4. Scene III
The Lay of Leithian Dramatic Script Project
THE SOJOURN IN NARGOTHROND: HOUSEGUESTS FROM HELL
Act II of The Lay of Leithian
retold in the vernacular as a dramatic script
(with apologies to Messrs. Tolkien & Shakespeare)
- To such a kingly welcome as, though well-deserved,
lost Dorthonion's lord hath scarcely dared whereof to hope,
Beren now is come, and here in royal rooms, and served
by Finrod Felagund himself, he finds him rest, and dares to open (as only to one other e're before) the hard-defended chamber
of his inmost thought.
Hearing his mind, the Lord of Caves
wondering greatly, considers all his words, spoken and unspoken,
deeming him here a sign of fortune, or doom, nor that he raves
when of his mad and main-wrought quest he tells -- how broken
never will his given vow and pledged love ere be, while Sun
and Moon cross 'twixt heaven's stars and the Endless Sea.
[Finrod's apartments. Beren, somewhat less disheveled, reclines before the fireplace watching the flames. Finrod is seated across from him on the floor. A carafe is between them; each holds a wineglass. As the camera moves it is revealed that Huan, asleep, is serving as backrest for Beren.]
[Finrod pours. Beren holds up & admires before the light. When he speaks his words are slower than usual, but not slurred: exhaustion, not drink, has overtaken him.]
Thanks. --This is amazing stuff. I'd expect I'd be unconscious by now . . . I can't remember when I last had wine; it's got to be six or seven years, I guess. It's the strangest thing: I can barely move, I couldn't fight now to -- hah -- save my life, and -- you know, it doesn't bother me at all. My mind is perfectly clear. I think -- I think this must be what safety feels like. If I ever knew it before, I must have forgotten a long time ago . . . Where was I?
- You were explaining why you remained behind when the last contingent of refugees departed.
- Oh, right. --You sure this isn't boring you?
[Finrod shakes his head]
Okay. --So then Da says, to him, "What did I tell you?" and Old Man Galthrin says, "You said Orcs, me lord -- you said nothin' about any Trolls!" -- I guess it isn't that funny. But it was at the point where there was practically nothing left for us to defend, and yet the less there was, the less we were willing to give it up. The land itself . . . was getting strange . . . along the edges, and farms just . . . disappeared, from time to time. Not burned, just gone, like old ruins. But the survivors wouldn't give up, and we couldn't abandon them. Finally -- and this had going on for a long time, it didn't just come out of nowhere -- Ma said that Dorthonion was dying alive, that the only way to survive was to cut out what hadn't been too touched by blight and transplant it somewhere new. And Da said, "But the roots aren't dead yet, Em." And she just looked at him, and -- I knew.
- Did you really think you could save anything by staying?
- Da was no fool. He wished me to go with her because he thought I'd be safer that way, but he told me that she'd be safer if I was there to look after her. Ma wanted me to stay with him because she figured we'd both be safer looking after each other, and she didn't really think they were going to make it. We drew lots; I got Da's arrow.
- What did you want?
- Dorthonion healed. -- Not one of the options, though. That was, hm, two years after the Dagor Bragollach? Three? Dunno.
- Finrod: [winces]
- I'm sorry. Do you know if they made it through?
- Beren: [shaking his head]
- I've heard rumors now and then. Nothing reliable. I think -- I think -- I'm pretty sure she's dead, regardless. I -- she only left because of the younger children. Once she'd seen them safe in Brethil -- assuming there's anywhere safe in Middle-earth -- I think she would have come back. Or tried to. That was the plan, though she didn't tell Da that. Seven years, though . . . she was one hell of a fighter. I don't think they took her alive.
- That sounds . . . plausible. I heard much of Emeldir from your father during the War. He used to say I'd be better served by her, because then I'd have wits too, as well as a wielded sword at my command.
- That sounds like Da.
--When we still had the fort, one of the things I hated worst--? Repacking the hedge. Worse than mudding up the walls in winter. Doesn't matter how much you wrap your hands, you still end up looking like you lost a fight with a wildcat. Couple times I tried to pull rank on some of the younger kids: hey, I'm the chief's nephew, you're just a couple of thanes, you go shove thorns into the barrier, I'll stand guard on the tower. Besides, I'm a better aim. --Actually got away with it. Twice, I think.
- Did they report you to her?
- No -- she found them at it and pried the truth out of them. Then she called me out.
- Called you -- out? As in a duel?
- Beren: [nods]
- She said if I was remanding her directives and changing the order of battle, then that obviously meant I thought I ought to be in charge of the fort. And in that case she was going to answer the challenge, because she had accepted the charge from the Lords of Dorthonion and she wasn't yielding it to Man nor Orc.
