The Menagrie, V. V

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At dusk the prisoners were let out and given a chance to walk around, stretch, and relieve themselves. They were given simple bread and soup, but it was delicious compared to the fare they had on the ship, which is to say, nothing. The regal Altmer came to view them. She stared at them an uncomfortably long time and then said, “Yes, you will do. Which one of you is the actor?”

“I am, my lady,” Maricent said with a little bow.

“Do not mock me,” the Altmer said. “I will not tolerate it. All four of you are to be the stars of a performance. A most unusual performance. You must make these other three as good at acting as you can by the time we arrive at the Crystal Tower. You have two weeks.”

With that she left and the prisoners were tied up and had to sleep, as comfortably as they could, on the ground. The next few days Maricent tried to explain acting to the other prisoners and had them practice a few simple scenes. It didn’t go well. Only Rolath had any real interest in it, and only when he wasn’t lamented Lush. Esmoran would half-heartedly say his lines when he wasn’t lost in thought. Andre seemed to think being a sailor was as low as he could sink. To become an actor was unthinkable, and he refused to participate at all.

The last few days they could see the Crystal Tower in the distance. It was immense, so tall and oddly constructed that it seemed impossible. And yet there it was, drawing closer and larger every day.

When they reached the base, the regal Altmer announced that her caravan contained donations to the menagerie. The prisoners and the creatures were all taken out and sent into the lower parts of the tower. After a maze of wide corridors, they came to a set of animals pens. Each of them was shoved into one of the pens and the door locked behind them. “Pick a costume,” said one of the Altmer, with a wicked smile, “and put it on. Choose carefully. You’ll be performing a long time.”

Maricent looked around his cell. It was large enough to move around in, and there was a pool of gently running water, for drinking or perhaps bathing, on one side. The floor was not flat, but of large stones. Adamantine bars covered one wall. The opposite wall had a set of pegs and on each peg hung what looked like a fur coat.

And yet each coat was different. Maricent walked over to them and inspected them. One seemed to be that of a snow bear. Another was the skin, the real skin as best Maricent could tell, of a forest troll. Another was of a wolf. The last was all wood and leaves and Maricent suspected it might be a spriggan.

Maricent thought about the Altmer’s words, that he would be playing this “role” for some time. Alas, none of these costumes were likely to be a speaking role. He held them all up again and decided on the wood and leaf one, as it seemed like it would be the most comfortable if it stretched a bit. He tried it on, and to his surprise, it fit perfectly. He tested walking a little and realized the costume must be enchanted as bees, firefies, leaves, and butterflies began to dance around his hands as he waved them around in vaguely magical gestures.

He was tired and tried to take the costume off to lie down and sleep, but with the costume’s gloves on, he couldn’t seem to get a grip on the ties and zippers. He gave up and lay down on the flattest rock.

When he awoke, the bare stone offended him. It was lifeless, barren. He stood in the pool and drank and drank, but it only made him crankier. The water, too, was lifeless and sterile. How dare they keep him here. His heart beat terribly slowly, but it began to grow faster, and the sluggish sap began to flow. Let these stones bear. Seed them, seed them, a thousand flowers bloom! Split the rocks, murk the pool, climb vines upon the walls, upon the bars of the prison!

Maricent felt the magic, ancient magics, flowing through him and here and there on the stones were new small patches of soil. A few sprouts grew. The pool was slightly discolored. He was elated, and looked upon the little sprouts with the joy of a new mother.

And then he wondered what was going on. He was Maricent the Great, not a spriggan! He struggled again, to take off the suit, but now the zippers and ties were missing, and trying to pull on the suit hurt as if it were stuck to his skin. He panicked and tried to rip the costume off, but he only managed to tear his bark…er, his skin. He watched as small drops of amber sap pooled around the wound.

Somehow this suit had turned him into a spriggan. He looked at the wall where the other suits hung, but the pegs were now empty. They must have taken them while he slept. What could he do? He felt the nature spirit taking over once more, and as much as he fought it, he was not himself again for some time. His last thought was, at least I didn’t pick the troll.

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