The Lay Of Leithian : Cantos 7, 8

by J. R. R. Tolkien

J. R. R. Tolkien

Thus twelve alone there ventured forth
from Nargothrond, and to the North
they turned their silent secret way,
and vanished in the fading day.
No trumpet sounds, no voice there sings,
as robed in mail of cunning rings
now blackened dark with helmets grey
and sombre cloaks they steal away.
Far-journeying Narog's leaping course
they followed till they found his source,
the flickering falls, whose freshets sheer
a glimmering goblet glassy-clear
with crystal waters fill that shake
and quiver down from Ivrin's lake,
from Ivrin's mere that mirrors dim
the pallid faces bare and grim
of Shadowy Mountains neath the moon.
Now far beyond the realm immune
from Orc and demon and the dread
of Morgoth's might their ways had led.
In woods o'ershadowed by the heights
they watched and waited many nights,
till on a time when hurrying cloud
did moon and constellation shroud,
and winds of autumn's wild beginning
soughed in the boughs, and leaves went spinning
down the dark eddies rustling soft,
they heard a murmur hoarsely waft
from far, a croaking laughter coming;
now louder; now they heard the drumming
of hideous stamping feet that tramp
the weary earth. Then many a lamp
of sullen red they saw draw near,
swinging, and glistening on spear
and scimitar. There hidden nigh
they saw a band of Orcs go by
with goblin-faces swart and foul.
Bats were about them, and the owl,
the ghostly forsaken night-bird cried
from trees above. The voices died,
the laugher like clash of stone and steel
passed and faded. At their heel
the Elves and Beren crept more soft
than foxes stealing through a croft
in search of prey. Thus to the camp
lit by flickering fire and lamp
they stole, and counted sitting there
full thirty Orcs in the red flare
of burning wood. Without a sound
they one by one stood silent round,
each in the shadow of a tree;
each slowly, grimly, secretly
bent then his bow and drew the string.
Hark! how they sudden twang and sing,
when Felagund lets forth a cry;
and twelve Orcs sudden fall and die.
Then forth they leap casting their bows.
The stricken Orcs now shriek and yell
as lost things deep in lightless hell.
Battle there is beneath the trees
bitter and swift; but no Orc flees;
there left their lives that wandering band
and stained no more the sorrowing land
with rape and murder. Yet no song
of joy, or triumph over wrong,
the Elves there sang. In peril sore
they were, for never alone to war
so small an Orc-band went, they knew
Swiftly the raiment off they drew
and cast the corpses in a pit.
This desperate counsel had the wit
of Felagund for them devised:
as Orcs his comrades he disguised.
The poisoned spears, the bows of horn,
the crooked swords their foes had borne
they took; and loathing each him clad
in Angband's raiment foul and sad.
They smeared their hands and faces fair
with pigment dark; the matted hair
all lank and black from goblin head
with Gnomish skill. As each one leers
he hangs it noisome, shuddering.
Then Felagund a spell did sing
of changing and of shifting shape;
their ears grew hideous, and agape
their mouths did start, and like a fang
each tooth became, as slow he sang.
Their Gnomish raiment then they hid,
and one by one behind him slid,
behind a foul and goblin thing
that once was elven-fair and king.
Northward they went; and Orcs they met
who passed, nor did their going let,
but hailed them in greeting; and more bold
they grew as past the long miles rolled.
At length they came with weary feet
beyond Beleriand. They found the fleet
young waters, rippling, silver-pale
of Sirion hurrying through that vale
where Taur-na-Fuin, Deadly Night,
the trackless forest's pine-clad height,
falls dark forbidding slowly down
upon the east, while westward frown
the northward-bending Mountains grey
and bar the westering light of day.
An isléd hill there stood alone
amid the valley, like a stone
rolled from the distant mountains vast
when giants in tumult hurtled past.
Around its feet the river looped
a stream divided, that had scooped
the hanging hedges into caves.
There briefly shuddered Sirion's waves
and ran to other shores more clean.
An elven watchtower had it been,
and strong it was, and still was fair;
but now did grim with menace star
one way to pale Beleriand,
the other to that mournful land
beyond the valley's northern mouth.
Thence could be glimpsed the fields of drouth,
the dusty dunes, the desert wide;
and further far could be descried
the brooding cloud that hangs and lowers
on Thangorodrim's thunderous towers.
Now in that hill was the abode
of one most evil; and the road
that from Beleriand thither came
he watched with sleepless eyes of flame.
