The Lay Of Leithian : Cantos 9, 10

by J. R. R. Tolkien

J. R. R. Tolkien

In Wizard's Isle still lay forgot,
enmeshed and tortured in that grot
cold, evil, doorless, without light,
and blank-eyed stared at endless night
two comrades. Now alone they were.
The others lived no more, but bare
their broken bones would lie and tell
how ten had served their master well.
To Felagund then Beren said:
''Twere little loss if I were dead,
and thus, perchance, from this dark hell
thy life to loose. I set thee free
from thine old oath, for more for me
hast thou endured than e'er was earned.'
'A! Beren, Beren hast not learned
that promises of Morgoth's folk
are frail as breath. From this dark yoke
of pain shall neither ever go,
whether he learn our names or no,
with Thû's consent. Nay more, I think
yet deeper of torment we should drink,
knew he that son of Barahir
and Felagund were captive here,
and even worse if he should know
the dreadful errand we did go.'
A devil's laugh they ringing heard
within their pit. 'True, true the word
I hear you speak,' a voice then said.
''Twere little loss if he were dead,
the outlaw mortal. But the king,
the Elf undying, many a thing
no man could suffer may endure.
Perchance, when what these walls immure
of dreadful anguish thy folk learn,
their king to ransom they will yearn
with gold and gem and high hearts cowed;
or maybe Celegorm the proud
will deem a rival's prison cheap,
and crown and gold himself will keep.
Perchance, the errand I shall know,
ere all is done, that ye did go.
The wolf is hungry, the hour is nigh;
no more need Beren wait to die.'
The slow time passed. Then in the gloom
two eyes there glowed. He saw his doom,
Beren, silent, as his bonds he strained
beyond his mortal might enchained.
Lo! sudden there was rending sound
of chains that parted and unwound,
of meshes broken. Forth there leaped
upon the wolvish thing that crept
in shadow faithful Felagund,
careless of fang or venomed wound.
There in the dark they wrestled slow,
remorseless, snarling, to and fro,
teeth in flesh, grip on throat,
fingers locked in shaggy coat,
spurning Beren who there lying
heard the werewolf gasping, dying.
Then a voice he heard: 'Farewell!
On earth I need no longer dwell,
friend and comrade, Beren bold.
My heart is burst, my limbs are cold.
Here all my power I have spent
to break my bonds, and dreadful rent
of poisoned teeth is in my breast.
I now must go to my long rest
neath Timbrenting in timeless halls
where drink the Gods, where the light falls
upon the shining sea.' Thus died the king,
as elvish singers yet do sing.
There Beren lies. His grief no tear,
his despair no horror has nor fear,
waiting for footsteps, a voice, for doom.
Silences profounder than the tomb
of long-forgotten kings, neath years
and sands uncounted laid on biers
and buried everlasting-deep,
slow and unbroken round him creep.
The silences were sudden shivered
to silver fragments. Faint there quivered
a voice in song that walls of rock,
enchanted hill, and bar and lock,
and powers of darkness pierced with light.
He felt about him the soft night
of many stars, and in the air
were rustlings and a perfume rare;
the nightingales were in the trees,
slim fingers flute and viol seize
beneath the moon, and one more fair
than all there be or ever were
upon a lonely knoll of stone
in shimmering raiment danced alone.
Then in his dream it seemed he sang,
and loud and fierce his chanting rang,
old songs of battle in the North,
of breathless deeds, of marching forth
to dare uncounted odds and break
great powers, and towers, and strong walls shake;
and over all the silver fire
that once Men named the Burning Briar,
the Seven Stars that Varda set
about the North, were burning yet,
a light in darkness, hope in woe,
the emblem vast of Morgoth's foe.
'Huan, Huan! I hear a song
far under welling, far but strong;
a song that Beren bore aloft.
