LEK- loose, let loose, release. N lhein, lhain free(d); lheitho to release, set free; lheithian release, freeing. Q leuka, lehta loose, slacken. Ilk. legol nimble, active, running free; cf. Legolin, a river-name. [A note on a slip accompanying these etymologies gives: 'Leth- set free (cf. LED); EN leithia to release, leithian release; cf. Lay of Leithian.' I have referred to this note in III. 154, at which time I overlooked the present entry.]
("Etymologies", The Lost Road and Other Writings, History of Middle Earth V)
Tirion, Year 20 of the Second Age
The grand library room in the Noldóran's house was deserted. Not an archivist was in sight, perhaps because the sunny day had enticed them all to outdoor pursuits.
A woman walked slowly down the aisles between tall carved shelves laden with books and scrolls. Her steps were light, barely disturbing the near reverent silence. From time to time she stopped to look in more detail at the titles, sometimes peering more closely to read them, sometimes touching with care those books she recognised and loved.
Suddenly she gasped and her eager hands prised a volume from amongst its companions. She took the book, small and bound in brown leather, and sat by the large open window. The faint echoes of voices and laughter rang without, but she ignored them and instead turned her attention to her finding.
She caressed the tooled spine with her finger and muttered softly the melodious sounds of the foreign language in which the title was written: Laer Leithian.
After a slight hesitation she opened the cover to read the scribe's introduction.
As recorded by Ellethril, loremaster in the service of King Thingol of Doriath, from the songs of the people of the Adurant in South Ossiriand, on the Year 507 of the First Age.
A scent of dry petals and leaves and something else, something that spoke of age, dust and decay, pervaded the air. The smells of Endórë.
Trembling, she turned the first page. Following a beautifully painted and gilded title, the first lines of the lay were laid out in flowing, perfectly shaped script on the fine, pale parchment.
Only rather recently in the count of her years had she acquired the required fluency to read a text in the language once spoken in her uncle Elwë's realm, where Quenya had been banned as the tongue of the Kinslayers.
She read avidly. One by one, pages told their tale and were impatiently turned over. As time went by, the verses provoked a rainbow of emotions, from sadness to joy, from anger to tenderness.
Once she smiled, while recalling memories of a handsome young prince of the Noldor wooing her on the beaches of Alqualondë, and she lost herself in treasured memories where the waves sang and the white sea-foam caressed her in the passionate embrace of her lover on the cool sand.
But she ruthlessly yanked her mind away from this brief lapse and bent her whole attention onto the lay.
She rued the greed and folly of the King of Doriath and anxiously followed Beren on his perilous route. When the story described his arrival at Nargothrond and what he requested there from the king, her agitation grew visibly.
Her hands gripped the book so hard that her knuckles went white, wrathful at the betrayal that unfolded before her eyes. She recalled the faces of the proud sons of Fëanáro, Tyelkormo and Atarinke; she had seldom seen them in Tirion during the years they had spent at Formenos with their exiled father, in those blissful days before the light of the Trees had been forever lost, before the blasphemous oath had been spoken and swords raised, kin against kin.
Then Felagund took off his crown
and at his feet he cast it down,
the silver helm of Nargothrond:
'Yours ye may break, but I my bond
must keep, and kingdom here forsake.'
She cried in helpless rage, while she pictured her nephews sneering in triumph, having laid the Doom of their cursed house upon their cousin, who thus had become trapped in its ruthless snare. While she proudly applauded the courage with which Felagund would not be forsworn, even at the price of his kingdom, her heart could not but quail at the foes he would face to fulfil his oath to Beren.
The script danced in front of her eyes as she jumped from line to line. Growing anguish squeezed her heart, but stronger still was her desire to find out a truth that had been so far carefully veiled from her.
Thus twelve alone there ventured forth
from Nargothrond, and to the North
they turned their silent secret way,
and vanished in the fading day.
She incredulously read the last few lines again. Twelve? Only twelve? A mere ten loyal men would accompany the Elven-king and the Man he was bound to in their quest to wrest the Silmarilli from the Dark Lord? Had all others proved as faithless as to abandon their liege, swayed by the Kinslayers?
Tears were blinked away hastily but not before one, unnoticed, fell on the page and blurred the ink. But the reader carried on, and despite her grief, she could not but smile proudly at the ingenuity that was displayed by the leader of those of whom the song spoke:
… 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.
She shuddered in disgust at the thought of shorn enemy's hair being used to cover her own, and wondered at the might of the Elven-king who spoke a spell to shape himself and his comrades as creatures of the dark and walk into their foe's very presence undiscovered. Her fear made her fingers sweat as the tension grew.
She almost missed a heartbeat when the twelve companions were dragged before Sauron. She remembered the traitor Maia, once known as Mairon, and the hatred she had long held for him flared anew, hot and heavy in her chest as she read how he demanded the allegiance of Felagund and his company.
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 greedy Gods? Repeat your vows,
Orcs of Bauglir! Do not bend your brows!
Death to light, to law, to love!
She almost cried out in triumph when the vile pledge was refused by the king and his comrades, even though she dreaded the inevitable consequences of such defiance. Mesmerised, she kept reading, almost expecting every word to be the herald of the horror she knew was bound to pass:
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.
Through copious tears, with hands clenched on the table to steady herself, she persevered.
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.
She whispered. 'Ai, my son, why did you ever leave? What did you seek so desperately that made you abandon all and embrace the Doom of the Kinslayers in lands beset by darkness and evil?'