(From the North there led no other way,
save east where the Gorge of Aglon lay,
and that dark path of hurrying dread
which only in need the Orcs would tread
through Deadly Nightshade's awful gloom
where Taur-na-Fuin's branches loom;
and Aglon led to Doriath,
and Fëanor's sons watched o'er that path.)
Men called him Thû, and as a god
in after days beneath his rod
bewildered bowed to him, and made
his ghastly temples in the shade.
Not yet by Men enthralled adored,
now was he Morgoth's mightiest lord,
Master of Wolves, whose shivering howl
for ever echoed in the hills, and foul
enchantments and dark sigaldry
did weave and wield. In glamoury
that necromancer held his hosts
of phantoms and of wandering ghosts,
of misbegotten or spell-wronged
monsters that about him thronged,
working his bidding dark and vile:
the werewolves of the Wizard's Isle.
From Thû their coming was not hid;
and though beneath the eaves they slid
of the forest's gloomy-hanging boungs,
he saw them afar, and wolves did rouse:
'Go! fetch me those sneaking Orcs,' he said,
'that fare thus strangely, as if in dread,
and do not come, as all Orcs use
and are commanded, to bring me news
of all their deeds, to me, to Thû.'
From his tower he gazed, and in him grew
suspicion and a brooding thought,
waiting, leering, till they were brought.
Now ringed about with wolves they stand,
and fear their doom. Alas! the land,
the land of Narog left behind!
Foreboding evil weights their mind,
as downcast, halting, they must go
and cross the stony bridge of woe
to Wizard's Isle, and to the throne
there fashioned of blood-darkened stone.
'Where have ye been? What have ye seen?'
'In Elfinesse; and tears and distress,
the fire blowing and the blood flowing,
these have we seen, there have we been.
Thirty we slew and their bodies threw
in a dark pit. The ravens sit
and the owl cries where our swath lies.'
'Come, tell me true, O Morgoth's thralls,
what then in Elfinesse befalls?
What of Nargothrond? Who reigneth there?
Into that realm did your feet dare?'
'Only its borders did we dare.
There reigns King Felagund the fair.'
'Then heard ye not that he is gone,
that Celegorm sits his throne upon?'
'That is not true! If he is gone,
then Orodreth sits his throne upon.'
'Sharp are your ears, swift have they got
tidings of realms ye entered not!
What are your names, O spearmen bold?
Who your captain, ye have not told.'
'Nereb and Dungalef and warriors ten,
so we are called, and dark our den
under the mountains. Over the waste
we march on an errand of need and haste.
Boldog the captain awaits us there
where fires from under smoke and flare.'
'Boldog, I heard, was lately slain
warring on the borders of that domain
where Robber Thingol and outlaw folk
cringe and brawl beneath elm and oak
in drear Doriath. Heard ye not then
of that pretty fay, of Lúthien?
Her body is fair, very white and fair.
Morgoth would possess her in his lair.
Boldog he sent, but Boldog was slain:
strange ye were not in Boldog's train.
Nereb looks fierce, his frown is grim.
Little Lúthien! What troubles him?
Why laughs he not to think of his lord
crushing a maiden in his hoard,
that foul should be what once was clean,
that dark should be where light has been?
Whom do ye serve, Light or Mirk?
Who is the maker of mightiest work?
Who is the king of earthly kings,
the greatest giver of gold and rings?
Who is the master of the wide earth?
Who despoiled them of their mirth,
the freedy Gods? Repeat your vows,
Orcs of Bauglir! Do not bend your brows!
Death to light, to law, to love!
Cursed be moon and stars above!
May darkness everlasting old
that waits outside in surges cold
drown Manwë, Varda, and the sun!
May all in hatred be begun,
and all in evil ended be,
in the moaning of the endless Sea!'
But no true Man nor Elf yet free
would ever speak that blasphemy,
and Beren muttered: 'Who is Thû
to hinder work that is to do?
Him we serve not, nor to him owe
obeisance, and we now would go.'
Thû laughed: 'Patience! Not very long
shall ye abide. But first a song
I will sing to you, to ears intent.'
Then his flaming eyes he on them bent,
and darkness black fell round them all.
Only they saw as through a pall
of eddying smoke those eyes profound
in which their senses choked and drowned.
He chanted a song of wizardry,
of piercing, opening, of treachery,
revealing, uncovering, betraying.
