7. Scene V, Part I
The Lay of Leithian Dramatic Script Project
Houseguests from Hell, or, 'So, what exactly do you two do around here, anyway?'
THE SOJOURN IN NARGOTHROND FROM THE LAY OF LEITHIAN
retold in the vernacular as a dramatic script
(with apologies to Messrs. Tolkien & Shakespeare)
Little knowing of the ways of the older world
wherein kings contend with craft and cunning,
(hailing from a simpler land, a simpler folk
of speech plainer, of ways hardier, making
no purpose of the twisted paths of curled
intrigue, nor seeing need for suchlike works)
Dorthonion's young scion ventures forth
onto a field of battle where hidden lurks
such attack as ne'er might he foreguess.
-- His skills at secret warfare are all plain:
the ways of stealth, of hiding, of leading 'stray
the clamoring foe, the hungry beast, with main
force to smite, or with speed to flee;
treason knows he indeed, too well -- still
e'en there the patterns plain and black
of heart tormented and body wracked
ask no unanswerable questions of the soul.
How indeed shall he prepare, defend, when fire
out of the ancient Ages past spills wide,
when words wake fear, and greed calls forth desire--?
[At the entrance to the throne room -- via one of the smaller side doors, not the wide and fancy main entrances, that leads in behind a colonnade -- the Captain is about to usher Beren in when he stops suddenly.]
Captain: What's wrong?
Beren: [quickly lashing the peace-strings around his sword-hilt] I forgot to safe my blade again. --Do you need to check the knots?
Beren: [shrugs] "A stranger, armed, in the King's presence" . . . ?
Captain: [dryly] Seeing that it was he who ordered your weapons be returned you, I rather think it's all right. But if your scruples insist . . .
[he gives the hilt an experimental tug]
Safety's on just fine. Come on --
[gesturing Beren through. They pass through the colonnade and out across the apse-like area of the upper hall, Beren trailing along behind, staring up at the carvings and the vaulted ceilings and the way that natural formations have been employed as some of the columns. The Captain pauses to wait for him, amused.]
Beren: [awed] How long did it take to make all of this?
Captain: Well, so far it's taken about two and a half Great Years. That of course includes work on the rest of the place, you understand, not just this hall.
Beren: And your Great Years -- one of them's what, a hundred-forty-four years?
Captain: That's right, twelve-twelvemonths. But it isn't done yet. Never will be, I expect. He keeps tinkering with it -- like that bit over there, that's new, I don't think it's been there a score yet. Between that and all the other projects he's got going, I'm betting it'll be at least another Yen. --Maybe longer. Of course, if it was ever done he'd have to start a new one, you know.
[Beren frowns, trying to fit this into his worldview. They reach the central axis of the throne room, coming in right along the dais to where a large table has been put lengthwise across in front of the throne itself and about which around sixteen chairs are set.
Arrangement of council:
Inner side of the table, facing into the hall:
The King is seated at the middle, presiding over a group of counselors, which includes his brother Orodreth (to his right), the Steward (on his left, assisting), Finduilas (on her father's right), Gwindor (to her right), Guilin his father (at table's end), the Commander of Nargothrond's Cavalry (to the Steward's right) with the Soldier from the Fens as his aide (right) and an empty chair on the end.
To the left of the empty place on the opposite side is Curufin, beside Curufin the Master of the Defensive Illusions, then his Aide (to the left across from the Steward), another empty place, and three high-ranking Counselors, at least one of whom should be cast as female, befitting a Kingdom headed by Galadriel's wisest brother. The table is on the lowest and widest tier of the dais, as in the schematic below (assume the dais is slightly curved, despite the ASCII.)
There is also an Honor Guard present, two stationed by the throne, two behind the King's chair (they are among the Guards present at the Relief of Serech, as is one of the two beside the throne.]
G ||Thr|| G
Gw Fs Or Fi Ed CC Wr
C1 C2 C3 [B] Ai Mag Cu
Beren: Indeed yes, I've at last seen something truly Elven in my stay here, sir -- that Measurer that sings and shines.
Finrod: [genuinely pleased] It's wonderful, isn't it? --And have you found Nargothrond pleasant, to see it waking?
[there is a touch of Elvish -- or artistic -- vanity when he asks:]
It's never as fair as Menegroth, but it is beautiful, is it not?
