the lay of leithian by jrr tolkien, left unfinished

the story of beren and lúthien ~ finished by geoff zeiger


Far in the North neath hills of stone
in caverns black there was a throne
by flames encircled; there the smoke
in coiling columns rose to choke
the breath of life, and there in deep 105
and gasping dungeons lost would creep
to hopeless death all those that strayed
by doom beneath that ghastly shade.
There sat a king: no Elfin race,
no mortal blood nor kindly grace 110
of earth or heaven might he own,
far older, stronger than the stone
the world is built of, than the fire
that burns within more fierce and dire,
and thoughts profound were in his heart, 115
a gloomy power that dwelt apart.

He 'twas that laid in ruin black
the Blessed Realm and fled then back
to Middle-Earth anew to build
beneath the mountains mansions filled 120
with misbegotten slaves of hate;
death's shadow brooded at his gate.
Unconquerable spears of steel
were at his nod. No ruth did feel
the legions of his marshaled hate, 125
on whom did wolf and raven wait;
and thick the ravens sat and cried
upon their banners black, and wide
was heard their hideous chanting dread
above the reek and trampled dead. 130
With fire and swords his ruin red
on all that would not bow the head
like lightning fell. The Northern land
lay groaning neath his ghastly hand.

Yet still there lived in hiding cold 135
undaunted, Barahir the bold,
of land bereaved and lordship shorn
who once a prince of Men was born
and now an outlaw lurked and lay,
in the hard heath and woodland grey, 140
and with him clung of faithful men
but Beren his son and other ten.
Yet small as was their hunted band,
yet fell and fearless was each hand,
and strong deeds they wrought yet oft, 145
and loved the woods, whose ways more soft
them seemed than thralls of that black throne
to live and languish in halls of stone.
King Morgoth still pursued them sore,
and men and dogs, and wolf and boar 150
with spells of madness filled he sent
to slay them as in the woods they went;
yet naught hurt them for many years,
until, in brief to tell what tears
have oft bewailed in ages gone, 155
yet never tears enough, was done
a deed unhappy; unaware
their feet were caught in Morgoth's snare.

Gorlim it was, who wearying
of toil and flight and harrying 160
one night by chance did turn his feet
o'er dark fields by stealth to meet
with hidden friend within a dale,
and found a homestead looming pale
against the misty stars, all dark 165
save one small window, whence a spark
of fitful candle strayed without.
Therein he peeped, and filled with doubt
he saw, as in a dreaming deep
when longing cheats the heart in sleep, 170
his wife beside a dying fire
lament him lost; her thin attire
and graying hair and paling cheek
of tears and loneliness did speak.
"A! fair and gentle Eilinel, 175
whom I had thought in darkling hell
long since emprisoned! Ere I fled
I deemed I saw thee slain and dead
upon that night of sudden fear
when all I lost that I held dear:" 180
thus thought his heavy heart amazed
outside in darkness as he gazed.
But ere he dared to call her name,
or ask how she escaped and came
to this far vale beneath the hills, 185
he heard a cry beneath the hills!

There hooted near the hunting owl
with boding voice. He heard the howl
of the wild wolves that followed him
and dogged his feet through shadows dim. 190
Him unrelenting, well he knew,
the hunt of Morgoth did pursue.
Lest Eilinel with him they slay
without a word he turned away
and like a wild thing winding led 195
his devious ways o'er stony bed
of stream and over quaking fen
until far from the homes of men
he lay beside his fellows few
in a secret place; and darkness grew, 200
and waned, and still he watched unsleeping
and saw the dismal dawn came creeping
through dank skies over gloomy trees.
A sickness held his soul for ease,
and hope, and even thralldom's chain 205
if he might find his wife again.
But all he thought twixt love of lord
and hatred for that king abhorred
and anguish for fair Eilinel
who drooped alone, what tale shall tell? 210

