Fewer Words, Without Song
And of these histories most fair still in the ears of the Elves is the tale of Beren and Lúthien. Of their lives was made the Lay of Leithian, Release from Bondage, which is the longest save one of the songs concerning the world of old; but here the tale is told in fewer words and without song. –The Silmarillion
Elrond looked up from his writing as Celebrian poked her head into his study. He motioned her to come in, noting how weary, yet how radiantly happy she looked, as she always did after spending time with their children.
“Did you get her down?” he asked.
“Barely,” Celebrian replied with a smile. “She was brandishing Elladan’s old toy sword shouting she was King Fingon and running the chairs through saying they were servants of the Black Enemy. Now she’s demanding a story of you before she’ll go to sleep.”
Elrond chuckled. “I must see to it then. Why don’t you relax and have a glass of wine. I’m finished here. I’ll join you shortly.”
“I will relax with a bath and glass of wine, but I won’t wait up. Your stories tend to be quite long.” Celebrian smiled and Elrond’s heart skipped a beat, despite her teasing tone. Her smile always did that to him.
He raised an eyebrow and gave her a mock-affronted look. “Madam, I’ll have you know that a story takes as long as it takes. The storyteller has no control over such matters.”
“Excuse me, my lord, I did not mean to offend,” she said with a maidenly curtsy. “But if you do manage to make the story short tonight I will make it worth your while.” She turned and slunk seductively from the room, throwing him a come hither look over her shoulder before disappearing into the hall.
Elrond was forced to take a moment to compose himself before heading for Arwen’s bedroom. As he walked down the hall he tried to think of the shortest story he knew.
When he entered her room she was sitting with her legs under the covers while the swan ship he had carved for her last year navigated the swells of her knees. When she saw him she threw the blanket aside and jumped up to greet him, sending the ship clattering to the floor. Her eyes grew wide in horror and she slipped quickly back into bed.
“Is it broken?” she asked in a small voice that threatened tears.
Elrond picked it up and showed it to her. “No harm done, honey. See?” He leaned over and hugged her then put the ship on the table by her bed. “But perhaps we can be more careful next time, eh?”
“Yes, Ada!” she agreed sincerely. She pulled the blanket back over her and lay down without him having to suggest it.
“It looks like you had a busy day,” taking in the collection of the twins’ old toy soldiers and weapons scattered by the window. The chair cushions looked a bit worse for wear but thankfully no stuffing was coming out yet. With two older brothers in the house Arwen eschewed the play of young girls, preferring to ride her toy eagle while pretending to cut down legions of pursuing orcs. She would grow out of such play, Elrond was certain, but for now there was no harm in her attempts to emulate her brothers, as long as it didn’t lead her to into dangerous recklessness.
“I did,” she said proudly. “I killed ever so many orcs and fell beasts.”
Elrond smiled. “A noble effort indeed.” She had her mother’s looks and fiery spirit and her uncle’s fearlessness. She would be a formidable woman one day. “Now, I believe you requested a story,” he said. “What would you like to hear tonight?”
“Something with a battle,” she said instantly. “With lots of sword fighting and a dragon!”
“But you’ve been doing battle all day,” Elrond said. “Even the staunchest warrior must rest. I think I know just the thing. This is the story of a princess.”
Arwen made a face. “A princess in a long dress who does nothing but sew and sing all day? No thanks.”
“Not that kind of princess. One who is brave and uses cunning over swords. There are many ways to win a battle.”
“I guess it will be all right then,” Arwen said doubtfully, “but if it gets boring you’ll have to tell a proper story.”
“Agreed,” Elrond said. He sat on the edge of her bed and began.
“Once upon a time there was a princess of Doriath. She was the most beautiful maiden ever to grace Arda for she was the daughter of King Thingol and Melian the Maia. She liked to dance and sing in the woods to the music of Daeron the minstrel.”
“That’s all princesses ever do,” Arwen said with a sigh.
“But one day, as she danced she spied what she took for a wild beast!”
Arwen perked up. “A wolf?”
“No, it was a mortal man, but he had come through many trials and performed many great deeds against the enemy so he was hunted as an outlaw. When he came at last to the woods of Doriath he was little more than an animal, wild as a wolf and wary. Yet seeing the beauty of Lúthien, for that was the name of the princess, he stood amazed, but Lúthien was frightened of his rough appearance and fled. Beren, for that was the man’s name, was so in love with the princess that he stayed in the woods a long time searching for her but could not find her. At last she appeared again but in time she came to realize Beren was not a beast but a man, and she fell in love with him. . .”