- What did you say?
- After "Ma, wait--" and various assorted exclamations of pain? Let's see -- "I'm sorry, Hathaldir; I'm sorry, Dagnir; everyone, I'm sorry for failing to give you the respect owed by your ruling House." Then I was allowed to stitch myself up. I thought she broke my collar-bone, but I could use my arm after a week, so it wasn't that bad.
- Weren't you -- angry, with her?
- Oh, yeah. I was furious. After I stopped shaking I went down to yell at her --
- Finrod: [incredulous]
- --After you'd just just lost a sword-fight with her?
- Why do you think that's funny? Something else would have come up and we wouldn't have gotten it out of the way. And there she was, doing my work, with her hands all torn up from the hawthorn branches. So I just started helping her as best I could. And after a bit I asked her why she didn't just make me do it, instead of busting my shoulder in front of everybody. And she said, "You can't make people do anything, kid. The best you can do is show them how to want it." So then I said, "But when you tell people what to do, they do it." And she says, "That's because they want to." And I said something stupid, and she came right back with, "Well, if they want to not have their heads broken more than they want not to do their jobs, then they're still wanting it, right?"
So then I asked why she didn't make someone else want to do this for her, and she just gives me this Look. And then she said, "You never, ever, ask someone to do what you're not willing to accept yourself." And I was too dumb to stop, and I said, "But aren't you too important to do this?" And she points over at the gate post next to us, and she says, "Your grandfather pulled that lodgepole out of the forest when the last one was hit by lightning, because it was tall, but not too broad, straight, sound but not too heavy, and of a bore with the last one. That's what it is to be chosen leader. Occasional lightning and all. Or Orcs, as the case may be."
[Huan stirs and whines sleepily, setting his head down with a grumble]
And then about a fortnight after my Da comes home, and my uncle's not with him.
- Did you ever think of going after her?
- I didn't know where to start. And there were still people who wouldn't -- or couldn't, by then -- leave. I thought -- I thought she'd try to find her way back, I left runes and checked all our haunts on my rounds, but . . .
- Why did you leave?
- It wasn't a conscious decision at that point. I hadn't slept in days, they were everywhere beating the woods for me, all my permanent camps were staked out, the only thing I could do was keep moving . . . why do the deer move when there's famine and the hounds are after them? Aside from natural disinclination -- which some people would disallow as a valid motive -- I suppose -- in so far as I was capable of any kind of rational judgment -- that I realized that being run to earth, cut down and butchered by Orcs wasn't going to serve anyone's purpose but Morgoth's. I think -- I don't think I was completely sane. Not as men mean it. There was a clarity to it, but not meaning. I was, the world was, they were. I was where they were not. -- Far past the point where any sense of duty or hope remains.
- Finrod: [very softly]
- That point you reach when you're so tired that you just want to lie down and stop-- but the body drags on like a hound on a leash until flesh fails and falls, and then the spirit burns to madness until somehow one cannot bear its pangs and staggers on again.
- Beren: [suddenly alert]
- You . . . do understand . . . ?
- We have no songs that celebrate it. We endured. That's all. You must have heard -- the legends. The Grinding Ice, the Crossing -- words, for something beyond words.
- 'Beyond words' . . . where there are no words for it, there is only -- itself.
- Finrod: [lost]
- Think of the worst night of the harshest winter you've ever known: to me that would, I judge, be as a brisk morning for you. The Sun is always present, even when we cannot see her, and the world is always warmed. But in the Night Without Stars we had nothing -- only endless, crushing, devouring cold, until all that is left is loathing for one's self, for very life itself . . . when the only light is that of other souls . . .
[Silently Beren props himself forward and fills the King's glass once more. Finrod drinks it off in one go.]
- I'm sorry. This is gloomy hospitality.
- More wine?
[Beren refills both glasses and slides back against Huan.]
- Finrod: [more brightly]
- Is it true that the price on your head was equal to that that's been set for my cousin Fingon?
- That's what they said. Since nobody ever collected on it, it's hard to say if that was just talk, or if they would have actually paid out.
- That's rather a signal honor, to be counted the equal of a Noldorin King.
- Beren: [manic grin]
- I should have thought of that in Doriath. That might have impressed His Nibs a bit more than -- 'Um, hey, my relatives were heroes.'
- Finrod: [troubled]
- He wants you dead, you realize that.
- Oh yeah. -- He said as much. In some detail, too.