I hear his voice, I have heard it oft
in dream and wandering.' Whispering low
thus Lúthien spake. On the bridge of woe
in mantle wrapped at dead of night
she sat and sang, and to its height
and to its depth the Wizard's Isle,
rock upon rock and pile on pile,
trembling echoed. The werewolves howled,
and Huan hidden lay and growled
watchful listening in the dark,
waiting for battle cruel and stark.
Thû heard that voice, and sudden stood
wrapped in his cloak and sable hood
in his high tower. He listened long,
and smiled, and knew that elvish song.
'A! little Lúthien! What brought
the foolish fly to web unsought?
Morgoth! a great and rich reward
to me thou wilt owe when to thy hoard
this jewel is added.' Down he went,
and forth his messengers he sent.
Still Lúthien sang. A creeping shape
with bloodred tongue and jaws agape
stole on the bridge; but she sang on
with trembling limbs and wide eyes wan.
The creeping shape leaped to her side,
and gasped, and sudden fell and died.
And still they came, still one by one,
and each was seized, and there were none
returned with padding feet to tell
that a shadow lurketh fierce and fell
at the bridge's end, and that below
the shuddering waters loathing flow
o'er the grey corpses Huan killed.
A mightier shadow slowly filled
the narrow bridge, a slavering hate,
an awful werewolf fierce and great:
pale Draugluin, the old grey lord
of wolves and beasts of blood abhorred,
that fed on flesh of Man and Elf
beneath the chair of Thû himself.
No more in silence did they fight.
Howling and baying smote the night,
till back by the chair where he had fed
to die the werewolf yammering fled.
'Huan is there' he gasped and died,
and Thû was filled with wrath and pride.
'Before the mightiest he shall fall',
before the mightiest wolf of all',
so thought he now, and thought he knew
how fate long spoken should come true.
Now there came slowly forth and glared
into the night a shape long-haired,
dank with poison, with awful eyes
wolvish, ravenous; but there lies
a light therein more cruel and dread
than ever wolvish eyes had fed.
More huge were its limbs, its jaws more wide,
its fangs more gleaming-sharp, and dyed
with venom, torment, and with death.
The deadly vapour of its breath
swept on before it. Swooning dies
the song of Luthien, and her eyes
are dimmed and darkened with a fear,
cold and poisonous and drear.
Thus came Thû, as wolf more great
than e'er was seen from Angband's gate
to the burning south, than ever lurked
in mortal lands or murder worked.
Sudden he sprang, and Huan leaped
aside in shadow. On he swept
to Lúthien lying swooning faint.
To her drowning senses came the taint
of his foul breathing, and she stirred;
dizzily she spake a whispered word,
her mantle brushed across his face.
He stumbled staggering in his pace.
Out leaped Huan. Back he sprang.
Beneath the stars there shuddering rang
the cry of hunting wolves at bay,
the tongue of hounds that fearless slay.
Backward and forth they leaped and ran
feinting to flee, and round they span,
and bit and grappled, and fell and rose.
Then suddenly Huan holds and throws
his ghastly foe; his throat he rends,
choking his life. Not so it ends.
From shape to shape, from wolf to worm,
from monster to his own demon form,
Thû changes, but that desperate grip
he cannot shake, nor from it slip.
No wizardry, nor spell, nor dart,
nor fang, nor venom, nor devil's art
could harm that hound hart and boar
had hunted once in Valinor.
Nigh the foul spirit Morgoth made
and bred of evil shuddering strayed
from its dark house, when Lúthien rose
and shivering looked upon his throes.
'O demon dark, O phantom vile
of foulness wrought, of lies and guile,
here shalt thou die, thy spirit roam
quaking back to thy master's home
his scorn and fury to endure;
thee he will in the bowels immure
of groaning earth, and in a hole
everlastingly thy naked soul
shall wail and gibber -- this shall be,
unless the keys thou render me
of thy black fortress, and the spell
that bindeth stone to stone thou tell,
and speak the words of opening.'
With gasping breath and shuddering
he spake, and yielded as he must,
and vanquished betrayed his master's trust.