Arwen clapped her hands over her ears. “No kissing!” she cried.
Elrond smiled and waited for her to take her hands down. “They did not kiss, just looked into each other’s eyes.”
“People in love sometimes do that,” Elrond said with a shrug. “Anyway, Beren was handsome and kind and very brave. She discovered he had a gentle nature and could talk to all manner of birds and beasts from his time roaming the wilderness.”
“I wish I could talk to birds.”
“What would you say to them?”
Arwen thought it over. “I would ask them to teach me to fly.”
“They would probably be better at teaching you to sing. Beren called Lúthien “Nightingale” because she sang so sweetly.”
“I sing sweet as a bird already,” Arwen said smugly.
“Then maybe I’ll call you Nightingale too!” Elrond teased.
Arwen laughed. “No you don’t, Ada!”
“All right, I won’t,” Elrond said. “I’ll call you Arwen the Fierce!”
Arwen clapped her hands in delight. “I like that better!”
“Well Lúthien wanted to marry Beren so she took him to the king to get his blessing, but instead the king was angry that she loved a mortal man and so set him an impossible task to deter him. He asked for a Silmaril, a holy jewel that held the light of the trees of Valinor.”
“The jewels everybody wants but no one can have,” Arwen said. “Elladan told me that story before.”
“Part of it. There is more but we will talk about that when you’re older.”
“Jewels are pretty but not enough to fight over,” Arwen pronounced gravely.
“Exactly,” Elrond agreed. “You are a clever girl to know that at your age when even wise grown-ups forget it sometimes.”
Arwen swelled with pride. “I would never fight over a jewel! I’d only fight to protect people and stop the enemy.”
“Beren agreed to the quest because love sometimes makes people do reckless things, but he told the king he had put a poor price on his daughter asking for the jewel for he thought Lúthien more precious than any gemstone. This made the king even angrier and he thought Beren would die without completing the quest. In fact he hoped he would because he did not want his daughter to marry Beren.”
“I hope Beren wins,” Arwen said. “The king is mean.”
“He did not want his daughter to marry a mortal man because he was afraid she would be hurt, but he did let his pride dictate his actions and that is never good.”
Arwen nodded her understanding.
Beren went to get help from King Finrod for his quest for he knew he could not get the Silmaril alone. You see, Morgoth was keeping the gems in his crown and a mortal man could not defeat him, not even one as brave and skilled as Beren. King Finrod agreed to go with him because he promised Beren’s father that if their house was ever in need he would help. Beren’s father had saved Finrod’s life in battle. So Beren and Finrod set out for Morgoth’s great fortress, but when they got into the lands held by Sauron they were captured. When Lúthien found out, she wanted to go find Beren but King Thingol locked her up in a tower from which she could not escape. The only way out of the tower was with a long rope, so she made her hair grow really long. . .”
“How did she make her hair grow long?”
“She just willed it and it grew.”
Arwen screwed up her face in concentration and balled up her fists.
“What are you doing?” Elrond asked.
“Trying to make my hair grow,” Arwen said. She opened her eyes, and looked at a strand of her hair. “It’s not any longer,” she said, disappointed.
“Only Lúthien could do that because her mother was a Maia and she had special powers.”
“Is this a true story or a made up story?” Arwen demanded.
Elrond had to think it over for a moment. “It’s a little of both,” he said at last.
“Which part is true?”
“That you’ll have to decide for yourself.” Elrond touched her nose and chuckled. Arwen giggled.
“So what did she do when she climbed down her own hair?” Arwen asked. Then she burst out laughing. “That part can’t be true because you can’t climb down your own hair.”
“She didn’t climb down it while it was attached. She made a rope and cloak from it, the cloak to hide her and the rope to climb down. She used a sleep spell on the guards and ran away.”
“So then she was bald?” Arwen said, horrified.
“No, she just made her hair grow long again.”
“I should have thought of that.”
“Anyway, so she escaped the tower and went looking for Beren but she couldn’t find him. However, she came upon two Elf-men who were hunting. They said they would take her to Finrod’s kingdom and help her but they had taken over the kingdom in his absence. Once they got there they wouldn’t let Lúthien go.”
