12. Notes, Part 2
Again, mostly just painting out the truth behind the songs — realities of logistics and terrain and the Arts of War, assumed common knowledge,assumed as default in the epics and chronicles and hence not requiring explication. I've conjectured and translated — but you will find no real anachronisms here, no more than anywhere else. The archaic custom of sword-bonding does, for example, equate to a safety-catch on a modern weapon — though peace-strings serve more for an accidental going-off of the user, than the weapon itself…
Alquantar: Quenya plural, "swans." The temptation to conflate with alae, a "wing" of cavalry from Roman tradition, was irresistable — and the research necessary to find the plural of swan yielded up one explanation for the idea-linkage of swans and cavalry in Middle-earth, a tradition I am assuming here goes far back before Dol Amroth's founding. The word-root of "swan" in the Elvish languages is "rushing" — which also invokes the wonderful Anglo-Saxon Riddle from the Exeter book about the silence of swans in the water and the singing ruckus of swans aloft in headlong flight. Add to that the wedge-shape of waterbird flocks and the intimidating size and ability to do damage of an angry swan, combined with their grace and the arched necks of horses, and it becomes an almost inevitable equation.
And yes, that does make for a pun there in the original Elvish…
My assumptions in regard to Beren's likely riding experience are derived from:
1) the fact that after confiscating Celegorm's horse they keep on walking, rather than ride off, which makes a lot of sense given that if one is not a particularly confident rider that one would not want to attempt such an exit with a rather nervous and shaken animal especially, any more than an amateur pilot would be likely to hop into an F-15 and take off;
2) the fact that the Beorings do ride to the rescue of Serech, but live in rugged highlands and mountain forests, not good horse country at all, and terrain where typically the riding beasts are small, scruffy, tough and bloodthirsty;
3) the question of where in Dorthonion at the height of the invasion, Barahir's outlaws would be likely to keep horses — cavalry, even ponies, being comparatively high maintainance, noisy, and not especially happy living in swamps for the most part — they're certainly not using them by the end;
4) the fact that by the time they reach the borders of Doriath the first time, Beren is sufficiently comfortable with the horse and with riding generally to undertake the long retracing of the journey back to the borders of Angband at high speed.
Hence I tend to think that he would have had early experience with horses, using the term very loosely, probably never have seen a full-size ancestor of the mearas before getting nearly run over by Celegorm, and given the combination of his ranger skills, empathy with animals, and low intimidation factor, wouldn't have taken very long to not only regain his earlier riding ability but to be at ease with a steed easily twice as tall and much faster than anything he would have ever ridden before.
The Plan as conceived in full detail: I don't believe that Finrod would have neglected to work out a plausible, essentially practical scheme for recovering the Silmarils, but this mission is entirely my own invention. I hope that it is essentially a practical one:
- using light cavalry as it was anciently used, the equivalent of an airstrike, but here for transport and extraction purposes;
- moving throughout the night so that any halts could be kept to daylight when Morgoth's creatures would be restrained by the Sun, not a problem for the forbears of Shadowfax nor their riders;
- staggering the paths of each group slightly so that any guards roused by the first units would not be in exactly the right place to interfere with subsequent movements;
- avoiding getting bogged down in engagements altogether for obvious reasons of casualties and speed, because the longer spent in any one place, the more time the Enemy has to move in troops;
- cris-crossing the river to forestall the Enemy anticipating of their route and placing blockades in advance of them, since it wouldn't be clear at once where they would be at any given time in the valley;
- using the same kind magical defensive illusions to confuse and deceive Enemy aerial intelligence found even as late as the Third Age, just as today electronic countermeasures, signal jamming and chaff, are used;
- coming out on the eastern side of the Fens to avoid the narrowness of the valley on the west shore of Sirion and getting entangled with the mountain spurs there, and forming a single consolidated force to add momentum and prevent loss of stragglers when breaking through any Enemy outposts guarding the forts along the headwaters of Sirion;
- using the forts of Fingon as a base of operations to regroup, repair and reorganize for a commando style raid on Angband, with a safe assumption that not only would the barest duty of hospitality be offered, but enthusiastic assistance and probably limitless volunteers;
- taking all three if the opportunity presents itself, but considering the mission accomplished with the taking of one and proceeding with extraction plans if it seems too dangerous to go on;
- coordinating so that following the completion of the mission the cavalry would be ready for pickup on the opposite side of the plain. This means that they would not have to retreat down the obvious route, back where the Enemy would be expecting them to return, but past the unsuspecting Enemy forces stationed in Northeast Beleriand and avoiding those mostly by staying up between the dunes and the burned forest of Nightshade, where nobody goes voluntarily.