Beren: [solemnly] Yeah. It's a nice big place you've got here.
[The King, appreciating the joke, grins; the Counselors look rather taken aback.]
Finrod: [all business again] How well do you ride, Barahirion? Have you much skill with horses? It may affect our schedule.
Beren: Well. None with horses -- but a lot with mountain ponies.
Guilin: [dismay] -- Ponies.
Beren: Don't laugh, my lord: it's harder than it sounds. They're carnivorous, and prefer the flesh of people. Men or Elves, makes no difference, I was told.
First Counselor: [skeptically] Carnivorous?
[Finrod covers a smile with his hand.]
First Guard: [whispering] I remember those little hellspawn. We should have sent them to fight the wolves.
Second Guard: [whispering] I thought they were wolves.
Finrod: Still, you'll want some training both to accustom yourself to the height and pacing of the Valinorean breed, and to staying in line with the rest of the "alquantar." If I recall correctly, your way was to run like a pack of hounds and over whatever or whoever's before you. Effective, very inspirational to keep up one's best speed, but not really a good idea with lances. A fortnight should do it, I think.
Beren: [jaw drops] Sire -- I don't -- I really don't think I could learn to ride with your swan- flight in two years, let alone two weeks -- forgive me, but I've never used a long-spear from horseback, we always would ride and dismount to fight -- and I've not ridden in seven, eight years --
Finrod: [dismissing his panic] Oh no -- you just need to be able to stay aboard and not crash into anyone on the turns. You're not going to take part in charges. It's merely a matter of coordination, you already know the basics, and you've got perfect balance. You'll do fine.
Beren: [resigned] All right.
I'm going to die. --Or wish that I had, at least.
Do I get to ask why?
Finrod: [deadpan] Certainly not.
I'm going to tell you in a minute, so why bother?
[Confused looks from most of the others who aren't used to mortal-style humor.]
My friends, my good counselors, those among you who have not yet made the acquaintance of The Beoring -- may I present to you the son of our people's great friend and far renowned in his own right, Beren Barahirion, House Beor, rightful Lord of Dorthonion, whose cause is well-known to all present here.
[Beren bows to the Council, deeply embarrassed by the introduction]
Beren, sit down, if you please -- when my good kinsman returns from his summons I'll conduct a full overview of the plan we've devised, less the more technical aspects that won't mean anything to you. In the meantime if you'd care to examine the maps, you may get a better feel for what we'll be talking about. Oh, and if anyone here has questions regarding the data we've been using, now's the time to ask, as our Chief of Intelligence is here now as well and his scouts have supplied most of it.
[Beren gives the Captain a startled look; the Captain innocently gives him his best I'm-just-a-simple-Ranger expression. A little nervously Beren goes to the empty place at the end of the table, where the chair is already pulled out.]
Curufin: [dryly] Don't push it, Beoring.
[sees Beren's confusion and sighs]
I've been given to understand that your rustic background and long removal from anything slightly resembling civilization account for your uncouth behavior and am willing to make admissions -- but my brother is not quite as patient as myself.
Beren: ? . . . ?
Curufin: [exasperated] That's his place. Anchor seat, next to me, focal point -- ring any bells?
Beren: Oh. Oh, I'm very sorry, I wasn't trying to be rude --
[goes to empty chair at center, across from Finrod; the Captain pulls it out before he can struggle with it and squeezes his shoulder before going over to talk shop with his counterparts. The maps on the table are not merely parchment, but are "active" with scalar projections and live indicators, like the topograph projections in Myst only much prettier. Fascinated, Beren keeps running his finger through the intangible array; when the Army Commander and his Aide get up to join the discussion on the other side of the table about seasonal cover along the watershed, he notices Curufin staring at him.]
Beren: [wry] I think this is what you call a "map," right?
Curufin: [a trifle drawn despite himself, almost genuinely playful:] That it is. --Ever seen one before?
Beren: Not like this, I haven't.
Curufin: Not quite so blasé about us Firstborn and our accomplishments now, hey?
Beren: [doing his darnedest to earn the trust put in him] Your son's amazingly skillful, my lord. That -- chronometer of his is truly the finest work of craft I've seen. You must be very proud of him.