Then sudden Felagund there swaying
sang in answer a song of staying,
resisting, battling against power,
of secrets kept, strength like a tower,
and trust unbroken, freedom, escape;
of changing and of shifting shape,
of snares eluded, broken traps,
the prison opening, the chain that snaps.
Backwards and forwards swayed their song.
Reeling and foundering, as ever more strong
Thû's chanting swelled, Felagund fought,
and all the magic and might he brought
of Elfinesse into his words.
Softly in the gloom they heard the birds
singing afar in Nargothrond,
the sighing of the sea beyond,
beyond the western world, on sand,
on sand of pearls in Elvenland.
Then the gloom gathered: darkness growing
in Valinor, the red blood flowing
beside the sea, where the Gnomes slew
the Foamriders, and stealing drew
their white ships with their white sails
from lamplit havens. The wind wails.
The wolf howls. The ravens flee.
The ice mutters in the mouths of the sea.
The captives sad in Angband mourn.
Thunder rumbles, the fires burn,
a vast smoke gushes out, a roar --
and Felagund swoons upon the floor.
Behold! they are in their own fair shape,
fairskinned, brighteyed. No longer gape
Orclike their mouths; and now they stand
betrayed into the wizard's hand.
Thus came they unhappy into woe,
to dungeons no hope nor glimmer know,
where chained in chains that eat the flesh
and woven in webs of strangling mesh
they lay forgotten, in despair.
Yet not all unavailing were
the spells of Felagund; for Thû
neither their names nor purpose knew.
These much he pondered and bethought,
and in their woeful chains them sought,
and threatened all with dreadful death,
if one would not with traitor's breath
reveal this knowledge. Wolves should come
and slow devour them one by one
before the others' eyes, and last
should one alone be left aghast,
then in a place of horror hung
with anguish should his limbs be wrung,
in the bowels of the earth be slow
endlessly, cruelly, put to woe
and torment, till he all declared.
Even as he threatened, so it fared.
From time to time in the eyeless dark
two eyes would grow, and they would hark
to frightful cries, and then a sound
of rending, a slavering on the ground,
and blood flowing they would smell.
But none would yield, and none would tell.
Hounds there were in Valinor
with silver collars. Hart and boar,
the fox and hare and nimble roe
there in the forests green did go.
Oromë was the lord divine
of all those woods. The potent wine
went in his halls and hunting song.
The Gnomes anew have named him long
Tavros, the God whose horns did blow
over the mountains long ago;
who alone of Gods had loved the world
before the banners were unfurled
of Moon and Sun; and shod with gold
were his great horses. Hounds untold
baying in woods beyond the West
of race immortal he possessed:
grey and limber, black and strong,
white with silken coats and long,
brown and brindled, swift and true
as arrow from a bow of yew;
their voices like the deeptoned bells
that ring in Valmar's citadels,
their eyes like living jewels, their teeth
like ruel-bone. As sword from sheath
they flashed and fled from leash to scent
for Tavros' joy and merriment.
In Tavros' friths and pastures green
had Huan once a young whelp been.
He grew the swiftest of the swift,
and Oromë gave him as a gift
to Celegorm, who loved to follow
the great God's horn o'er hill and hollow.
Alone of hounds of the Land of Light,
when sons of Fëanor took to flight
and came into the North, he stayed
beside his master. Every raid
and every foray wild he shared,
and into mortal battle dared.
Often he saved his Gnomish lord
from Orc and wolf and leaping sword.
A wolf-hound, tireless, grey and fierce
he grew; his gleaming eyes would pierce
all shadows and all mist, the scent
moons old he found through fen and bent,
through rustling leaves and dusty sand;
all paths of wide Beleriand
he knew. But wolves, he loved them best;
he loved to find their throats and wrest
their snarling lives and evil breath.
The packs of Thû him feared as Death.
No wizardry, nor spell, nor dart,
no fang, nor venom devil's art
could brew had harmed him; for his weird
was woven. Yet he little feared
that fate decreed and known to all:
before the mightiest he should fall,
before the mightiest wolf alone
that ever was whelped in cave of stone.
Hark! afar in Nargothrond,
far over Sirion and beyond,
there are dim cries and horns blowing,
and barking hounds through the trees going.
The hunt is up, the woods are stirred.
Who rides to-day? Ye have not heard
that Celegorm and Curufin
have loosed their dogs? With merry din
they mounted ere the sun arose,
and took their spears and took their bows.