Lo! by the bridge a gleam of light,
like stars descended from the night
to burn and tremble here below.
There wide her arms did Lúthien throw,
and called aloud with voice as clear
as still at whiles may mortal hear
long elvish trumpets o'er the hill
echo, when all the world is still.
The dawn peered over mountains wan,
their grey heads silent looked thereon.
The hill trembled; the citadel
crumbled, and all its towers fell;
the rocks yawned and the bridge broke,
and Sirion spumed in sudden smoke.
Like ghosts the owls were flying seen
hooting in the dawn, and bats unclean
went skimming dark through the cold airs
shrieking thinly to find new lairs
in Deadly Nightshade's branches dread.
The wolves whimpering and yammering fled
like dusky shadows. Out there creep
pale forms and ragged as from sleep,
crawling, and shielding blinded eyes:
the captives in fear and in surprise
from dolour long in clinging night
beyond all hope set free to light.
A vampire shape with pinions vast
screeching leaped from the ground, and passed,
its dark blood dripping on the trees;
and Huan neath him lifeless sees
a wolvish corpse -- for Thû had flown
to Taur-na-Fuin, a new throne
and darker stronghold there to build.
The captives came and wept and shrilled
their piteous cries of thanks and praise.
But Lúthien anxious-gazing stays.
Beren comes not. At length she said:
'Huan, Huan, among the dead
must we then find whom we sought,
for love of whom we toiled and fought?'
Then side by side from stone to stone
o'er Sirion they climbed. Alone
unmoving they him found, who mourned
by Felagund, and never turned
to see what feet drew halting nigh.
'A! Beren, Beren!' came her cry,
'almost too late have I thee found?
Alas! that here upon the ground
the noblest of the noble race
in vain thy anguish doth embrace!
Alas! in tears that we should meet
who once found meeting passing sweet!'
Her voice such love and longing filled
he raise his eyes, his mourning stilled,
and felt his heart new-turned to flame
for her that through peril to him came.
'O Lúthien, O Lúthien,
more fair than any child of Men,
O loveliest maid of Elfinesse,
what might of love did thee possess
to bring thee here to terror's lair!
O lissom limbs and shadowy hair,
O flower-entwined brows so white,
O slender hands in this new light!'
She found his arms and swooned away
just at the rising of the day.
Songs have recalled the Elves have sung
in old forgotten elven tongue
how Lúthien and Beren strayed
by the banks of Sirion. Many a glade
they filled with joy, and their feet
passed by lightly, and days were sweet.
Though winter hunted through the wood,
still flowers lingered where she stood.
Tinúviel! Tinúviel!
the birds are unafraid to dwell
and sing beneath the peaks of snow
where Beren and where Lúthien go.
The isle in Sirion they left behind;
but there on hill-top might one find
a green grave, nd a stone set,
and there there lie the white bones yet
of Felagund, of Finrod's son --
unless that land is changed and gone,
or foundered in unfathomed seas,
while Felagund laughs beneath the trees
in Valinor, and comes no more
to this grey world of tears and war.
To Nargothrond no mroe he came;
but thither swiftly ran the fame
of their king dead, of Thû o'erthrown,
of the breaking of the towers of stone.
For many now came home at last,
who long ago to shadow passed;
and like a shadow had returned
Huan the hound, and scant had earned
or praise or thanks of master wroth;
yet loyal he was, though he was loath.
The halls of Narog clamours fill
that vainly Celegorm would still.
There men bewailed their fallen king,
crying that a maiden dared that thing
which sons of Fëanor would not do.
'Let us slay these faithless lords untrue!'
the fickle folk now loudly cried
with Felagund who would not ride.
Orodreth spake: 'The kingdom now
is mine alone. I will allow
no spilling of kindred blood by kin.
But bread nor rest shall find herein
these brothers who have set at nought
the house of Finrod.' They were brought.