Not that I really blame him -- I mean, look at it from their point of view: the King's daughter of Doriath shows up one fine evening with this inarticulate loser in ripped camouflage and says, "Guess what! I've found my soulmate, Dad!" I knew it was a bad idea. And then I tried talking and I should have just kept my mouth shut. It was pretty funny, actually, at least if you weren't us.
- You're too harsh on yourself.
- Oh, you weren't there. It was bad. -- It was worse, actually.
- But surely your lineage, your legend, your House's service with my own, all would count for something, even with Elu. I've been a friend of his for ages -- he's paranoid, but with perfectly good reasons, and he's not blind.
- Beren: [shakes head]
- Like I said, it was doomed from the beginning. And really, his reaction was entirely justified, and more than he knew. Yeah, lords of Dorthonion and all -- but that was a long time ago. I'm not the same person I was.
See that arch up there? I could get up there, and no one would be able to see me until it was too late, because I could cover the doorway without offering a target. And if I could, someone else could do it. Even though I know I'm safe here, I'm aware of that. Not like I could do anything about it just now, but I can't help noticing. But it isn't just that. I couldn't talk for months, even after I got to Doriath. I was not . . . entirely sane. I -- don't think she told them that. In fact I'm sure of that. So, hoo boy, it could have been worse. --Cheerful thought, huh?
- Finrod: [seriously]
- You'll have to reconcile with him after this is all over, you know. You can't take Luthien back to Dorthonion, and even if you both come here to live, it isn't as though you can legitimately cut off all contact with her family, even if Luthien's angry enough to do so. And then there are political connections, too. I have to think of them, Beren.
- Beren: [deadpan]
- Well, you've already convinced me of the need to apologize and be nice to your two noble kinsman, so we can enlist them into going along with the program until we get to Thingol's with the jewel, and since the other half of that plan hinges on you talking him into being gracious enough to then make a gift of it, thereby keeping the Sons of Feanor happy, and not homicidal, (and incidentally at the same time delivering the most staggering insult possible to them which we won't tell them about, and making up for a couple few centuries of general oneryness and rude behavior to Thingol on their part) -- yeah, sure. I can probably manage not to mortally offend Tinuviel's father next time. So long as you do the talking, I'll do the keeping-quiet.
- Finrod: [more serious and admonishing]
- And you will do this, will you not? All of it?
- Beren: [still deadpan]
- You don't think I'd be crazy enough to jeopardize my whole life because the Sons of Feanor are a pair of arrogant bastards who for some unknown reason took an instant disliking to me?
- Finrod: [awkwardly]
- I have -- hm -- noticed a certain -- er, how can I put this tactfully? -- intransigence in your people, over the years.
- Beren: [grins]
- --Stubborn as rocks, that's us. Goes with the territory, I guess.
- Finrod: [fascinated]
- Really? Do you think that's it? Something to do with geography?
- Beren: [confused]
- I don't -- I don't know. Maybe. I was just using a figure of speech.
- Finrod: [musing]
- -- Haleth was like that. Wonderful child, but one had to be careful not to agree with her too closely, or she'd take it all wrong.
- I'm not that bad. I don't think. --Hey! You knew Haleth? As in the Haleth? Lady Haleth of Brethil?
- Yes, she was having a run-in with Elwe, as it happens. Or Elu, as he calls himself now. Life's funny like that.
- It makes a little more sense if he's like the rest of the crew, but I never understood why she wouldn't take up Lord Caranthir's offer of shelter.
- Finrod: [drily]
- Obviously you've never met Caranthir.
- ? . . . ?
- --Let me put it this way: I don't cross him. --Ever. No, that wasn't the incident I was referring to. Why? Because Haleth was an intelligent and perceptive young woman and was not fooled by Caranthir's charming ways and words. Ever wonder why they showed up a week late, after the lord of the land was killed, and the heir, when they were practically in his backyard? Caranthir knew them for efficient fighters, and wanted them grateful, and leaderless. And he has not, so far as I can tell, the slightest compunction about using mortal Men as a screen for his more -- valued, shall we say -- troops. --I don't know that for a fact, of course. That's just my reading of the events. And the way he spits when he hears her name. No, I was referring to the -- tenor, of her exchanges with Elu over that unused property of his. It was a rather, er, heated crossfire to be caught in. A little tact might have made a great difference.
- Beren: [recognizing the hint]
- There was . . . not really . . . it was too late for tact by then. --Doomed from the beginning, I'm afraid. Everything I said made it worse.
I can probably patch things up. It still might even be wiser for us to go back and talk to Elu and to Melian -- you did say she was more favorably disposed towards your suit? -- and try to put this nonsense out of the way.
- Tinuviel said that. I -- couldn't tell. Maybe. She didn't look like she wanted me eviscerated, but I wouldn't say she looked happy. But it doesn't matter. I can't go back without it. I'm sorry. I can't.