“If she had a sword that wouldn’t have happened,” Arwen said firmly.
“A sword is useful but it doesn’t solve everything,” Elrond countered. “This story is about a princess who was brave without a weapon. She didn’t have a sword, but one of the men she encountered had a great wolfhound, bigger and stronger than any in Middle-earth today. When this hound saw Lúthien he fell in love with her and he helped her escape from Finrod’s kingdom.”
“Did everyone fall in love with her?” Arwen asked, wrinkling her nose.
“They did, but not just for her beauty. She had a strong spirit and a pure heart. These things can be seen by others in the way you treat them. In this case Huan the hound could see her virtue and he knew it to be greater than that of his master, so he defied his master and set her free. He even let her ride on his back. She used her cloak to hide them both and they went to seek for Beren on the Isle of Werewolves!”
Arwen shuddered pulled the blanket up to her chin. “Mommy says there are no werewolves anymore.”
“That’s right. Sauron made them and when he was defeated there were no more.”
Arwen relaxed, satisfied with her daddy’s explanation. “That’s good.”
“Lúthien stood at the bridge to the island and sang such a powerful song Beren could hear it, though he was in the deepest, darkest pit Sauron could devise and all his companions, including wise King Finrod, had been killed and returned to the Blessed Realm. Beren thought he dreamed her song but he answered with a song of his own and Lúthien heard it. Sauron heard their songs too, and he sent a werewolf to capture her so he could give her to the Black Enemy as a gift, but Huan slew the werewolf and all other creatures Sauron sent against them. At last, Sauron decided to transform into the biggest, strongest wolf that ever lived for it was said that only the greatest wolf ever could kill Huan.”
“Who said that?”
“It was a prophecy.”
“There was a prophecy about the dog but not about the princess?”
“I never heard of that before,” Arwen said. “This is a weird story.”
Elrond smiled. “It’s not weird, just different.”
“I’ll bet she saves him and they get the jewel,” Arwen said.
“You’ll just have to wait and see. So Sauron challenged Huan but Lúthien cast her cloak in front of the wolf and it stumbled, giving Huan the advantage. They fought and the ground shook and the hills echoed with their howls but at last Huan got Wolf-Sauron by the throat! Sauron was afraid and was going to leave the body of the wolf but Lúthien taunted him that it wouldn’t look good to Morgoth if he did, and unless he wanted Huan to make an end of him, he must give up his tower and his island. Sauron had no choice so he agreed. When Huan let him go he transformed into a great bat and flew away over the trees.”
“Can Sauron turn into anything?”
“He could in those days but he didn’t do it very often.”
“Because dark magic takes a lot of energy and effort. Every time he transformed it would take him a long time to rest before he could do anything again.”
“Did Lúthien have to rest when she sang her powerful songs?”
“Yes she did. Using great power is a lot of hard work. Now, once Sauron was gone she sang a song that threw down the dark tower and freed the prisoners Sauron had been holding for many years, but Beren wasn’t among them so she went to look for him and found him in the pit. She thought he was dead but he was just weak with grief and despair. She put her arms around him and he lifted her up and they were happy again for a time in each other’s company. Huan seeing they were together and thinking them safe went back to his master. They were joyful but Beren could not forget his oath. He took her back to Doriath and told her she must stay there for he still had to complete his quest. But Lúthien said their fates were bound together and she would not leave him.”
“She didn’t just stay at home and wait for him like other princesses.”
“I told you she was very strong and brave. On the way to Doriath, they encountered Huan’s master, Celegorm, and his brother Curufin again who had imprisoned Lúthien in Finrod’s kingdom. Huan’s master tried to run Beren down with his horse while Curufin seized Lúthien and pulled her up on his horse. But Beren dodged Celegorm and sprang upon the horse of Curufin, bearing him to the ground. Lúthien fell from the horse too and lay stunned on the grass. Then Celegorm tried to run Beren through with a spear, but Huan stopped him. Just as Beren was about to kill Curufin, Lúthien spoke up and stopped him, so Beren just took the man’s gear and knife. Huan was through with Celegorm at that point and refused to follow him anymore.”
“He never should have gone back,” Arwen said, her brow furrowed in anger.
“Dogs are very faithful. He tried to give Celegorm another chance.”
“He should have bit him.”