Scornful, unbowed, and unashamed
stood Celegorm. In his eye there flamed
a light of menace. Curufin
smiled with his crafty mouth and thin.
'Be gone for ever -- ere the day
shall fall into the sea. Your way
shall never lead you hither more,
nor any son of Fëanor;
nor ever after shall be bond
of love twixt yours and Nargothrond.'
'We will remember it,' they said,
and turned upon their heels, and sped,
and took their horses and suck folk
as still them followed. Nought they spoke
but sounded horns, and rode like fire,
and went away in anger dire.
Towards Doriath the wanderers now
were drawing nigh. Though bare the bough,
though cold the wind, and grey the grasses
through which the hiss of winter passes,
they sang beneath the frosty sky
uplifted o'er them pale and high.
They came to Mindeb's narrow stream
that from the hills doth leap and gleam
by western borders where begin
the spells of Melian to fence in
King Thingol's land, and stranger steps
to wind bewildered in their webs.
There sudden sad grew Beren's heart:
'Alas, Tinúviel, here we part
and our brief song together ends,
and sundered ways each lonely wends!'
'Why part we here? What dost thou say,
just at the dawn of brighter day?'
'For safe thou'rt come to borderlands
o'er which in the keeping of the hands
of Melian thou wilt walk at ease
and find thy home and well-loved trees.'
'My heart is glad when the fair trees
far off uprising grey it sees
of Doriath inviolate.
Yet Doriath my heart did hate,
and Doriath my feet forsook,
my home, my kin. I would not look
on grass nor leaf there evermore
without thee by me. Dark the shore
of Esgalduin the deep and strong!
Why there alone forsaking song
by endless waters rolling past
must I then hopeless sit at last,
and gaze at waters pitiless
in heartache and in loneliness?'
'For never more to Doriath
can Beren find the winding path,
though Thingol willed it or allowed;
for to thy father there I vowed
to come not back save to fulfill
the quest of the shining Silmaril,
and win by valour my desire.
"Not rock nor steel nor Morgoth's fire
nor all the power of Elfinesse,
shall keep the gem I would possess":
thus swore I once of Lúthien
more fair than any child of Men.
My word, alas! I must achieve,
though sorrow pierce and parting grieve.'
'Then Lúthien will not go home,
but weeping in the woods will roam,
nor peril heed, nor laughter know.
And if she may not by thee go
against thy will thy desperate feet
she will pursue, until they meet,
Beren and Lúthien, love once more
on earth or on the shadowy shore.'
'Nay, Lúthien, most brave of heart,
thou makest it more hard to part.
Thy love me drew from bondage drear,
but never to that outer fear,
that darkest mansion of all dread,
shall thy most blissful light be led.'
'Never, never!' he shuddering said.
But even as in his arms she pled,
a sound came like a hurrying storm.
There Curufin and Celegorm
in sudden tumult like the wind
rode up. The hooves of horses dinned
loud on the earth. In rage and haste
madly northward they now raced
the path twixt Doriath to find
and the shadows dreadly dark entwined
of Taur-na-Fuin. That was their road
most swift to where their kin abode
in the east, where Himling's watchful hill
o'er Aglon's gorge hung tall and still.
They saw the wanderers. With a shout
straight on them swung their hurrying rout,
as if neath maddened hooves to rend
the lovers and their love to end.
But as they came the horses swerved
with nostrils wide and proud necks curved;
Curufin, stooping, to saddlebow
with mighty arm did Lúthien throw,
and laughed. Too soon; for there a spring
fiercer than tawny lion-king
maddened with arrows barbéd smart,
greater than any hornéd hart
that hounded to a gulf leaps o'er,
there Beren gave, and with a roar
leaped on Curufin; round his neck
his arms entwined, and all to wreck
both horse and rider fell to ground;
and there they fought without a sound.
Dazed in the grass did Lúthien lie
beneath bare branches and the sky;
the Gnome felt Beren's fingers grim
close on his throat and strangle him,
and out his eyes did start, and tongue
gasping from his mouth there hung.