Yet at the last, when many days
of brooding did his mind amaze,
he found the servants of the king
and bade them to their master bring
a rebel who forgiveness sought, 215
if haply forgiveness might be bought
with tidings of Barahir the bold,
and where his hidings and his hold
might best be found by night or day.
And thus sad Gorlim, led away 220
unto those dark deep-dolven halls,
before the knees of Morgoth falls,
and puts his trust in that cruel heart
wherein no truth had ever part.
Quoth Morgoth: "Eilinel the fair 225
thou shalt most surely find, and there
where she doth dwell and wait for thee
together shall ye ever be,
and sundered shall ye sigh no more.
This guerdon shall he have that bore 230

these tidings sweet, O traitor dear!
For Eilinel she dwells not here,
but in the shades of death doth roam
widowed of husband and of home --
a wraith of that which might have been 235
methinks it is that thou hast seen!
Now shalt thou through the gates of pain
the land thou askest grimly gain;
thou shalt to the moonless mists of hell
descend and seek thy Eilinel." 240

Thus Gorlim died a bitter death,
and cursed himself with dying breath,
and Barahir at last was caught
in Morgoth's snare, for set at naught
by treason was the ancient grace 245
that guarded long that lonely place,
Tarn Aeluin; now all laid bare
were secret paths and hidden lair.
But Morgoth's guile for ever failed,
nor wholly o'er his foes prevailed, 250
and some were ever still that fought,
unmaking that which malice wrought.
Thus men believed that Morgoth made
the fiendish phantom that betrayed
the soul of Gorlim, and so brought 255
the lingering hope forlorn to naught
that lived amid the lonely wood;
yet Beren had by fortune good
long hunted far afield that day,
and benighted in strange places lay 260
far from his fellows. In his sleep
he felt a dreadful darkness creep
upon his heart, and thought the trees
were bare and in a mournful breeze;
no leaves they had, but ravens dark 265
sat thick as leaves on bough and bark,
and croaked, and as they croaked each neb
let fall a gout of blood; a web
unseen entwined him hand and limb,
until worn out, upon the rim 270
of stagnant pool he lay and shivered.
There saw he that a shadow quivered
far out upon the water wan,
and grew to a faint form thereon
that glided o'er the silent lake, 275
and coming slowly, softly spake
and sadly said, "Lo! Gorlim here,
traitor betrayed, now stands! Nor fear,
but haste! For Morgoth's fingers close
upon thy father's throat. He knows 280
your secret tryst, your hidden lair,"
and all the evil he laid bare
that he had done and Morgoth wrought.
Then Beren waking swiftly sought
his sword and bow, and sped like wind 285
that cuts with knives the branches thinned
of autumn trees. At last he came,
his heart afire with burning flame,
where Barahir his father lay;
he came too late. At dawn of day 290
he found the homes of hunted men,
a wooded island in the fen,
and birds rose up in sudden cloud --
no fen-fowl were they, crying loud.
The raven and the carrion-crow 295
sat in the alders all a-row;
one croaked: "Ha! Beren comes too late,"
and answered all: "Too late! Too late!"
There Beren laid his father's bones
in haste beneath a cairn of stones; 300
no graven rune nor word he wrote
o'er Barahir, but thrice he smote
the topmost stone, and thrice aloud
he cried his name. "Thy death," he vowed,
"I will avenge. Yea, though my fate 305
should lead at last to Angband's gate."
Then he turned, and did not weep:
too dark his heart, the wound too deep.
Out into night, as cold as stone,
loveless, friendless, he strode alone. 310

Of hunter's lore he had no need
the trail to find. With little heed
his ruthless foe, secure and proud,
marched north away with blowing loud
of brazen horns their lord to greet, 315
trampling the earth with grinding feet.
Behind them bold but wary went
now Beren, swift as hound on scent,
until beside a darkling well,
where Rivil rises from the fell 320
down into Serech's reeds to flow,
he found the slayers, found his foe.
From hiding on the hillside near
he marked them all: though less than fear,
too many for his sword and bow 325
to slay alone. Then crawling low
as snake on heath he nearer crept.
There many weary with marching slept,
but captains, sprawling on the grass,
drank and from hand to hand let pass 330
their booty, grudging each small thing
raped from dead bodies. One a ring
held up, and laughed: "Now, mates!" he cried,
"here's mine, and I'll not be denied,
though few be like it in the land. 335
For I 'twas wrenched it from the hand
of that same Barahir I slew.
This robber-knave, they say, did do
a deed of service long ago
for Felagund. It may be so; 340
for Morgoth bade me bring it back,
and yet, methinks, he hath no lack
of weightier treasure in his hoard.
Such greed befits not such a lord!
So mark ye, mates, ye all shall swear, 345
the hand of Barahir was bare!"
But as he spake an arrow sped;
with riven heart he crumpled dead.
Thus Morgoth loved that his own foe
should in his service deal that blow 350
that punished the breaking of his word.
But Morgoth laughed not when he heard
that swift as wolfhound grim there leapt
Beren among them. Two he swept
aside with sword; caught up the ring; 355
slew one who grasped him; with a spring
back into shadow passed, and fled
before their yells of wrath and dread
of ambush in the valley rang.
Then after him like wolves they sprang, 360
howling and cursing, gnashing teeth,
hewing and bursting through the heath,
shooting wild arrows, sheaf on sheaf,
at trembling shade or shaken leaf.
In charméd hour was Beren born; 365
he laughed at dart and wailing horn,
fleetest of foot of living men,
tireless on fell and light on fen,
elf-wise in wood he passed away,
defended by his hauberk grey 370
of dwarvish craft in Nogrod made,
where hammers rang in caverns' shade.