The wolves of Thû of late have dared
both far and wide. Their eyes have glared
by night across the roaring stream
of Narog. Doth their master dream,
perchance, of plots and counsels deep,
of secrets that the Elf-lords keep,
of movements in the Gnomish realm
and errands under beech and elm?
Curufin spake: 'Good brother mine,
I like it not. What dark design
doth this portend? These evil things,
we swift must end their wanderings!
And more, 'twould please my heart full well
to hunt a while and wolves to fell.'
And then he leaned and whispered low
that Orodreth was a dullard slow;
long time it was since the king had gone,
and rumour or tidings came there none.
'At least thy profit it would be
to know whether dead he is or free;
to gather thy men and thy array.
"I go to hunt" then thou wilt say,
and men will think that Narog's good
ever thou heedest. But in the wood
things may be learned; and if by grace,
by some blind fortune he retrace
his footsteps mad, and if he bear
a Silmaril -- I need declare
no more in words; but one by right
is thine (and ours), the jewel of light;
another may be won -- a throne.
The eldest blood our house doth own.'
Celegorm listened. Nought he said,
but forth a mighty host he led;
and Huan leaped at the glad sounds,
the chief and captain of his hounds.
Three days they ride by holt and hill
the wolves of Thû to hunt and kill,
and many a head and fell of grey
they take, and many drive away,
till nigh to the borders in the West
of Doriath a while they rest.
There were dim cries and horns blowing,
and barking dogs through the woods going.
The hunt was up. The woods were stirred,
and one there fled like startled bird,
and fear was in her dancing feet.
She knew not who the woods did beat.
Far from her home, forwandered, pale,
she flitted ghostlike through the vale;
ever her heart bade her up and on,
but her limbs were worn, her eyes were wan.
The eyes of Huan saw a shade
wavering, darting down a glade
like a mist of evening snared by day
and hasting fearfully away.
He bayed, and sprang with sinewy limb
to chase the shy thing strange and dim.
On terror's wings, like a butterfly
pursued by a sweeping bird on high,
she fluttered hither, darted there,
now poised, now flying through the air --
in vian. At last against a tree
she leaned and panted. Up leaped he.
No word of magic gasped with woe,
no elvish mystery she did know
or had entwined in raiment dark
availed against that hunter stark,
whose old immortal race and kind
no spells could ever turn or bind.
Huan alone that she ever met
she never in enchantment set
nor bound with spells. But loveliness
and gentle voice and pale distress
and eyes like starlight dimmed with tears
tamed him that death nor monster fears.
Lightly he lifted her, light he bore
his trembling burden. Never before
had Celegorm beheld such prey:
'What hast thou brought, good Huan say!
Dark-elvish maid, or wraith, or fay?
Not such to hunt we came today.'
''Tis Lúthien of Doriath,'
the maiden spake. 'A wandering path
far from the Wood-Elves' sunny glades
she sadly winds, where courage fades
and hope grows faint.' And as she spoke
down she let slip her shadowy cloak,
and there she stood in silver and white.
Her starry jewels twinkled bright
in the risen sun like morning dew;
the lilies gold on mantle blue
gleamed and glistened. Who could gaze
on that fair face without amaze?
Long did Curufin look and stare.
The perfume of her flower-twined hair,
her lissom limbs, her elvish face,
smote to his heart, and in that place
enchained he stood. 'O maiden royal,
O lady fair, wherefore in toil
and lonely journey dost thou go?
What tidings dread of war and woe
In Doriath have betid? Come tell!
For fortune thee hath guided well;
friends thou hast found,' said Celegorm,
and gazed upon her elvish form.
In his heart him thought her tale unsaid
he knew in part, but nought she read
of guile upon his smiling face.
'Who are ye then, the lordly chase
that follow in this perilous wood?'
she asked; and answer seeming-good
they gave. 'Thy servants, lady sweet,
lords of Nargothrond thee greet,
and beg that thou wouldst with them go
back to their hills, forgetting woe
a reason, seeking hope and rest.
And now to hear thy tale were best.'
So Lúthien tells of Beren's deeds
in northern lands, how fate him leads
to Doriath, of Thingol's ire,
the dreadful errand that her sire
decreed for Beren. Sign nor word
the brothers gave that aught they heard
that touched them near. Of her escape
and the marvellous mantle she did shape
she lightly tells, but words her fail
recalling sunlight in the vale,
moonlight, starlight in Doriath,
ere Beren took the perilous path.