Up rode Celegorn with his spear,
and bitter death was Beren near.
With elvish steel he nigh was slain
whom Lúthien won from hopeless chain,
but baying Huan sudden sprang
before his master's face with fang
white-gleaming, and with bristling hair,
as if he on boar or wolf did stare.
The horse in terror leaped aside,
and Celegorm in anger cried:
'Curse thee, thou baseborn dog, to dare
against thy master teeth to bare!'
But dog nor horse nor rider bold
would venture near the anger cold
of mighty Huan fierce at bay.
Red were his jaws. They shrank away,
and fearful eyed him from afar:
nor sword nor knife, nor scimitar,
no dart of bow, nor cast of spear,
master nor man did Huan fear.
There Curufin had left his life,
had Lúthien not stayed that strife.
Waking she rose and softly cried
standing distressed at Beren's side:
'Forbear thy anger now, my lord!
nor do the work of Orcs abhorred;
for foes there be of Elfinesse
unnumbered, and they grow not less,
while here we war by ancient curse
distraught, and all the world to worse
decays and crumbles. Make thy peace!'
Then Beren did Curufin release;
but took his horse and coat of mail,
and took his knife there gleaming pale,
hanging sheathless, wrought of steel.
No flesh could leeches ever heal
that point had pierced; for long ago
the dwarves had made it, singing slow
enchantments, where their hammers fell
in Nogrod ringing like a bell.
Iron as tender wood it cleft,
and sundered mail like woollen weft.
But other hands its haft now held;
its master lay by mortal felled.
Beren uplifting him, far him flung,
and cried 'Begone!', with stinging tongue;
'Begone! thou renegade and fool,
and let thy lust in exile cool!
Arise and go, and no more work
like Morgoth's slaves or curséd Orc;
and deal, proud son of Fëanor,
in deeds more proud than heretofore!'
Then Beren led Lúthien away,
while Huan still there stood at bay.
'Farewell,' cried Celegorm the fair.
'Far get you gone! And better were
to die forhungered in the waste
than wrath of Fëanor's sons to taste,
that yet may reach o'er dale and hill.
No gem, nor maid, nor Silmaril
shall ever long in thy grasp lie!
We curse thee under cloud and sky,
we curse thee from rising unto sleep!
Farewell!' He swift from horse did leap,
his brother lifted from the ground;
then bow of yew with gold wire bound
he strung, and shaft he shooting sent,
as heedless hand in hand they went;
a dwarvish dart and cruelly hooked.
They never turned nor backward looked.
Loud bayed Huan, and leaping caught
the speeding arrow. Quick as thought
another followed deadly singing;
but Beren had turned, and sudden springing
defended Lúthien with his breast.
Deep sank the dart in flesh to rest.
He fell to earth. They rode away,
and laughing left him as he lay;
yet spurred like wind in fear and dread
of Huan's pursuing anger red.
Though Curufin with bruised mouth laughed,
yet later of that dastard shaft
was tale and rumour in the North,
and Men remembered at the Marching Forth,
and Morgoth's will its hatred helped.
Thereafter never hound was whelped
would follow horn of Celegorm
or Curufin. Though in strife and storm,
though all their house in ruin red
went down, thereafter laid his head
Huan no more at that lord's feet,
but followed Lúthien, brave and fleet.
of Beren, and sought to stem the tide
of welling blood that flowed there fast.
The raiment from his breast she cast;
from shoulder plucked the arrow keen;
his wound with tears she washed it clean.
Then Huan came and bore a leaf,
of all the herbs of healing chief,
that evergreen in woodland glade
there grew with broad and hoary blade.
The powers of all grasses Huan knew,
who wide did forest-paths pursue.
Therewith the smart he swift allayed,
while Lúthien murmuring in the shade
the staunching song, that Elvish wives
long years had sung in those sad lives
of war and weapons, wove o'er him.