- I'll not press you again on that, then.
Are you sure you're not related to the Haladin?
- Beren: [grins wryly]
- Not as far as I know. --I still can't believe you knew her. Wow. She lived almost as long ago as Beor. That's --
- Finrod: [worried look]
- Beren -- I knew Beor.
- I know. --I know.
- But do you understand, Beren? Luthien, whom you charmingly persist in calling, not inappropriately, Tinuviel, but which I cannot imagine endeared you further to Elu, is young to my mind -- but already had seen centuries before your ancestor was ever born. Can you begin to comprehend how strange it is to us, to think of one of us finding her match in a mortal Man, whose entire life is over and forgotten even, in the passing of one of our measures of time?
[Beren looks at him in distress; Huan grumbles softly in his sleep.]
Even though, since our Return, time has fled faster even for us, the urgencies of war making us care for the coming of winter and the haste of summer, for messages and meetings and councils marked by the passing of days, and hours even, and not weeks -- still it is not for us as it is for you, and cannot ever be so. How can you begin to measure the compass of her thought, who saw the first Sunrise of the world, when you have not lived a single twelve-twelvemonths' span?
[Finrod's expression is sympathetic but urgent, attempting to convey his fears. Beren turns away abruptly and stares fiercely into the flames.]
- Beren: [low but clear]
- I heard a story . . . long ago, when I was a boy, but it was there everyday somehow, always behind the surface . . . about one who came out of darkness, to where we lay dull and almost speechless, and gave us words, and thoughts, and the knowledge of ourselves, and song.
[Finrod bows his head and is silent.]
--So Tinuviel came to me, when I was lost and alone and almost without name, and I can no more hold nor measure her than I could measure the stars of the Burning Brier, or take the Sickle in my hand, but without her I am blind and deaf and dumb, and I could no more live without her light than theirs!
Forgive me -- I spoke without thinking. Again.
- Finrod: [very quietly]
- Forgive -- that you have learned so well? --No, Beren, I will not question you in this again, nor insult you, nor her through you. I thought I had seen all things, known all that mortal or Elven mind might do, and here is a new song that I've never heard before -- but that does not make it an ill one. More wine? Or shall I take your glass?
It seems strange -- wrong, somehow. You shouldn't be waiting on me. --Sir. Sire. I'm sorry. I do know the right way to behave.
- --Please. I should hope that if I am a good enough host to put you at your ease, that I would not then be offended by your informality! And this is hardly burdensome service, my friend.
- Beren: [with a wry smile]
- -- Friend.
- --If I may presume so much.
- Beren: [softly]
- I'd hoped to meet with courtesy. No more than that. With duty, and civility at best -- at least a formal welcome, the bare necessities, a guide along the beginning of my road. I dared presume no more -- I'm not my father, nor my uncle, I've done nothing for you or yours. I never thought -- to find -- a home.
- Nothing? Beren, you, alone, have done more in your short lifetime than many Elves have accomplished in a hundred years. Your efforts against Morgoth, tying up so many of his forces, for so long, spreading such fear among them and setting such example for the enslaved and oppressed -- not for your people alone, though you might not have realized that fact, but for every creature friendly to the Light!
[Beren cannot quite believe this is not mockery. Finrod's expression convinces him otherwise.]
- I should give you back your ring, Sire.
- Keep it for your children. The debt I owe your family is beyond measure.
- Beren: [raises eyebrows]
- -- Optimist.
- Finrod: [earnestly]
- With you here to inspire, to lend your ability and legend to the cause, what will we not be able to achieve? We are stultifying here, Barahirion, to a degree you might not believe, seeing our rigorous defenses -- but that's all we've done since the last engagement ended. Small battles, little skirmishes, no one dares to do more. Not us, not Morgoth. But little by little, he accomplishes by sheer inertia, and we are defeated without a blow, because others fall to him.
[becoming more agitated]
Oh, we plan -- we prepare -- but what have we actually done? I can't even get a weapons development program to fulfillment, not even after Dagor Bragollach -- you'd think that people would see the need, see that he surely won't be resting on the successes of his biomechanoids and chemical weapons. I shudder to think of what he must be coming up with while we waffle over the symbolism and cosmology of warhead shapes, and squander the resources set aside on designing the world's largest planetarium!
- Er . . .