'Need, too, my lords, there is of haste!
No time in ease and rest to waste.
For days are gone now since the queen,
Melian whose heart hath vision keen,
looking afar me said in fear
that Beren lived in bondage drear.
The Lord of Wolves hath prisons dark,
chains and enchantments cruel and stark,
and there entrapped and languishing
doth Beren lie -- if direr thing
hath not brought death or wish for death':
than gasping woe bereft her breath.
To Celegorm said Curufin
apart and low: 'Now news we win
of Felagund, and now we know
wherefore Thú's creatures prowling go',
and other whispered counsels spake,
and showed him what answer he should make.
'Lady,' said Celegorm, 'thou seest
we go a-hunting roaming beast,
and though our host is great and bold,
'tis ill prepared the wizard's hold
and island fortress to assault.
Deem not our hearts or wills at fault.
Lo! here our chase we now forsake
and home our swiftest road we take,
counsel and aid there to devise
for Beren that in anguish lies.'
To Nargothrond they with them bore
Lúthien, whose heart misgave her sore.
Delay she feared; each moment pressed
upon her spirit, yet she guessed
they rode not as swiftly as they might.
Ahead leaped Huan day and night,
and ever looking back his thought
was troubled. What his master sought,
and why he rode not like the fire,
why Curufin looked with hot desire
on Lúthien, he pondered deep,
and felt some evil shadow creep
of ancient curse o'er Elfinesse.
His heart was torn for the distress
of Beren bold, and Lúthien dear,
and Felagund who knew no fear.
In Nargothrond the torches flared
and feast and music were prepared.
Lúthien feasted not but wept.
Her ways were trammelled; closely kept
she might not fly. Her magic cloak
was hidden, and no prayer she spoke
was heeded, nor did answer find
her eager quetions. Out of mind,
it seemed, were those afar that pined
in anguish and in dungeons blind
in prison and in misery.
Too late she knew their treachery.
It was not hid in Nargothrond
that Fëanor's sons her held in bond,
who Beren heeded not, and who
had little cause to wrest from Thû
the king they loved not and whose quest
old vows of hatred in their breast
had roused from sleep. Orodreth knew
the purpose dark they would pursue:
King Felagund to leave to die,
and with King Thingol's blood ally
the house of Fëanor by force
or treaty. But to stay their course
he had no power, for all his folk
the brothers had yet beneath their yoke,
and all yet listened to their word.
Orodreth's consel no man heard;
their shame they crushed, and would not heed
the tale of Felagund's dire need.
At Lúthien's feet there day by day
and at night beside her couch would stay
Huan the hound of Nargothrond;
and words she spoke to him soft and fond:
'O Huan, Huan, swiftest hound
that ever ran on mortal ground,
what evil doth thy lords possess
to heed no tears nor my distress?
Once Barahir all men above
good hounds did cherish and did love;
once Beren in the friendless North,
when outlaw wild he wandered forth,
had friends unfailing among things
with fur and fell and feathered wings,
and among the spirits that in stone
in mountains old and wastes alone
still dwell. But now nor Elf nor Man,
none save the child of Melian,
remembers him who Morgoth fought
and never to thraldom base was brought.'
Nought said Huan; but Curufin
thereafter never near might win
to Luthien, nor touch that maid,
but shrank from Huan's fangs afraid.
Then on a night when autumn damp
was swathed about the glimmering lamp
of the wan moon, and fitful stars
were flying seen between the bars
of racing cloud, when winter's horn
already wound in trees forlorn,
lo! Huan was gone. Then Lúthien lay
fearing new wrong, till just ere day,
when all is dead and breathless still
and shapeless fears the sleepless fill,
a shadow came along the wall.
Then something let there softly fall
her magic cloak beside her couch.
Trembling she saw the great hound crouch
beside her, heard a deep voice swell
as from a tower a far slow bell.
Thus Huan spake, who never before
had uttered words, and but twice more
did speak in elven tongue again:
'Lady beloved, whom all Men,
whom Elfinesse, and whom all things
with fur and fell and feathered wings
should serve and love -- arise! away!
Put on thy cloak! Before the day
comes over Nargothrond we fly
to Northern perils, thou and I.'
And ere he ceased he counsel wrought
for achievement of the thing they sought.
There Lúthien listened in amaze,
and softly on Huan did she gaze.
Her arms about his neck she cast --
in friendship that to death should last.

Last updated January 14, 2019