Elrond chuckled. “He should have but he didn’t. As Celegorm and Curufin started to leave, Curufin loosed an arrow at Lúthien, intending to kill her but Huan caught the arrow in his teeth and spit it out. Curufin tried again and this time the arrow hit Beren and wounded him nigh to death.”
Arwen’s eyes grew wide. “Oh no! But he hasn’t completed the quest yet!”
“Well, Lúthien managed to bring him back from the brink of death and heal him with Huan’s help, but it took a long time. They went back to Doriath and one night Beren stole away, intending to go after the Silmaril on his own. He loved Lúthien and feared for her safety but he needn’t have done for she had already proved herself mighty. Lúthien followed him, riding Huan, and just as Beren came within sight of Thangorodrim they showed up and surprised him. In order to cross the haunted lands Huan had put on a wolf skin and Lúthien had put on the skin of a great bat, Thuringwëthil, Sauron’s minion and messenger. When Beren saw them he didn’t recognize them but they threw off their disguises and then he knew it was his beloved and the faithful hound.”
“Sounds like the Huan is the bravest of all of them.”
“He was, but now Beren and Lúthien had to go on alone for Huan could not go with them.”
“Is this the prophecy again?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so.”
“Then go on,” Arwen said, resigned.
“He did speak to them and say that Beren could not leave Lúthien behind for their fates were intertwined, but that he might yet see them again.”
“Did he see them again?”
“You always say that!” Arwen grumbled.
“This time it was Beren who put on the wolf disguise and Lúthien dressed again in the bat disguise, and they went to Angband, but there they found another wolf waiting for them, Carcharoth, the largest, most powerful wolf of all that Morgoth had made with the aid of his dark sorcery. Lúthien threw off her disguise and bade the huge beast sleep and sleep he did. Then she and Beren entered the dread halls of the Dark Lord and came before his throne in their guises. But Morgoth stripped her disguise away and she stood proudly before him and told him her name.”
Arwen’s eyes grew wide. “Wasn’t she scared?”
“She was not scared because she knew he would see her as a mere damsel and underestimate her, and as it turned out that is exactly while she did. She disappeared into the shadows of his throne room, and the shadows in that horrible place were many. She sang a song so lovely and so powerful that the Black Enemy was ensnared by it and the jewels in his crown shone forth, responding with their own power, bowing his head and causing him to fall asleep.”
“Are her songs that powerful or are they just boring?” Arwen said, giggling.
Elrond chuckled. “I have heard songs of such surpassing beauty that I was enthralled by them. I think one day you will too.”
“I don’t want to hear them, I want to sing them!” Arwen said.
“I believe you may.” He gave her an affectionate smile. “Now, when Morgoth fell asleep, Beren used the knife he had taken from Curufin to prise a Silmaril from the Iron Crown. But he got greedy and tried to take another of the three jewels in the crown and the knife broke. A shard of it struck the cheek of Morgoth and he started to wake up.”
Arwen bit her lip with a worried look.
“They fled the hall and ran to the gate but by this time the great wolf Carcharoth had awakened and was waiting for them. He would have eaten them both but Beren held out the Silmaril, hoping to frighten him off. Undaunted by the radiant jewel, Carcharoth bit off Beren’s hand, but the Silmaril was pure and true and it burned him inside. He went mad with the pain and ran howling through the lands. Meanwhile Beren was poisoned by the fangs of the wolf and fell into a swoon, but Lúthien sucked the poison from the wound and used the last of her healing power to close Beren’s wound. All the host of Angband was awaked and came after them! But just when all seemed lost, Thorondor, the greatest of the Great Eagles and his people came down and lifted them up and flew them away.”
“Yay for the eagles!” Arwen shouted.
“The eagles flew them high above the haunted lands back to the borders of Doriath. Beren was at the very edge of death but Huan came and he and Lúthien healed Beren from his grievous wound, though it took many months to do it. Lúthien would have been happy to stay in that lovely dell with Beren forever, but Beren wished to fulfill his oath and they returned to King Thingol.”
“But Beren lost the Silmaril.” Arwen looked confused.
“Yes, he had lost it but when he went to Thingol and the king asked him if his quest was fulfilled he said it was because “Even now I hold a Silmaril in my hand,” he said.”
Arwen grinned, “That was clever of him.”
“It was, but Thingol was unmoved until he saw that Beren had lost his hand and then his heart softened, and even though Beren did not bring home the Silmaril he allowed Lúthien and Beren to marry.”
