a hurricane. "Alright Ion nin, but then you take care of it."
Legolas stared at the mice, he swallowed. "Uh…won't it miss its friends?"
His voice was a bit thin and the salesman smiled. "It is usual to buy two or more, because they are used to be a small group yes. "
Thranduil sighed, he had lost and he knew it. "Alright, fine, we'll have two but you'd better make darn sure they both are female."
The salesman nodded and opened the cage. "Of course my lord, now let us see."
He lifted up one small white mouse, its nose shivered and Legolas giggled with joy, it was such a wonderful sound and Thranduil felt how his heart swelled with love, he would do anything for his son, anything. Legolas reached out and let a finger slide across the small white body, very gently. "Oh ada, it is so soft"
There was awe in his voice and Thranduil smiled. "I am sure it is."
The salesman picked up yet another one and lifted the tail to check the plumbing before he dropped both mice into a travelling cage and Thranduil sighed. "How much?"
The salesman shook his head. "Oh no, it is for free, I am honored by this and I do not want any money. I can now proudly call myself provider of royal pets and that should boost my income a lot. I am very grateful."
Thranduil knew that he would insult the man if he tried to insist upon paying so he just placed his hand over his heart and bowed his head as a sign of respect. Legolas was beaming with joy and held the small travelling cage as if it contained the most precious of jewels. Thranduil stroked his sons golden locks lovingly. "Now, do you have a name for these two fluffy ones?"
Thranduil thought that the mice did look a lot like dust bunnies but he didn't say that loud, the mice were rather nice looking and he was glad his son had fallen for mice and not some horrible pet like a snake or a lizard or something, the very idea made him cringe. Legolas grinned from ear to ear. "Yes Ada, I will name them Ithil and Anor."
Thranduil just smiled. It was grand names for such tiny creatures but who cared, his son was happy and then Thranduil was happy too. They went back to the inn and Legolas immediately started to care for the two tiny creatures. It was rather adorable and Thranduil was glad his son had this affection for animals, it was a good character trait. The next day the trading was done and the elves returned to their woods, Legolas rode proudly upon his pony with the small cage with the mice strapped onto the back of the saddle and the large cage on one of the carriages and Thranduil was seeing the grin upon the faces of his servants. They found it really sweet that the prince was so happy with having gotten such a humble gift, two mice and a cage.
They got back to the palace and Legolas placed the cage within his own room. He got some rocks and sand and moss and straw and made the cage very homely and the mice soon made it their home and they thrived. The elfling was really fond of the two tiny ones and he did take great care of them. He would feed them with pieces of fruit and nuts and even some cheese and the mice lived a very comfortable life indeed. Legolas would let them climb all over him and he did take great care so that the tiny ones didn't get hurt in any way. Thranduil was in fact a bit surprised by the maturity the elfling showed and he was very proud of the young one's dedication and degree of care.
But alas, often things do come to an end and the end of the mouse business came one early morning in summer when Legolas got out of bed and to his horror discovered that the door to the cage had been left ajar the evening before. And the two spoiled mice had found the idea of freedom irresistible and were nowhere to be seen. Thranduil had to comfort a bawling elfling and the servants were looking all over the palace but there were no sign of the two mice. Often owls and other nocturnal creatures would go hunting at night and Thranduil feared that the two swiftly had been reduced to a fluffy snack for some hungry mouth.
Thranduil managed to calm Legolas down by promising him a new pony or perhaps even a fawn to play with and the elfling grieved his two small companions for a few weeks but then they were forgotten, a young heart heals fast and there were so many things for a young mind to explore and Legolas didn't linger with the loss.
Ithil and Anor hadn't fallen prey to some owl or ferret, no, they had followed a scent they knew and they had found their way through cracks and crevices and ended up in what had to be mouse heaven. Galion had reorganized the whole storage level of the palace, it was a huge area dedicated just to storing stuff and he had tried to make it more efficient. There were a few rooms at the back of the area that were abandoned as a result of this, they were too damp and the corridor leading to them was too narrow and so they went out of use.
But the butler had done a mistake, one of the rooms had been used to store and prepare cheese, one of king Oropher's closest friends had a peculiar hobby, he made cheese and he had been allowed to use the room to make the cheese mature in a perfect environment. Someone had failed to notify Galion of this and the room was still filled with cheese, a lot of cheese. Most of it had passed beyond inedible decades ago but to a mouse it was a delicacy and Ithil and Anor were soon looking what in geometry is described as an orb and could need some serious dieting.
The salesman had checked them when he put them into the cage but that check had been done in a hurry and the man didn't have quite as good an eyesight as he liked to believe. Anor wasn't a female after all, he was a very virile male and before long Ithil became even fatter than she had been. Mice do breed well, Ithil became the proud mother of thirteen small pups and after a few months she was a grandmother. There was plenty of food, plenty of water running of the wall, no predators…It was a recipe for what a population biologist would refer to as exponential growth. Two became fifteen became seventy four became two hundred and eighteen and so on and so forth. At the end of the year the room was crowded with mice and now the food became sparse. The cheese was devoured and they started seeking better feeding grounds.
It was the cook that discovered the first signs of the impending disaster, he saw some strange black spots on some stew he had left in the pantry over-night and at first he thought it was peppercorns but it soon proved that he was wrong. It was mouse droppings.