- Morgoth still doesn't know exactly where in Beleriand Nargothrond is, only that it exists and somewhere out there in the old-growth canopy, shrouded by Mirkwood-like deceptions and guarded by extensive outposts is an Elven City that formed a major part of the Leaguer and is full of angry survivors led by Felagund; he knows Fingon is out there and where he stays, 'cause he's looking right at him across the Anfauglith, and he hasn't been able to dislodge his forces for the past decade; he hasn't been able to beat through or down the consolidated forces in the East of Beleriand under Maedhros and the other Sons of Feanor — so the successful close of the mission would have left him in essentially the same state as before, only a lot angrier.
Would it have worked? The critical and unplannable part, what happens after scaling the gate-tower-mountains and breaking in, remains just that. A highly-coordinated and determined force of experts led by one, probably two, Noldor kings, prepared far more than they were ten years ago even merely psychologically for nasty surprises and taking full advantage of their own surprise and deception tactics and the resulting confusion among the Enemy of "This can't be happening!" — hard to say. (After all, they wouldn't have had Luthien with them…) But it would have been spectacular, successful or not, is my guess—
We go up in fame
or we come down in flame
but nothing can stop
the Army Air Corps
—as my people used to sing…
The text of the Oath derives from The Lays of Beleriand, from an early fragment of a poem from about 1925 which describes the scene after the Treeslaying and contrasts ominously the three hosts of the Eldar as they react to the Darkness, the Foamriders wondering what is going on by the piers, forshadowing the ship-taking later that evening, and the earlier carefree day of the Vanyar giving a concert for Varda at her home on the holy mountain, together with the imagery of Fëanor challenging the Host to follow him with blazing torches in hand as he declaims his fiery rhetoric.
"Sparkly" is the literal translation of Finduilas' nickname, Faelivrin, referring to the effect of sunlight on water.
The course of my hubristic attempt to write out what the SOF's canonical seduction of Nargothrond might have sounded like, under the invocation of the Oath and the veiled threats of renewed Kinslaying, no doubt fall far flat of what would have been. But I wanted to try to make the scenario as plausible as I myself find it, working with the awareness of the terrible blow taken by the City in the Dagor Bragollach — not an abstract matter of troop numbers, but of lots of family members lost horribly in a small society, and the awareness of how the shadow of Alqualondë hangs over all the deeds of the Noldor in Beleriand, and understanding how geassa — being the Western-Indo-European form of karma — always involve past acts of injustice (sometimes vicarious) as part of the balance of dharma/righteousness. Things don't just happen out of nowhere...The occasional necessity of abdication to prevent bloodshed is found not only in the Celtic tradition but also in the Confucian writings of Mencius, and are in the spirit of the Tao Teh Ching as qualities of true leadership and authority, which is not about force or power but care and guidance.
Also the fact of the social fragmentation and uncertainty in Nargothrond following the Defeat is in part inspired by the events chronicled in Sil and the rest taken from my own observations of history and group interactions. I can't imagine that someone as cruel and cynical as Curufin would have failed to make use of Beren as an object lesson in his rhetoric, either…
The bit about the fault-lying in the failure of the Leaguer is particularly audacious, given that we're told in Silm. that the Sons of Feanor were chief in those objecting to any offensive action, against the High King Fingolfin's recommended tactics, because of the inevitable casualties caused by taking the battle to the Enemy. Of course, in the end, keeping him locked up only resulted in more casualties.
And the "jewel/girl" line is an ObRef to the actual text of Celegorm's Curse as given in full in the Lay:
"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!"
—It's a doozy, all right.
Finrod's assessment that the successful theft of even one Silmaril would severely damage Morgoth's credibility in the eyes of his commanders and troops derives from a line in Lost Road where it's noted that following the actual theft, Orcs laughed about it behind the Dark Lord's back — I imagine him perceptive enough to guess that consequence in advance. (And I can't help but imagine that happening, the Morgoth imitations and raucous laughter, given Uruk-hai humor in LOTR…)
I would never have thought of this myself, history is really stranger than fiction — Roman generals have been reported to carry specially-designed mosaic floors which could be dismantled for transport to furnish their command pavilions, so that barbarian dignitaries would be sufficiently impressed. When I first read this, (aside from thinking "I wonder if I could make one?") I had to wonder what the Imperial GIs thought of that…
"bribe-and-threaten" — invoking Yeats' great ghost story "The Black Tower," excerpted here:
Those banners come to bribe or threaten
Or whisper that a man's a fool
Who when his own right king's forgotten
Cares what king sets up his rule.
If he died long ago
Why do you dread us so?
There in the tomb drops the faint moonlight
But wind comes up from the shore.
They shake when the winds roar
Old bones upon the mountain shake.
The canonical interchange over the succession is my warrant for assigning the role of King's Steward to Edrahil, described as the "foremost among the ten" and based on my own experience that people tend to use idioms natural to them and familiar from their own work. (Not to mention that there is no greater position of trust and responsibility, when you come right down to it.)
