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16. The Adventures of Lúthien and Beren
Menegroth, Doriath, First Age 466
With Aerneth’s return to Doriath, life slowly settled back to normal in Oropher’s house. Both ellyn returned to work, and while obviously still in mourning, they managed to hold it within themselves and keep up their appearances outwardly.
Aerneth took to running the household, and did it well. Oropher had no complaints about her anymore, at least none he would speak out loud, and their conversation around the dinner table was polite, albeit still a bit stiff.
Autumn turned into winter, and winter into spring, and all was well. On the surface.
“Why did you wake me?” Thranduil gave Aerneth an angry glare.
“You were crying in your sleep again. I cannot stand it.” She tried to touch his cheek but he pushed her hand away.
“Just leave me be.” He turned his back. He did not want her pity, why could she not understand?
She sighed in a sad way that grated on his nerves.
“I just wish you would speak about what is troubling you. I can see it is something.”
“Can an ellon get some rest in this room or will you talk all night? Shall I go down and sleep in the sitting-room?”
That silenced her for a couple of minutes. Thranduil felt himself slowly beginning to relax when she again piped up.
“You have changed.” Her voice was small and disappointed.
Furious, Thranduil rose, pulled on a shirt and slammed the door behind him as he went downstairs. Nagging elleth of a wife! Why could she never do as told? She just had to keep prying.
Pouring himself a glass of wine, he sank into one of the chairs, remembering his mother used to do the same. But he would not think of her. She was gone.
Instead his thoughts went to the troubled times the kingdom was going through. Ever since Lúthien’s escape, the city had been bubbling with unrest, and a few elves had even left and moved to the Falas or just disappeared, one of them the king’s best friend, the minstrel Daeron.
And then other strange news had reached Doriath earlier this year; that Lúthien and the hound had arrived at Sauron’s island, and somehow they had single-handedly defeated that evil Maia and all his werewolves. As incredible and impossible as that sounded, it must be true, because many elves who had been imprisoned by Sauron had returned home afterwards and told the story. They had also carried the sad report that Finrod Felagund, former ruler of Nargothrond and Galadriel’s brother, was dead.
Now, all would have been well, had Lúthien just returned home, but this was not the case. Many months had passed since Sauron was defeated and it had become obvious she must have followed Beren on his quest, continuing further north to Morgoth’s fortress where she would surely meet her dire end. Overthrowing a former Maia was one thing, but to best Morgoth who was more powerful than any of the Valar – that was something else entirely.
The queen still refused to speak with or counsel the king, so in desperation Thingol had sent out Captain Mablung with a group of march-wardens to beseech the sons of Fëanor to help stop his daughter’s mad endeavor. Celegorm and Curufin had captured her before, and her escaping a second time was their fault, the king reasoned.
Thranduil thought the plan was terrible and he had not volunteered to go with Mablung. Celegorm had behaved despicable towards the princess in trying to wed her against her will, and Thranduil could not for the world understand why Thingol wanted anything to do with such an elf. Even the weak new ruler of Nargothrond, Orodreth, had turned against Celegorm and driven him and Curufin out of his lands. They were said to live to the northeast now, in Himring, with their eldest brother Maedhros.
There was a knock on the door and Thranduil went to open, wondering who disturbed his house at this early hour. It was Amroth, and he looked absolutely terrified.
“Come in. What is wrong?”
“It’s Captain Mablung, he just returned. I was guarding the gates and he stopped to tell me. They are all dead, Tharan. All who went with him!”
“What?” A chill spread through Thranduil. Dead? A whole unit of march-wardens?
“They met with a monster. Mablung described it as best he could, he thinks it was a werewolf but much larger and stronger than those Sauron were breeding, he thought this one must have been the creation of Morgoth himself. But the worst part is, he found it inside the Girdle! Inside Doriath! And after eating all the warriors and all their horses the beast chased after Mablung when he fled, so it’s likely coming for us.” Amroth sank down in a chair and Thranduil sat beside him. “It’s coming here .”
“That’s impossible,” said Thranduil. “Nothing can pass the queen’s fence.”
“Well this beast did!”