As fearless Beren was renowned,
when men most hardy upon ground
were reckoned folk would speak his name, 375
foretelling that his after fame
would even golden Hador pass
or Barahir and Bregolas;
but sorrow now his heart had wrought
to fierce despair; no more he fought 380
in hope of life or joy or praise,
but seeking so to use his days
only that Morgoth deep should feel
the sting of his avenging steel,
ere death he found and end of pain; 385
his only fear was thralldom's chain.
Danger he sought and death pursued,
and thus escaped the doom he wooed,
and deeds of breathless daring wrought
alone, of which the rumour brought 390
new hope to many a broken man.
They whispered "Beren," and began
in secret swords to whet, and soft
by shrouded hearths at evening oft
songs they would sing of Beren's bow, 395
of Dagmor his sword: how he would go
silent to camps and slay the chief,
or trapped in hiding past belief
would slip away, and under night
by mist or moon, or by the light 400
of open day would come again.
Of hunters hunted, slayers slain
they sang, of Gorgol the Butcher hewn,
of ambush in Ladros, fire in Drûn,
of thirty in one battle dead, 405
of wolves that yelped like curs and fled,
yea, Sauron himself with wound in hand.
Thus one alone filled all that land
with fear and death for Morgoth's folk;
his comrades were the beech and oak 410
who failed him not, and many things
with fur and fell and feathered wings
and many spirits, that in stone,
in mountains old and wastes alone
do dwell and wander were his friends. 415
Yet seldom well an outlaw ends,
and Morgoth was a king more strong
than all the world has since in song
recorded, and his wisdom wide
slow and surely who him defied 420
did hem and hedge. Thus at the last
must Beren flee the forest fast
and lands he loved where lay his sire
by reeds bewailed beneath the mire.
Beneath a heap of mossy stones 425
now crumble those once-mighty bones,
but Beren flees the friendless North;
one autumn night he creeps him forth.
The leaguer of his watchful foes
he passes – silently he goes. 430
No more his hidden bowstring sings,
no more his shaven arrow wings,
no more his hunted head doth lie
upon the heath beneath the sky.
The moon that looked amid the mist 435
upon the pines, the wind that hissed
among the feather and the fern
found him no more. The stars that burn
about the North with silver fire
in frosty airs, the Burning Briar 440
that Men did name in days long gone
were set behind his back, and shone
o'er land and lake and darkened hill,
forsaken fen and mountain rill.

His face was South from the Land of Dread, 445
whence only evil pathways led,
and only the feet of men most bold
might cross the Shadowy Mountains cold.
Their northern slopes were filled with woe,
with evil and with mortal foe; 450
their southern faces mounted sheer
in rocky pinnacle and pier,
whose roots were woven with deceit
and washed with waters bittersweet.
The awful mountains' stones he stained 455
with blood of weary feet, and gained
only a land of ghosts and fear
in dark ravines imprisoned sheer –
there mighty spiders wove their webs,
old creatures foul with birdlike nebs 460
that span their traps in dizzy air
and filled it with clinging black despair;
there they lived, and the sucked bones
lay white beneath on the dank stone.
He found at last the southern slopes 465
to lift again his fading hopes.
There magic lurked in gulf and glen,
for far away beyond the ken
of searching eyes, unless it were
from dizzy towers that pricked the air 470
where only Eagles lived and cried,
might grey and gleaming be descried
Beleriand! Beleriand!
the borders of the faëry land.

lúthien tinúviel



lúthien tinúviel