Yes, I actually used "weird" in a statement about Fate. So the sentence works in both Old English and Modern English, because if you replace the word with its original, "wyrd," which means simply "Doom" or "Fate," it's also a correct and perfectly reasonable, if rather tautological, Anglo-Saxon declaration. I should probably pay a forfeit for macaronic (multilingual) punning, but it is an established tradition from the Middle Ages. Refers to Silm., the end of the chapter "Of the Noldor in Beleriand".
I have to think that "Your mother wears combat boots" would fall rather flat addressed to the son of a Shieldmaiden of the North.
"To me" — a traditional battle cry, but also evoking the shepherd's call to his herd dog — "Away to me," meaning circle around widdershins and come to a down-stay at heel. The continual equation of Beren, like Cuchulain of the Celtic sagas, to a loyal hound is not at all mine, but The Professor's, by the by.
nerhneta - the discussion of Noldor tactical survivals and terminology is found in Unfinished Tales, "The Disaster of the Gladden Fields," where, pinned down in a swamp by superior forces, Isildur's forces cannot use a flying wedge to break out but instead must form sandastan (Qu) or thangail (Si,) the thorny hedge of spears projecting from a staggered shield-wall which can be tightened up into a circle — and I imagine the formation employed in the Fen of Serech.
Morgoth's Parole - referring to the sowing of discord and seduction to rivalry carried out undercover by Morgoth after his release from prison following his first attempt to destroy all light in the world, when he was allowed to go about freely just as though he'd never done anything treacherous before and all was forgiven.
gambeson - a padded undertunic worn beneath mail for protection
The healing effect of water and water's sound is a common theme in Middle-earth, and like the protective aspect of water against Darkside influence derives from the presence of the Lord of Waters, the Vala Ulmo, who as the "Loyal Opposition" continues to actively meddle in the doings of the Elves after the Rebellion and the Ban, most overtly in the Tuor-Gondolin situation, but always and everywhere as he explains to Tuor. (See also FOTR.)
My own invention, but I assume that the Elven cultures would have had far more complicated and subtle and beautiful tunings and scales than even we have, of which there are far more than merely "major" and "minor" though this fact is often concealed like forbidden lore from beginning music students. And that, since they gave grammatical forms cool names, their musical modes would have cool appropriate names too.
Moving the discussion of whether the Oath somehow works on its own in the world from the prior discussion between Beren and Finrod is my one significant variant (as opposed to filling in detail) from canon: artistic license taken for dramatic balance, and not significantly affecting the story — in fact, I indicate that they've talked, as per canon, about the SOF problem already before the scene opens.But thinking about this in detail just made me start seeing parallels to the working of the Ring in the Third Age, and I wanted to give it its own particular emphasis.
"thing made by craft": what Beren said in contempt about Thingol's demand for dowry, rating the Silmaril against Luthien, presumed here to be recollected from his earlier recounting of events.
Bereg: one of two rebels among the Edain who were tempted by Sauron-in-disguise to reject the Eldar and return back East across the Blue Mountains. Amlach of the House of Hador tumbled to the fact that he was being used and had, and returned to the war against Morgoth with renewed fervor, but Bereg of House Bëor led a group of discontented partisans back East, where they disappeared from recorded Middle-earth history. See Silmarillion, "Of the Coming of Men into the West," for details; particularly invoked is his line, "Let the Eldar look to it! [ie, the Leaguer] Our lives are short enough."
The presumption that Finrod might have been not completely thorough in his account of the Revolt of the Noldor is based on the fact that he and his family didn't happen to mention it to their hosts Thingol and Melian until forced to, and his and his siblings' reluctance to speak ill of others, as well as the wretchedness of the past events. And that Beren might well have not paid a lot of attention to that part of the Lore as a kid comes from the common response of a lot of us, apparently, to that part of the History — that troubled combination of Eeeegads! and What???
"lands beyond Gelion": as eventually this is exactly what Beren does; I provide this here as foreshadowing, inspiration, unifying of themes, any or all of these. The fact that some of the inhabitants of Ossiriand are of the same tribes that historically have been allied with Doriath, whose king and royal house died coming to the rescue of Doriath in the days before Melian set the Girdle about it, and who gave up on warfare and involvment in the war thereafter is merely one more link in a very complex mesh of implications.
Finrod's song, apart from the obvious invocations of the Arda Mythos, is modeled in part on the Canticles in the Hebrew Scriptures of Daniel and some of the Psalms, in part on G.M. Hopkins' Pied Beauty, and in part on the Anglo-Saxon Metrical Verses from the Exeter Book which begin "Cyning sceal rica healden," contain the line "orthanc entea geweorc," and are often aka "the Gnomic Verses" pronounced of course 'Nomic' — and thus I am both repaid in kind, and justified in my punning by the highest authority…
The epithet "Unburning" derives from the symbology of Ghanian traditional reincarnatory monotheism, where the idea of that which burns eternally without being consumed or destroyed is used as one of the ways to describe the Divine; it is also evocative of the Stoic belief in Fire as the Element underlying the universe, and the essential nature of the soul.