“Come, let us go to the king. We are probably needed there.” Thranduil hurriedly got dressed, not bothering to answer Aerneth’s alarmed questions about what was up. She was better off not knowing about the approaching danger anyway.
“At least tell me when you will return,” she cried after him.
“I do not know.”
Then he was out of the door, and together he and Amroth jogged to the palace.
They had nearly arrived when they met with a strange group, and to his great surprise Thranduil recognised them; it was Princess Lúthien, Beren and a huge dog – the hound! Had they not gone to Morgoth after all?
They looked worn, their clothes dishevelled and dirty, and the man’s hair and beard were even wilder than when Thranduil had first seen him. Wildman and Outlaw had he been called, and never had those descriptions seemed more fitting.
The hound gave Thranduil and Amroth an unsettlingly sentient look, and nodded its head at them in greeting.
“How good to see you two!” said Lúthien. ”I am sorry I had to put you to sleep, I hope it did not cause too much trouble.”
The ellyn shared a glance. There was no polite way to reply to that. Not too much trouble? Because of Luthien’s escape, Thranduil’s family had been crushed, his mother was dead and his marriage strained.
But Lúthien did not seem to notice his dismay, she and Beren had already hurried inside the castle and the ellyn and the hound followed suit.
Soon the throne room was full of people; a large number of march-wardens, Beleg Cúthalion with a comforting arm around the dejected Captain Mablung, a huddle of homeless elves who had lived in the woods and barely escaped the werewolf, some sleepy courtiers wondering what all the ruckus was about, princess Lúthien and her lover, and finally came the king and the queen.
Queen Melian dashed ahead of her husband, throwing her arms around her daughter. Her cheeks were streaked with tears.
Thingol looked relieved to see the princess as well, but also annoyed. He pierced the mortal with his gaze.
“How did the quest go? Did you get the Silmaril?”
The man straightened his back, fearlessly meeting the king’s eyes. “I did, My Lord. It is in my hand right now.”
“Show it to me!”
Beren lifted his left hand, slowly opening it – it was empty. Then he held out his right arm, and there was a hiss as the assembled elves drew in a collective breath at the sight; the man’s arm ended in a deformed stump, crisscrossed with scar tissue, red and ugly.
“My hand with the Silmaril is inside the werewolf’s belly.”
The king’s gaze finally softened and he indicated for the couple to sit beside his throne. “Tell me all that befell you.”
This they did, recounting the most amazing tale Thranduil had ever heard, and when they were done his view of Lúthien as a somewhat distracted elleth who liked to sing and dance in the forest was forever changed. She was a true warrior and a hero, there was no other way to describe her part in that quest.
“When I learned from Mother that Beren was in trouble I instantly tried to find a way to go to him,” Lúthien began. “And when Father imprisoned me in the tree, I spent every waking moment trying to find a way to get out. Finally I thought of using my hair. Do you remember, Mother, how I would bespell my hair to lull myself to sleep when I was little and had nightmares?”
“I do.” Melian nodded.
“Now I turned that spell outward, and hiding inside the tree house I encouraged my hair to grow out fast. When I had enough to plait a rope and weave a cloak I used them to escape, and my cloak made my guards fall asleep.” She cast another apologetic glance and Thranduil and Amroth. “I hurried out of Doriath, but had only come to the Plains near Amon Rûdh when Celegorm and Curufin found me, they were out hunting with Huan.” She indicated the hound, who were still by her side. “They captured me and took me to Nargothrond, and kept me locked up there for several months. It really was a horrible time, seldom had I felt more lonely and I was afraid that Celegorm might take me as his bride by force.”
The audience again gasped, despite having heard of the evil deeds of Celegorm already before, and an angry soar erupted. It was different to hear the story from Lúthien herself, to realise what a terrifying situation she had been in and how awful things might have turned out.
“Silence,” said Thingol.
“Thankfully Huan came every night to keep me company, making me feel a little less frightened,” Lúthien continued. She stroked the grey head of her companion, and he leaned in to her touch. “And one night he found a way to bring me my cloak, and then he spoke to me – in actual words, like an elf – and told me how to flee, hidden by my cloak just like when I escaped Doriath. We left together, there was a secret path out of the city, and he let me ride on him all the way to Sauron’s island.”