In a fit of panic he closed off the pantry and ran to the master of the kitchens, the ellon was a very dignified elf who never let his emotions rule him, he listened to the frantic cook with a calm expression and told the ellon to place a few mousetraps here and there. After all, there are bound to be mice where people settle and he was sure that the problem would be easily solved. By the Valar were he wrong. The cook caught two white mice that day and thought that it was over, done with, the end of the infestation. It was like trying to stop a volcanic eruption with a spoon and a towel. The mice had found the way to the pantry now and the next morning when the kitchen maidens were to open the pantry to prepare the food for the breakfast they were facing an impossible sight. The room was teeming with mice, small white ones with glowing red eyes and they were everywhere, some had even managed to drown in the jugs of milk standing on the shelves. There were mice in the flour, in the potato sacks, in the sacks of nuts and dried fruit. Mice had gotten drunk from licking up the spillage from the mead barrels and mice had found their way up onto every shelf in the room. It looked a bit as if it had snowed in the room, rather heavily and that snow was moving and squeaking and naturally the kitchen maidens got the shock of that age.
The cook and the other workers there armed themselves with broomsticks and hammers and everything else that could be used as a weapon but the door was left open and now the mice saw an opportunity to really start discovering new ground. It was an exodus of mice and they just kept coming. At the end of the day there wasn't a room that wasn't feeling the effect of this invasion. There were mice in the linen closets, mice in the stables, mice in the armory. They ate everything they could get their sharp teeth into, even the leather of the horses tacks. They ate cloth, they ate wood, some unfortunate elves woke up from their slumber discovering that mice had gnawed of locks of their hair just to make nests.
The palace went into a state of complete chaos, there were mice swimming in the baths, some came crawling out of the privies and the horrors that invoked were worse than what a full on orc attack could have caused. Thranduil found mice gnawing at his favorite robes, some had destroyed his crown since they were eying the berries attached to the thin branches and when he lifted the lid of a bowl of stew to have dinner he found not food but three stuffed mice. Legolas was at first thrilled, he had gotten his pets back! Then he got confused for these mice didn't want him to pet them, one of them actually bit him when he tried to pick it up and there were just too many of them. It wasn't cute anymore, it was frightening. The mice looked like small ghosts and the sounds they made were scary too, a high pitched squealing that hurt the sensitive elven ears. And the smell! The entire palace soon reeked of mouse and Thranduil was aghast when he tried to get to bed and found five litters of mice, freshly born, underneath his covers. He started to fear that the goddamn mice would manage to do what the orcs hadn't, force them to abandon their home.
The horses were getting skittish due to the mice scurrying around their legs, the hens stopped laying and the dogs tried to kill mice but the small rascals were too many and too swift. The elves were in despair. The mice did what all living creatures do, they defecate and everything was covered with droppings. The healers were fuming because of the lack of hygiene in the healing ward and many got sick to their stomach because of the contaminations. They had to get water from outside of the palace and Thranduil ordered half of the army to go mouse hunting. He armed the warriors with clubs and it became one bloody and terrible mess but there was no end to the mice. They just kept coming and the elves tried to exterminate them by going through the entire palace room after room but to no prevail. There were too many crevices and cracks in the rock in which the mice could hide.
Then one evening Aiwendil the brown wizard arrived. Thranduil had sent a message to him and the wizard had never heard of anything like that before. The infestation was horrible, traps, poison or dogs didn't change anything, they were too many. Ithil and Anor had indeed followed the scripture and become plentiful and they obviously had managed to transfer their fertility and libido to all of their descendants. The elves had tried to remove everything edible to starve the mice but not even that had worked, and now the mice became desperate and got aggressive. Some elflings had gotten bitten and a babe had been attacked while in the crib and got badly hurt so they had to do something and they had to do it fast.
Aiwendil was in shock, he had never witnessed anything like that and he was at first a bit scared that he wouldn't be able to do anything about this menace, then he got an idea. He had one of the carpenters summoned to his chamber and gave the man some very strict instructions. The morning after the wizard went into the courtyard and with him he brought a flute. It didn't look much like other musical instruments though, it wasn't straight but bent and it looked more like a branch than a flute but it had holes in it and the weird looking wizard started playing it. The sound was awful, it sounded as if some tiny thing was being tortured in the moist horrific ways and the elves had to plug their ears but to the mice this was obviously the equivalent of a lovely aria. They gathered around the wizard and it looked like a river of white bodies.
The elves stood there awestruck as the wizard started to walk out of the palace and the mice followed him, like they were tied to him by a leash. A sea of white came after the wizard and Thranduil waved him goodbye and thought good riddance. He had given the ishtari clear instructions regarding where he was to go with these pests. Soon there were just a few mice left and they were not such a great problem.
Thranduil grasped two of his guards, gave them a pouch of gold and the order to go and buy as many cats as possible and they gladly obeyed. The king had just said cats, it didn't matter what sort of cats it was as long as they caught mice, tomcats, bobcats, whatever. So they returned with everything from skinny feral creatures who hissed and spat even at elves to groomed and shiny ones with a pedigree and all. And the reign of mice thus ended and peace was restored to the realm, or perhaps not.
A few months later they did notice that the orc no longer attacked so often and the groups were smaller, the forces of Dol Guldur were obviously occupied doing something else than fighting the elves. Rumors said that there was some sort of infestation problem and that the orcs all stayed near the privies due to diarrhea and vomiting. And many a spider's nest were found completely ruined by rodents, not a single egg was left alive.
Legolas got a cat of his own, he named it Sassy and it spent every night in his room and he was very fond of it. One morning when Thranduil came to bid his son good morning he was met with a beaming Legolas and a very proud and protective mother with six little ones. "Look Ada, I have gotten kittens!"
Thranduil had to turn around, do a facepalm and send a short prayer to Eru. "Dear lord, not again!"
But cats do after all not breed quite as fast as mice and they were both needed and useful and so the cats stayed. And even Thranduil found it soothing to sit there on his throne with a purring feline on his lap.