- Finrod: [in full rant]
- Oh, I know all the arguments -- that a perfect design, in perfection of harmony with the heavens, cannot but ensure victory; that the disregard of celestial balances is what doomed us before, that tiny inefficiencies in the cosmic pattern create massive chaos down the line. Grinding Ice! do I ever know them. And know a smokescreen when I see one, too. We lost too many, last time. It isn't the people who were there who cannot bear to think of renewing the attack: it's the ones left behind. We survivors would go back in an instant, and not stand around waiting for him to come out, if we had the means.
[He grips Beren's shoulder]
We will be rekindled with your presence, and renew the battle, and my people will see what they have been blind to all these years in ease and hiding, and together we will accomplish such deeds for the Light as Arda will never forget. --But that's for later: you're exhausted. We'll speak more when you've rested. --Good night, Huan. Rest well, my friend.
- Beren: [thumping Huan's neck]
- Won't Celegorm be upset if he discovers his dog is here?
- Undoubtedly, if he notices. Huan roams most of the time as he pleases. He's older than I am, and quite capable of deciding what he should do without my say-so.
- But he still belongs to Celegorm . . . ?
- So Celegorm thinks. Huan's his own dog, so far as I can tell, and does pretty much as he thinks best. -- In that he is not unlike a certain Man named Balan I once knew, and his descendants. Remind me to tell you about the time your many-times-great-grandfather forcibly convinced me that accelerated healing is not always an adequate substitute for cautery and stitches.
- What happened?
- Finrod: [raising an eyebrow]
- A skirmish, an Orc-scimitar, a long journey still to take, and no time for foolishness like rest or medical attention. I was not entirely sane at the time, either. Are you sure you'll be comfortable? Just on the tile like that?
- Oh, yeah. --It's flat. And dry. --And there's no down to fall, either. So long as Huan doesn't stand up, I'm good -- and probably even then. I don't know about not having my weapons to hand, though.
- Would you be more comfortable with your gear? I can send for it --
- Beren: [shrugs]
- I don't want to make trouble.
- Finrod: [mildly]
- I am in charge here: it won't be a difficulty. --It would be a strange thing indeed if I could not trust the son of Barahir of the house of Beor in my presence armed, or on my doorstep! I'll fetch your weapons for you.
- No, please -- it's not worth the trouble. I'll be fine.
That'd make your two noble kinsmen shake their heads, I bet. I can just imagine what they'd say.
- That I give such trust to mortal men, or to your preference for sleeping under arms?
- Both. Either.
- They've forgotten what it was to live in the field -- not that they ever truly did without the comforts of home when they could, you'll hear some -- interesting -- stories if you listen closely around here -- but they're also annoyed that you don't seem to be sufficiently impressed by the Eldar.
- I --
[bites his lip in frustration]
Sir, I'm sorry, I mean no insult to Nargothrond, or to your folk. It -- it's beyond words here, for one. For another -- I've grown up all my life hearing of the greatness of Felagund's court, and now I'm here, and I'm amazed. And for last -- I've hiked here from Doriath. I'm starved as much for shelter and kindness as a stray hound for his meat. More than that -- way beyond my ability to take in right now.
- Do you think I don't know all that? Don't let it trouble you. I at least remember what it is to sleep in a swamp, in one's armor, grateful for a few inches of water to hide in under a burning sky, and kind hands holding one out of it as one's wounds are bandaged. Nargothrond is not insulted by your presence, Beor.
- Beren: [with a worried look]
- I'm -- I'm not . . .
- I know you are yourself alone, (however confused you might have left some today.) I meant it in the general, not the specific sense.
- But -- I've given you you no vow of fealty, sire.
- Ah, the word is still confused in the translation. Funny how such things persist.
- I'm afraid I don't understand . . . ?
- You translate it 'vassal', and I am not entirely sure how mortals understand the word. As we use it, it is more, and less, and other, than a contract of law, or a bargain of power. It means . . . 'one in whom one has complete reliance,' -- one who can be entrusted with a great work and more, needing no supervision. The words are but recognition of what is. Vows will not hold one to duty in the end. And it means, as well, the other half: that the trust is mutual, that the duty is given but for duty, and that faith will be kept in turn.
[he looks away, then meets Beren's eyes]
Ultimately -- it means, when all else fails, that one may send a vassal to his death, but never without good reason. Never from pride, or willful ignorance, or carelessness. Never a duty given without regard for the servant's honor. -- Lest in turn the liege turn traitor, and the bond be broken. But you know this already, son of Barahir and Emeldir, brother's son of Bregolas, lord of Dorthonion, -- whether you name it or not.
- I hope I will earn this trust, then.
- You will never fail me, my friend.
- Is that your -- your Foresight, sir?
- No. That's merely judgment. Now take your rest: I must excuse myself for preparation of our plans -- which means, unfortunately, as many meetings as it does maps!
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