“And there I was, the only one left of the company who set out from Nargothrond,” Beren broke in, sounding morose. “A werewolf ate us, one by one. And then it came for me, but Finrod broke loose of his bonds and fought it, killing it with his bare hands and teeth. He died shortly after, his wounds were too grave.” The man’s voice broke and his shoulders slumped. “He was a true friend of my House to the very end. Finest ellon there ever was.”
Lúthien took his hand, soothingly stroking it with her fingers.
“Then I heard Lúthien sing,” he continued. “The power of her song made the werewolves howl in fright and the entire tower shook, but I was so broken with grief and dismay I thought I was imagining it.”
“But he was not,” said she. “With my song I alerted Sauron of our presence, and stupidly he sent his werewolves at us one at a time. Had they come all at once he might have defeated us, but as it were, now Huan easily killed each one. The last one, larger and stronger than the others, actually survived long enough to return to its master and tell him who we were. And this was when he came for us in person – which I only later realised, because he had shifted shape into another werewolf. The werewolf-Sauron pounced on Huan, and he moved to the side so the monster came in front of my cloak, and my magic then of course made him drowsy. Now Huan could pin him to the ground, catching his neck in a deadly grip.” Again she stroked the hound, almost absentmindedly. “Sauron tried to wrangle free, changing into a snake, and when that did not work, he shifted back into his Maiar form. That’s how I knew it was him, for he looked like an elf in that shape.”
“And then you got soft hearted,” said Beren, smiling weakly at her.
“Well, he said he yielded, and I felt it was not right to kill him then. So we let him go, and he changed into a batlike vampire and flew away. Then all we had to do was clear the island of the few remaining monsters, and free all the captive elves. And in the lowest dungeon I finally found Beren and the body of Finrod.” She squeezed her lover’s hand.
“We buried Finrod on the island,” said Beren, his voice again filled with sorrow.
Thranduil appreciated that the human at least had that decency – that he realised how incredible and unusual it was for an elf to give up his immortality to save a human, a mortal who would be dead in hardly no time anyway.
“Then we went back towards Doriath, because Beren insisted I could not come with him, and I agreed because he was so very sad. But secretly I was planning a way to persuade him.”
Beren gave her another besotted smile.
“However, we only got as far as the Forest of Brethil until we again crossed paths with Fëanor’s sons. They attacked us, and Beren managed to get Curufin down. They were wrestling on the ground when Celegorm came at them with his sword, but Huan bravely went against his former master and scared his horse so it bolted away with its rider.”
“And then you again went soft and said I couldn’t kill my foe,” added Beren.
“Aye, I did not want his blood on our hands, I am not like the Noldor!”
“You did the right thing, daughter,” said Thingol.
“I took his horse and Angrist, his mighty knife, and then let him run,” Beren continued. “His brother picked him up on his own horse and they rode off together. And I guess I thought he would be honourable in his turn, so I turned my back to them, which in retrospect was stupid. But I did, and that damned elf took his brother’s bow and tried to shoot Lúthien.”
“First Huan saved me,” said she. “He caught the arrow in his mouth, but the second arrow Beren took for me. Then Huan finally chased the brothers off for good. Meanwhile it was all I could do to save Beren’s life, and he would have died had Huan not come back with a tuft of Athelas in his mouth. With the power of those herbs I could in time nurse Beren back to health.”
“I was still very weak, but I really did not want Lúthien to risk her life by coming with me, so when she slept I left her and Huan and continued on my quest, galloping north on Curufin’s horse.” Beren looked at his feet to avoid his lover’s glare.
“And obviously I followed him. Huan and I went back to Sauron’s deserted island and disguised ourselves, he in one of the dead werewolves’ pelt, and I wore a vampire’s wings. This vampire apparently was very important, because on our route north we passed many orcs and other monsters and they were absolutely terrified!”