Curufin: [grimacing, and totally sincere for once] He doesn't apply himself. He could do so much more if only he would concentrate on his own projects and not try to run all these other mentoring programs at the same time. But he's got no focus and people take advantage of him for it.
Beren: Well, it's good of him to take the time to teach, though.
Curufin: At the expense of perfecting his own art?
Beren: I thought that's usually how crafts work, whether handcraft or lorecraft.
Curufin: Among your folk, perhaps, where there's such a short time limit to accomplish both the practice and the transference. Among us it's a sign of mental, even moral instability, not to carry a thing to completion.
Beren: [nods] I can see how that would work.
Would it be impertinent to ask you a question, my lord?
Curufin: Well, that rather would depend on the question, I should think.
Beren: I've noticed you wear an unsheathed long-knife, unlike anyone else here. Is there a reason for it?
Curufin: Yes. Angcrist would cut right through anything I tried to keep the blade in.
Beren: Even mithril? It's truly that sharp?
Curufin: It is. --I think your kind would call it "magic."
Beren: But isn't that really dangerous? Couldn't you rig some kind of, oh, framework around to at least have a barrier so people wouldn't hit it by accident, so you wouldn't cut yourself? Like a fire-cage only smaller? I mean, we do have that tradition of the Vow of the Unsheathed Sword (though that's more one of those things in songs and tales really) but it just seems awfully risky to me.
Curufin: I think you're assuming that the same conditions obtain to the Kindred as to Mortals, with regards to kinesthesia -- perception of motion -- and physical awareness. We are conscious of ourselves, and all earthly things, in a way I doubt you can begin to imagine. Neither I nor anyone else is going to brush against it in absence of mind.
Beren: So what happens if you trip? It still seems dangerous to me.
Curufin: Eldar don't trip. Or do anything by accident -- my lord.
Beren: That must be nice.
[He is completely sincere, but Curufin gives him a suspicious look anyway]
And I suspect it's a lot more intimidating that way, too.
Curufin: [guarded approval] You're not as dumb as you look, boy.
Beren: [grins] That's a good thing, I guess?
[Once again Curufin has to resist the impulse to join in, not mock, but succeeds admirably nonetheless. The King, however, notes Beren's restraint and good will with approval, though Beren doesn't notice.]
Curufin: Quite. --So, do you think this mad plan has a chance of succeeding, or are you just going along with it for lack of better ideas?
Beren: Well, I -- don't know what the plan is yet, so I can't say whether it's mad or not, my lord.
Curufin: Trust me, it's a mad plan. I've spent the better part of the last half-millennium involved in this, as I assume you know, and they don't come any crazier than this. If it couldn't be accomplished with thousands upon thousands of troops and virtually unlimited support, I seriously doubt that anything less has a prayer of succeeding.
Beren: It's all about doing the unexpected. If they think you might do something, then your enemies will guard against it. If you've done it before, they'll put twice as many guards around to make sure you don't do it again. If you go around the other way, they stand there scratching their heads wondering what hit them, and then they put guards over there. I've seen it countless times. Seems silly, but no one can be everywhere, and if you can't imagine something, you can't imagine someone else doing it either.
Curufin: Well. You're quite the strategist, aren't you?
Beren: [sighs] Unfortunately.
[Celegorm enters and goes straight to his brother's side]
Celegorm: [aside to Curufin] --All of the Hindmost, or Sindar. None of our people are on duty.
Curufin: [low voice] Interesting. Most interesting.
Finrod: Is something wrong, cousin?
Celegorm: No, no, everything's fine, old chap. Carry on.
[takes the place at the end of the table]
Finrod: Thank you. If everyone would please be seated . . . ?
[The knots of individual discussion break up and the council members take their original places; the Captain returns to Beren's side of the table and takes up station behind his chair. (This makes Beren a bit twitchy because although he knows it's an honor, he's not used to having or allowing anyone behind him.)]
To sum up very quickly for you, the plan is to set out from here and move northward (again, very quickly,) with the lightest accoutrements possible and in three flights, each slightly staggered from the other, each advanced by half-a-day before the next. When we arrive here, we'll kite across the valley of the Sirion to ford here, angling back upwards there, and vectoring past Tol Sirion altogether to hit Serech higher up here, where the flats are covered with shallow water but it's not soft enough to bog us down, splash through to the edge of the plain and form one Great Wing to rush straight across -- and over -- whatever's before us to Eithel Sirion. I'm sure you and my cousin will have a great deal to talk about before we regroup for the infiltration part. We'll ride straight through each night and rest by day as we must, and take care not to get tangled up in any engagements but leave them in our dust. Or mud, depending--
Beren: [interrupting] --Is that possible?