Wiping her eyes she forced herself to face the dreaded ending.
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.
So they had lied to her, all of them! Arafinwë and Eönwë must have known, and yet, when they returned from Endórë they had chosen to withhold the most bitter part of the story. Her husband had only told her that their first-born's deeds had secured the recovery of one of the Silmarilli, that he had defied Sauron himself, and had been slain when he valiantly engaged in single combat with Moringotto's despicable minion.
Now she shivered uncontrollably at the thought of her child, chained in the blackness of a dungeon to await a cruel death.
Her anger blazed up at those who had withheld the whole truth about Findaráto's fate. Did they think his mother too weak? She cried out loud in rage, and promised to herself she would seek retribution for such a deception, however well meant.
First, however, she would at last discover what evil had befallen her beloved son, even if she had to resort to a lay from a once distant land, now sunken under the sea.
Sobs hitched in her throat, and tears flowed unchecked, amongst which she could barely make out the script.
There in the dark they wrestled slow,
remorseless, snarling, to and fro,
teeth in flesh, gripe on throat,
fingers locked in shaggy coat,
spurning Beren who there lying
heard the werewolf gasping, dying.
Then a voice he heard: 'Farewell!
On earth I need no longer dwell,
friend and comrade, Beren bold.
My heart is burst, my limbs are cold.
Here all my power I have spent
to break my bonds, and dreadful rent
of poisoned teeth is in my breast.
The book fell from her hands, over half of the lay yet unread.
At dusk Arafinwë found his wife huddled on the cold floor under the window sill, holding the book to her chest. When he gently pulled her to her feet she did not resist him, but her numb legs buckled under her weight. Without apparent effort he lifted her in his arms and took her to their chambers. A single glance at the gilded title had told him all.
Together they sat silently under the stars for many hours. Only when the birds began to herald the coming of dawn she spoke at last, in a voice so quiet he almost believed he had imagined her words.
'How much longer, Arafinwë?'
Her hand squeezed his fingers, almost painfully, and her eyes turned away from the sky to delve into his own.
Relieved, he understood he had already been forgiven for his concealment. But she sought an answer he was unable to give.
'He was cursed by the Valar in life, and slain in torment, like the Doom foretold.' Each of the words she spoke rekindled her grief, but she felt surprisingly calm, as if the storm that had shaken her had only left tired resignation in its wake. 'Will he find no mercy in death either? Will he abide in Mandos until the world is unmade?'
'My love,' Arafinwë chose his words carefully, 'I would lie to you if I said I have never lost faith. During the War in Beleriand, when I found out the truth of his death and those of his brothers, I almost despaired, as you did. I begged Eönwë to tell me, out of pity if not comradeship, what he knew of the fate of our sons. He vowed that the return from the Halls of Waiting is a mystery, a secret unknown even by his lord Manwë. All Lord Námo will say is that it will happen at the right time.'
She nodded. A similar answer had been given to her when she had pleaded to Varda herself.
'I erred, not telling you. Should we speak to Amárië?'
She hesitated. All of a sudden it was much easier to understand his choice for secrecy. But their son's betrothed had as much right to know the truth as they did.
'I shall visit her in Alqualondë,' she answered at length.
'Why did you wish to know now, after a yén?' Arafinwe could not understand the sudden curiosity that had prompted Eärwen to find the lay that sung the tragic fate of their son.
'Two nights ago I dreamt of him.' She shuddered and only with an effort she continued. 'He wept, confused and scared like a child. Darkness reminded him of dying, he cried. '
Arafinwë choked at her candid answer. He could not carelessly dismiss his wife's wistful dreams but neither could he encourage hopes that would lead her to further despondency.
'Our son had become a warrior.' He schooled his voice when a slight trembling threatened to betray his doubts. 'He mastered fear to face darkness and death and thus saved the one he had bound himself to. We must keep our faith, like he did.'
'My faith is wavering,' whispered Eärwen.
Three days later, one of the guards at the door came to his king and queen as they broke their fast in the morning, before Arafinwë attended court.
'My lady, my lord, there is a man at the gates. He wears a grey cloak, and a hood. For the last hour we have questioned him, but he will not show his face or give his name. He only requests to be brought to your presence.' The soldier seemed a bit embarrassed, and hesitated briefly. 'There is something about him…'
Eärwen did not stop to listen to the rest. Her heart knew. She ran past the guard, heedless of the surprised cries behind her. Like a wild doe chased by hunters she leapt down the marble stairs, barely touching the steps, out of the main door, through the courtyard, and yanked the door of the sentries' room open, so that it banged loudly against the stone wall.
The queen threw herself into the opening arms of the man that had risen abruptly at her noisy entrance. The hood fell back but she did not see the golden hair that was revealed or the smile that lit his fair face; she had clung to his neck and her cheek was pressed against his chest. He was solid and warm, and his heart beat strongly beneath his clothes. Crushed in his fierce embrace she heard his laughter and was overwhelmed by joy.
Released at last…
1. All quotes in the text are extracted from "The Lay of Leithian" (The Lays of Beleriand, History of Middle-earth Volume III)
2. My sincere thanks to Pixelated Fëanor, who was most helpful to retrieve for me the name of the obscure scribe of Doriath responsible for the transcription of the Lay of Leithian found in Arafinwë's library.
 Yén (Quenya) A long-year of the Elves, equal to 144 years of the sun.