“Then they caught up with me, and I until they removed their disguises I thought my last moment had come.” Beren chuckled, but then got serious. “Now, Huan spoke again, and this time I heard it too.” He gave the hound a bashful glance. “He basically scolded me for being so stupid and that I must not turn Lúthien away for then she would die of grief. And I guess then I realised there was nothing for it, I had to let her come.”
“It was about time, too.”
”Huan said farewell and gave me the werewolf pelt, and Lúthien and I went on to the Gate of Angband. There we found the fellest monster we had yet seen, a werewolf like the one whose pelt I wore, but much, much larger and more clever. He understood we wore disguises and was about to attack us, but my brave Lúthien just tossed her bat suit to the side and went to stand unafraid in front of him. Like a tiny mouse before a vicious lion.”
“I was afraid,” she objected. “I am not stupid. But I trusted my cloak would make him fall asleep, and thankfully it did.”
“So we went inside, and it was a veritable labyrinth down in that fortress.”
“But you have an amazing orientation ability.” Lúthien beamed at him.
“Maybe.” He grinned sheepishly. That they were heads over heels in love could not come as a surprise to anybody by now.
She continued: “We still wore our disguises, but when we finally found his throne room, Morgoth managed to see through mine.”
“You would think she would be afraid and escape then, I mean, he is a bloody Vala! Excuse my language. But instead she offered to be his minstrel and sing for him, and he looked at her in a way I did not appreciate and accepted. It was obvious what he planned to do to her.”
“Well, I did not intend to give him the opportunity.” Lúthien grinned almost naughtily. “I put all my magic into my song, and in addition with my cloak it was enough to blind him and to put all of his minions to sleep. And then I threw my cloak over his head and he fell off his throne, sleeping soundly.”
“You overcame Morgoth, Lord of Darkness, second in power only to Eru Ilúvatar himself?” Thingol gaped at her, and Thranduil felt his own jaw slacken too. Was this really the elleth he had courted and taken on awkward forest walks?
“And then I saw his crown had fallen off his head, and the Silmarils glowed brightly,” said Beren. “So I used Angrist, the knife I took from Curufin, and cut off one of the Silmarils. And, sadly, their beauty and power enthralled me, for I suddenly felt a need to take them all,” he admitted. “I tried to loosen another, but the knife broke, and a shard of it flew off to pierce Morgoth’s cheek.”
The audience, by now completely engrossed by the captivating tale, let out a joint groan.
“Morgoth stirred in his sleep, and we fled,” Beren continued. “But by the Gate, the huge werewolf had woken up. I tried to scare him away with the light from the Silmaril, holding it up against him.” He raised his handless arm. “And so he bit it off.”
“It was horrible,” Lúthien added. “They both screamed so heartbreakingly, Beren from the loss of his hand and the werewolf from the burning fire of the Silmaril in his stomach. The monster ran away howling, while I tried to stem the bleeding and suck out the poison from Beren’s wound. Again he would have died if not for Huan.” She gave the hound a hug. “On his way back south, Huan met the Lord of the Eagles in the mountains north of Dimbar and asked him to keep an eye on us. The eagles found us outside the Gate of Angband and carried us back to the woods north of Doriath.”
“We stayed there until yesterday,” said Beren. “Huan came with more Athelas, and together he and Lúthien healed me a second time. When I was finally well, we decided to return here.”
When he had finished, the room was absolutely quiet, everybody waiting for the king’s reaction.
“Beren son of Barahir, after listening to your adventures, and hearing you describe my daughter’s zeal in aiding you, I realise her heart is committed.”
Thranduil hid his mouth behind his hand. He only figured that out now?
“Thus, I see no other option than allowing your courtship.” The king was silenced by Lúthien who jumped up and threw her arms around him.
“Thank you, Ada!”
“I would only ask one last thing of you, Beren,” he said, mildly shoving his daughter to the side. “Namely that you join me and my best warriors to hunt down the werewolf who maimed you. He still roames free, and he has come here within our borders. That fell beast must be killed ere he reaches our city, and I still desire the jewel he carries inside. Would you do this?”
“Of course, Your Grace.” Beren bowed.
“You shall volunteer for the hunt, I suppose?” Oropher took a sip of his juice. They had just finished supper, during which Thranduil told them everything he had learned today.