The discussion re darkening their armor (reference LL1, Canto VII) both invokes the canon of Elven magic being a natural, not a supernatural process, and the entire question of what's "magic" being confusing to them (FOTR, the conversation with Galadriel in Lothlorien) — and various exchanges I've had over the years regarding technologies that more sophisticated people don't even question, such as polarization, after which explanations I tended to go away thinking "Yup, — magic."
I just tend to think that the SOFs are the sort of people who wouldn't be able to resist coming down to gloat, even if, for prudential reasons, discreetly.
And Huan, who we are told in LL1 loves the King, would surely also be there to say goodbye.
Frontspiece — Houseguests from Hell
(Some of the detail here is far clearer in the full-resolution version for printing, which is available by email upon request, being about 1.2 MB.)
The three tile designs behind the throne represent three sigils used by Finrod in Middle-earth — the first two are traced directly freehand from JRRT's own designs, and the third is my interpretation based on textual description of a device that I have not seen any authoritative rendering for as yet but only verbal descriptions.
The uppermost and central design is the emblem of House Finarfin, with golden sun rays which also evoke Egyptian lilies in their termini. As Finrod is in the peculiar position of having taken up the overlordship of his group after his father's conscience will no longer allow him to go on, and in a sense is the vicarious king of his people here in Middle-earth, it seems fitting to me that he would employ the heraldic device of his father's House, just as Fingolfin, as High King of the Noldor after Maedhros' relinquishment of the right of the Eldest, bears his father Finwë's symbol of the Sun-in-Splendour for his own.
The left sigil is Finrod's personal badge representing his role as liege-lord of Bëor: the symbols of a harp and blazing torch on a green field are invocative of the history recounted in Silm., wherein Finrod is inspired to wander off on his own while hunting with his kinsmen and discovers the first of the clans of the Secondborn, who have crossed the mountains to find peace and hope to discover the Valar, based on tales and rumors from the Avari who taught them in the East. There he took up the harp of their leader, Balan, as they slept, and began to sing to them of the story of the making of Arda, and the Marring, and the High-Elven lore, and both they and he found that he could understand their thoughts and convey his meaning to them with his music, and thus they were able to work to a common linguistic understanding. After convincing them that he was not in fact a Vala, Finrod assumed the role of protector and teacher and became ultimately their King, and Balan received the accolade of Bëor, which is translated as 'vassal,' and Finrod got the often thankless job of mediating between the other Elven kindreds and the influx of Mortals from beyond the mountains, those who became the Edain. The Harp and Torch are therefore both historically literal and symbolically figurative.
The rightmost symbol is the device found also on the ring given to Barahir by his King after the Battle of Sudden Flame: Finarfin's personal badge of obscure origin, showing two golden serpents beneath a crown of flowers, that "one upholds and one devours" — in this instance I've made the device rendering in a more Indo-European style, reminiscent of the protective serpents rendered in exquisite goldwork knotted through jewelry from the height of Classical Greece and Rome. This design fit the area better than the alternative, a cadeuceus-style layout, as well as fitting the text.
The Nauglamir design is entirely and hubristically my own, but inspired by the fact that it's described in a term that I have only heard used of the kinds of great gemmed collars such as the ones made for Tutankhamen — both graceful and weightless-seeming on whomever wore it. The weight and balance of the Egyptian collars and the exquisite detail and technical skill employed in crafting them does in fact seem magical. But in addition to the agrarian themes of the original collars, with their gem-crafted Seeds and Flowers, and the wings of the sacred birds, I've worked in the common world mythic elements of the Sun and Moon and Stars, the Indo-European symbols of Salmon and Wave and Beech Leaf, and the bird opposing the Eagle is the Swan which is mighty in Celtic lore as well, and in the center is the flame representing the Secret Fire, the Flame of Anor, which the wearer serves. I've attempted to do the idea of it justice…
For the design style of Nargothrond, as opposed to that of Menegroth, I've employed a form of the Industrial Design version of Art Nouveau, of which Christopher Dresser is one of the more famous workers — it seems with its splintering rays and angles that could be light, could be leaves, could be mathematical paradigms, (could be birds' wings, too, for that matter) to be particularly appropriate for the Noldor. However you'll note that the more organic Sindarin style is employed as well where apt, and that every individual's gear and costume is different and unique — neither mass-production nor conformity being particularly characteristic of Elven society! (And, consistently, Beren's own sword-belt is held together with knots — replacement buckles, and blacksmiths, being no doubt hard to come by under the New Regime in Dorthonion.)
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