--Sorry. --Your Majesty.
Finrod: [unfazed] I think so.
Beren: I mean, what about the horses? We can go all day, but they can't, can they? Not without us changing mounts, right?
Finrod: The Valinorean horse is not like that native to Middle-earth.
Someone: [not loud enough to reveal which of the Council but definitely Noldor] Either.
[The Captain shoots a got-your-number Look down that end of the table.]
Beren: And when we get there?
Finrod: You'll have a bit more to do than staying on then. We've some scaling devices to assist us and of course all will be stealthed, but we're still going to have to manage the climbing work ourselves along with despatching all sentries and resistance we encounter. The goal will be to encounter as little as possible -- it's a snatch-and-grab operation, not a havoc mission. And we have minimal data on the interior of Angband, except for some antiquated descriptions dating back to the last successful engagement with Morgoth, which are certainly inaccurate and misleading.
Beren: [frowning at the animated displays on the maps] So essentially we're sneaking into the Enemy's fortress via the mountains and trying to get as close to the target as we can without being noticed, figuring out a route as we go, and we don't know what the terrain looks like, only we know that it isn't like what it used to be?
Beren: Got it. How are we going to locate the jewel?
Finrod: Well, "down" is said to be a good direction, as far as Morgoth is concerned, and Lords Celegorm and Curufin have attested that they can perceive within a farther distance-range than any other Elf the presence of the Silmarils, so we shouldn't have to spend too much time--
Celegorm: [interrupting] Wait a minute, wait a minute, what do you mean, "Got it" --? He says "We're running blind into the midst of the greatest concentration of enemy forces to be found," and you say, "Got it" --?
Beren: [shrugs] It's what I do, my lord.
Celegorm: Oh, you're the outlaw! --I didn't recognize you, all cleaned up.
Beren: [solemnly] Amazing stuff, that hot water, my lord.
[to the King]
--The only thing I'm not sure about is how you said everything will be stealthed and how we're going to be avoiding most of the trouble along the way. I know what I would mean by it, but I was getting the feeling that it meant something different.
Finrod: Those are the technical aspects which are not going to require you to do anything at all. Each flight will have a full complement of Illusionists and Seers to forestall observation and anticipate enemy contact--
Beren: Got it.
Finrod: [to his Commander] A question, Lord Commander?
Cavalry Commander: Yes. One. Does he have to come with us?
Finrod: Yes. No sense in leaving any unnecessary legal loopholes. I enjoy an argument as much as Elu does, but priorities have to stay in proper order. Don't worry, it'll work out.
Celegorm: Cousin Finrod, could we go over those technical aspects in rather more detail? I confess freely, I'm a simple soul, and I prefer plain hunting and plain dealing, as well as plain fighting -- this talk of scribbling back and forth and stealth confuses me.
Finrod: Certainly. Master of Illusions, would you be so good as to attend and correct me if I've ommitted any of the necessary elements in --
Beren: [breaking in] Oh there was one other thing -- how are we coming home? Won't they be waiting for us?
Curufin: Not more than usual, my lord, seeing as that we'll be returning by the way of our siblings' holdings in the East, and thence to Doriath.
Beren: [nodding] Got it.
[Finrod, carefully expressionless, sets to an intense technical discussion with the Mage and Celegorm over diagrams]
Aide: [to Beren, curious, not trying to be rude] Is this how it goes at mortal councils? Interruptions and absence of formality and all?
[Across the table Finduilas gives Beren a sympathetic grimace]
Beren: Um, yeah, except there was usually more table-pounding.
Gwindor: --I'm sure it's figurative, Father.
Beren: No, it was loud, mostly. After my aunt died things got a little quieter 'cause Ma wouldn't put up with beer in the tablecloth or on the floor, but it was literal all right.
Curufin: [innocently] Care to give us a demonstration, eh?
Beren: Oh, no, I think I'll pass -- I see your drinking-ware is mostly glass, and I hear that's fragile stuff.