“Aye, as is my duty.” Thranduil tried to ignore Aerneth’s frowning face on the other side of the table. What she thought was obvious.
“The werewolf killed all the march-wardens who went with the captain,” she said.
“Maybe I am stronger than them. Or do you think I am weak?”
“I will not have anyone say my son is a coward. If he wins glory in this hunt, he could rise in importance with the king. Maybe even become captain, if Mablung or Beleg are slain.”
Thranduil stared at his father, a bit shocked at his open ambition. But come to think of it, it was no secret to him that Oropher had long sought to make their family rise in importance.
Later when he went to bed, Thranduil heard Aerneth crying silently. As always, her sadness twisted his gut painfully, he simply could not stand it.
“What is wrong?”
“I do not want you to die,” she sniffed.
“You knew I was a warrior when you married me.” He moved a little closer, pulling her into his arms, feeling her tremble.
He sighed. “I will be careful.”
He kissed her softly, and then a bit more earnestly, trying to make her forget her sadness. When he rubbed and fondled her breasts she responded with her usual fervour and willingness, pressing herself against him, and her smooth fingers mirroring the action on his own chest. He rolled her over and pushed into her, but when he bent to kiss her cheek he tasted salty tears trickling down them. She was still weeping silently when she climaxed.
To Thranduil’s dismay, his offer to help slay the werewolf was turned down. The king did not want to lose any more of his march-wardens, and had decided to only take his two captains, Huan the Hound and Beren.
They left early the next morning, with nearly all of the city silently watching them go. If they failed, the kingdom was doomed; bereft of their leaders and with no chance to ever defeat Morgoth’s monstrous wolf.
Oropher, who stood beside his son, apparently did not think that altogether a bad thing. “Now you have shown your courage in volunteering to join the hunt, and if they fail, you shall surely become captain. And maybe in time, one of us could find a way to take over the crown.” This he said in a low voice, barely more than a whisper.
Thranduil did not reply. Speaking that way was close to treason. Had his father lost his mind?
For his part, Thranduil sincerely hoped the king would succeed. What good would it be to rule a kingdom that was terrorised by a werewolf? For if the departing heroes did not succeed, Thranduil was sure nobody else would either. He knew the limits of his skill, he was nowhere near Beleg’s talent with the bow or Mablung’s with the sword.
The rest of the day Thranduil spent outside the city gates with Amroth and a few other march-wardens, officially assigned with the task of guarding Lúthien who again had been forced to stay behind. The guards knew now that they had no chance to stop her, should she really want to go, so why she stayed anyway Thranduil could not say. Maybe she wanted to give Beren an opportunity to prove his worth to her father, so he would bless their union?
Either way, it was no calm waiting for any of them. Lúthien paced back and forth all day, restlessly wringing her hands and murmuring to herself, and the guards too were edgy and nervous. There was an ominous ambience among them, like something important was about to happen, something which would affect their future in ways they could not foresee or understand.
The hunters returned late that night. They carried a stretcher, upon which lay Beren and the slain body of Huan. Lúthien grasped her lover’s shoulders anxiously, but when she saw his pale countenance and lifeless gaze she apparently realised he had not long left to live. His injuries must be graver than even her great powers or the strength of Athelas could heal.
“Wait for me, Beren,” she beseeched him. “Wait for me in the Halls of Mandos. I shall come after you soon. I will not lose you. You hear me? I will not let you go.”
The man weakly looked her in the eye, and something seemed to pass between them. Then he breathed out one last breath, a long, silent sigh, and was gone. Lúthien fell over his limp body, shaking as grief overcame her.
Thranduil lifted his gaze to the other elves, his king and his captains. Beleg was bleeding from a chest wound, but otherwise they looked as well as one might expect under the circumstances. Then Thranduil noticed the king was clasping something with whitening knuckles, and whatever it was shone so brilliantly his hand looked like a lamp.
So, they had succeeded then. King Thingol had got his desired Silmaril at last.
Most of the story of Beren and Lúthien is taken directly from Tolkien’s Silmarillion, only transformed into a first person perspective. I take no credit for his amazing imagination!
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