The shadows fell from mountains grim.
Then sprang about the darkened North
the Sickle of the Gods, and forth
each star there stared in stony night
radiant, glistering cold and white.
But on the ground there is a glow,
a spark of red that leaps below:
under woven boughs beside a fire
there crackling wood and sputtering briar
there Beren lies in drowsing deep,
walking and wandering in sleep.
Watchful bending o'er him wakes
a maiden fair; his thirst he slakes,
his brow caresses, and softly croons
a song more potent than in runes
or leeches' lore hath since been writ.
Slowly the nightly watches flit.
The misty morning crawleth grey
from dusk to the reluctant day.
Then Beren woke and opened eyes,
and rose and cried: 'Neath other skies,
in lands more awful and unknown,
I wandered long, methought, alone
to the deep shadow where the dead dwell;
but ever a voice that I knew well,
like bells, like viols, like harps, like birds,
like music moving without words,
called me, called me through the night,
enchanted drew me back to light!
Healed the wound, assuaged the pain!
Now are we come to morn again,
new journeys once more lead us on --
to perils whence may life be won,
hardly for Beren; and for thee
a waiting in the wood I see,
beneath the trees of Doriath,
while ever follow down my path
the echoes of thine elvish song,
where hills are haggard and roads are long.'
'Nay, now no more we have for foe
dark Morgoth only, but in woe,
in wars and feuds of Elfinesse
thy quest is bound; and death, no less,
for thee and me, for Huan bold
the end of weird of yore foretold,
all this I bode shall follow swift,
if thou go on. Thy hand shall lift
and lay in Thingol's lap the dire
and flaming jewel, Fëanor's fire,
never, never! A why then go?
Why turn we not from fear and woe
beneath the trees to walk and roam
roofless, with all the world as home,
over mountains, beside the seas,
in the sunlight, in the breeze?'
Thus long they spoke with heavy hearts;
and yet not all her elvish arts,
nor lissom arms, nor shining eyes
as tremulous stars in rainy skies,
nor tender lips, enchanted voice,
his purpose bent or swayed his choice.
Never to Doriath would he fare
save guarded fast to leave her there;
never to Nargothrond would go
with her, lest there came war and woe;
and never would in the world untrod
to wander suffer her, worn, unshod,
roofless and restless, whom he drew
with love from the hidden realms she knew.
'For Morgoth's power is now awake;
already hill and dale doth shake,
a maiden lost, an elven child.
Now Orcs and phantoms prowl and peer
from tree to tree, and fill with fear
each shade and hollow. Thee they seek!
At thought thereof my hope grows weak,
my heart is chilled. I curse mine oath,
I curse the fate that joined us both
and snared thy feet in my sad doom
of flight and wandering in the gloom!
Now let us haste, and ere the day
be fallen, take our swiftest way,
till o'er the marches of thy land
beneath the beech and oak we stand
in Doriath, fair Doriath
whither no evil finds the path,
powerless to pass the listening leaves
that droop upon those forest-eaves.'
Then to his will she seeming bent.
Swiftly to Doriath they went,
and crossed its borders. There they stayed
resting in deep and mossy glade;
there lay they sheltered from the wind
under mighty beeches silken-skinned,
and sang of love that still shall be,
though earth be foundered under sea,
and sundered here for evermore
shall meet upon the Western Shore.
One morning as asleep she lay
upon the moss, as though the day
too bitter were for gentle flower
to open in a sunless hour,
Beren arose and kissed her hair,
and wept, and softly left her there.
'Good Huan,' said he, 'guard her well!
In leafless field no asphodel,
in thorny thicket never a rose
forlorn, so frail and fragrant blows.
Guard her from wind and frost, and hide
from hands that seize and cast aside;
keep her from wandering and woe,
for pride and fate now make me go.'
The horse he took and rode away,
nor dared to turn; but all that day
with heart as stone he hastened forth
and took the paths toward the North.

Last updated January 14, 2019