Curufin: Pity. --These cultural survivals from antiquity are always so fascinating.
Beren: All right, how about when we get back? Only we need ox-horn vessels full of beer so we can do it properly.
Defense Aide: Beer? That's that foul drink you people make out of bread, isn't it?
Beren: Er, not really. It has grain and yeast and water for ingredients, but -- different recipe.
First Counselor: [grimly] I remember King Finrod tried making some once.
[Bleak expressions of remembrance on those attending to the discussion]
Beren: [interested] Was it any good?
Orodreth: If by good you mean, "palatable", the answer is a most definite no, my Lord Barahirion. If by good you mean "similar to the original pattern", then I cannot say, as I was never able to force down enough on our visits to Brethil to make any sort of accurate observations as to its flavor.
Beren: Oh, Brethil. The Haladin might be valiant warriors, but they make wretched beer -- it's mead, actually. For real ale you have to start with mountain stream water and sweet grain from Ladros.
Orodreth: I have on occasion imbibed both, and -- I fear I could distinguish no difference whatsoever, milord.
Cavalry Commander: [impatiently] Gentles, is this in any way, shape, form or nebulous parallel relevant to the discussion at hand or the matter thereof?
Beren: [deadpan] I thought you folks wanted to see how mortals do this council thing. That's probably enough. --So what do you want me to do? Am I actually going to be riding in the angle? Which rank? Front or back?
Cavalry Commander: [mincing no words] That depends on how horrible you are. I'm saying at the outset, primaries or heart, because I want you where you'll bring down the fewest when you fall off.
Beren: Oh, good. Fewer to step on me, right?
Cavalry Commander: [nods] That too. We'll see how you do. --And what the King says.
Celegorm: [calling from background] Well, what's your final verdict, brother? Advise me with your shrewd counsel -- should we go along with this, or is it suicidal madness?
Curufin: [thoughtfully] Everyone here knows I think it's insane. Just for the record. But -- I am reminded by the Heir of Dorthonion that the unexpected may well succeed, and that daring is usually more than adequate to carry the day against an unprepared -- or overprepared -- adversary. And cousin Finrod's plan is certainly as daring as it is well-prepared.
Finrod: Thank you, cousin.
Beren: If it's any consolation, my lord, the ground is very steep where I grew up, and the terrain quite rugged. I'm used to difficult conditions.
Cavalry Commander: Scant. I'm not happy at all about letting a mind-deaf mortal near my horses, you should know. I'd far rather have you ride pillion as per when we take the archers to the front, but you're too coarse-boned for that with the distance we have to to cover. If you're rough with them in practice I will find ways to make you regret it, though.
Beren: I used to be passable. Long time back I could even do the shooting-from-the- saddle thing and get maybe one wolf in three.
Cavalry Commander: Really.
Beren: Really. All right, maybe it was closer to one in four. It was kind of a showing- off thing, more than anything else.
Cavalry Commander: Forgive me if I appear skeptical, but that would require use of both hands, would it not? What about your reins?
Beren: What about 'em? I knotted the leathers so we wouldn't trip on them.
Cavalry Commander: [clearly unconvinced] Indeed.
[His ADC tries to get his attention]
Warrior: Sir -- Huan trusts him. And Barahir was always good to the little fiends -- even though I wanted to beat them, because they Just. Don't. Listen. And they're wicked, even if they're not Evil.
Cavalry Commander: [eyeing Beren] Hmph.
Warrior: Not all bad, though -- at least the "not listening" part -- a mind-linked rider terrified out of any pretense of rationality on an already-terrified steed is a very, very bad combination. And a mountless courier's precious little use in a redoubt scenario when the nearest help's Stars-know-where. Vicious half-wild mountain ponies having to be head-wrestled at all times, at least don't care if they've just lost their own rider, or whether their master is having Premonitions of Cosmic Doom, or pick up the images from all down the line of things past Elven, let alone equine, contemplation -- they just want to get away from the fires and maybe get a few good bites in along the way.
Cavalry Commander: [shrewdly] I've never heard you talk about the Battle from a personal standpoint.
Warrior: Very sorry, sir. I thought I was being impersonally-abstract enough.
[End Act II, Scene V, Part 1 – Please continue for remainder of Scene]
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