“That didn’t end like I thought it would,” Arwen said.
“The tale is not over,” Elrond said.
“But what else is there after the princess gets married?”
“The wolf who ate Beren’s hand was still rampaging through the lands until he at last came to the borders of Doriath.”
“They still have to kill the wolf!”
“Just so! King Thingol and his men along with Beren and Huan went to hunt the wolf. Huan flushed the wolf from its hiding place and Beren tried to take it with a spear, but the wolf swept the weapon aside. He bit Beren and wounded him. . .”
“Nigh unto death,” Arwen said with a sigh.
“Only this time Beren died, but not before Huan and Carcharoth fought a great battle. Huan died and Beren shortly followed. One of Thingol’s men cut open the wolf and there was Beren’s hand inside still holding the Silmaril. He took the Silmaril and gave it to Beren who gave it to Thingol and thus was his quest at last fulfilled.”
“He died because Lúthien wasn’t there. How come she didn’t go on the hunt?”
“Because of her love for Beren she became mortal and the strength that had borne her through many trials was fading. Beren died and Lúthien followed him in her grief.”
“They died?” Arwen cried, aghast. “That’s a terrible story, Ada.”
“Yes, they both perished but Lúthien was able, one last time, to persuade the Doomsman of the Valar to take pity on her and Beren, for she told him to linger within the Halls of Mandos and not leave the circles of the world until she came to bid him farewell. When she died she sang to Námo of the joys and sorrows of Elves and Men. He was moved to pity by her beauty and her song as he has never been before or since. He took her petition to Manwë, who took it to Eru and he pronounced she should have the choice of living in Valinor without Beren or accepting the Gift of Men and following him into death when the time came. Lúthien chose a mortal life and when the two had lived out their natural spans, they left the world together to only Eru knows where, as is the fate of Men.”
“And that’s the end?”
“Yes, that’s the end of the story. Now Lúthien’s great deeds are remembered only in story and song.”
“I guess she was pretty brave for a story princess but Beren sure got wounded a lot.”
“That’s what happens when one does battle, especially against a powerful foe. It is good to keep in mind that battles must only be fought when necessary. We mustn’t go looking for them. Beren was steadfast but he could not have completed the quest alone, and Lúthien’s courage was spurred by her love for him and her recognition of his kind, loving spirit. Their victory has inspired the valor of many Elves and Men in battles since. And her story still wrings the hearts of Elves for the loss of one so fair and so good.”
Arwen thought this over for a moment. “When I grow up, I want to marry a man like Beren, but you’ll have to teach me healing, Ada.”
Elrond laughed. “I will teach you all I know, but there are no men like unto Beren. There were few in his age and even fewer now. Yet if you find a man like him, you will have my blessing to marry him. And I promise not to send him on a hopeless quest.”
She gave a mighty yawn and blinked as sleep finally began to overtake her. “That was a good story, Ada. I couldn’t guess what was going to happen next. Thank you for telling it to me.”
“I’m glad you liked it, honey. Good night.”
“Good night, Ada,” Arwen said dreamily.
Elrond leaned over and kissed her forehead as her eyes slid closed. A shadow passed over his heart, followed by a beam of joy and pure, unconditional love. “The joys and sorrows of Elves and Men,” he thought.
He picked up her toys and put them away then slipped quietly from her room. When he entered their bedchamber Celebrian was sleeping peacefully, an unfinished glass of wine and a book on the nightstand. The candle had burned itself out. It had turned out to be a long story after all. When he got into bed she turned toward him in her sleep and he took her in his arms, holding her close, basking in her warmth and softness. He thought of Beren and Lúthien and the choice his own children must make one day, hoping whatever they chose they would find in their lives the joy he felt at this moment.
About the Author
Ignoble Bard has written in the Tolkien fandom for well over a decade (his origins are lost in the mists of time with many now-defunct websites including Yahoo Groups slash archives). Many of his stories appear on Archive of Our Own (IgnobleBard), the SWG (IgnobleBard), and Faerie: Tolkien Fanfiction (IgnobleBard). He has been one of the most regular participants over the years in the Slashy Santa series of fic swaps. Links to stories nominated and placing in the Middle-earth Fanfiction Awards may be found here. He writes everything from comedy and crack to high romance and also writes original short stories.