Canto III

Dark from the North now blew the cloud;
the winds of autumn cold and loud
hissed in the heather; sad and grey
Aeluin's mournful water lay.
'Son Beren,' then said Barahir,(5)
'Thou knowest the rumour that we hear
of strength from the Gaurhoth that is sent
against us; and our food nigh spent.
On thee the lot falls by our law
to go forth now alone to draw (10)
what help thou canst from the hidden few
that feed us still, and what is new
to learn. Good fortune go with thee!
In speed return, for grudgingly
we spare thee from our brotherhood,(15)
so small: and Gorlim in the wood
is long astray or dead. Farewell!'
As Beren went, still like a knell
resounded in his heart that word,
the last of his father that he heard.(20)

Through moor and fen, by tree and briar
he wandered far: he saw the fire
of Sauron's camp, he heard the howl
of hunting Orc and wolf a-prowl,
and turning back, for long the way,(25)
benighted in the forest lay.
In weariness he then must sleep,
fain in a badger-hole to creep,
and yet he heard (or dreamed it so)
nearby a marching legion go(30)
with clink of mail and clash of shields
up towards the stony mountain-fields.
He slipped then into darkness down,
until, as man that waters drown
strives upwards gasping, it seemed to him(35)
he rose through slime beside the brim
of sullen pool beneath dead trees.
Their livid boughs in a cold breeze
trembled, and all their black leaves stirred:
each leaf a black and croaking bird(40)
whose neb a gout of blood let fall.
He shuddered, struggling thence to crawl
through winding weeds, when far away
he saw a shadow faint and grey
gliding across the dreary lake.(45)
Slowly it came, and softly spake:
"Gorlim I was, but now a wraith
of will defeated, broken faith,
traitor betrayed. Go! Stay not here!
Awaken, son of Barahir,(50)
and haste! For Morgoth's fingers close
upon thy father's throat; he knows
your trysts, your paths, your secret lair.'

Then he revealed the devil's snare
in which he fell, and failed; and last(55)
begging forgiveness, wept, and passed
out into darkness. Beren woke,
leapt up as one by sudden stroke
with fire of anger filled. His bow
and sword he seized, and like the roe(60)
hotfoot o'er rock and heath he sped
before the dawn. Ere the next night fled
to Aeluin at last he came,
as the red sun eastward rose in flame;
but Aeluin was red with blood,(65)
red were the stones and trampled mud.
Black in the birches sat a-row
the raven and the carrion crow;
wet were their nebs, and dark the meat
that dripped beneath their griping feet.(70)

There Beren laid his father's bones
in haste beneath a cairn of stones;
no graven rune nor word he wrote
o'er Barahir, but thrice he smote
the topmost stone, and thrice aloud(75)
he cried his name. 'Thy death,' he vowed,
'I will avenge. Yea, though my fate
should lead at last to Angband's gate.'
And then he turned, and did not weep:
too dark his heart, the wound too deep.(80)
Out into night, as cold as stone,
loveless, friendless, he strode alone.

Of hunter's lore he had no need
the trail to find. With little heed
his ruthless foe, secure and proud,(85)
marched north away with blowing loud
of brazen horns their lord to greet,
trampling the earth with grinding feet.
Behind them bold but wary went
now Beren, swift as hound on scent,(90)
until, beside a darkling well
where Rivil rises from the fell
down into Serech's reeds to flow,
he found the slayers, found his foe.
From hiding on the hillside near (95)
he marked them all: though less than fear,
too many for his sword and bow
to slay alone. Then, crawling low
as snake in heath, he nearer crept.
There many weary with marching slept,(100)
but captains, sprawling on the grass,
drank and from hand to hand let pass
their booty, begrudging each small thing
raped from dead bodies. One a ring
held up, and laughed: 'Now, mates,' he cried(105)
'here's mine! And I'll not be denied,
though few be like it in the land.
It came from this now severed hand
of that same Barahir I slew,
the robber-knave. If tales be true,(110)
he had it of some elvish lord
for the rogue-service of his sword.
No help it gave to him - he's dead!
They're parlous, elvish rings, 'tis said;
still for the gold I'll keep it, yea,(115)
and so eke out my worthless pay.
Old Sauron bade me bring it back,
and yet, methinks, he has no lack
of weightier treasures in his hoard:
the greater the greedier the lord!(120)
So mark ye, mates, ye all shall swear
the hand of Barahir was bare!'
And as he spoke an arrow sped
from tree behind, and forward dead
choking he fell with barb in throat;(125)
with leering face the earth he smote.

Forth, then, as wolfhound grim there leapt
Beren among them. Two he swept
aside with sword; caught up the ring;
slew one who grasped him; with a spring(130)
back into shadow passed, and fled
before their yells of wrath and dread
of ambush in the valley rang.
Then after him like wolves they sprang,
howling and cursing, gnashing teeth,(135)
hewing and bursting through the heath,
shooting wild arrows, sheaf on sheaf,
at trembling shade or shaken leaf.

In fateful hour was Beren born:
he laughed at dart and wailing horn;(140)
fleetest of foot of living men
tireless on fell and light on fen,
elf-wise in wood, he passed away,
defended by his hauberk grey
of dwarvish craft in Nogrod made,(145)
where hammers rang in cavern's shade.

As fearless Beren was renowned:
when men most hardy upon ground
were reckoned folk would speak his name,
foretelling that his after-fame(150)
would even golden Hador pass
or Barahir and Bregolas;
but sorrow now his heart had wrought
to fierce despair, no more he fought
in hope of life or joy or praise,(155)
but seeking so to use his days
only that Morgoth deep should feel
the sting of his avenging steel,
ere death he found and end of pain:
his only fear was thraldom's chain.(160)
Danger he sought and death pursued,
and thus escaped the doom he wooed,
and deeds of breathless daring wrought
alone, of which the rumour brought
new hope to many a broken man.(165)
They whispered 'Beren,' and began
in secret swords to whet, and soft
by shrouded hearths at evening oft
songs they would sing of Beren's bow,
of Dagmor his sword: how he would go(170)
silent to camps and slay the chief,
or, trapped in his hiding, past belief
would slip away, and under night
by mist or moon or by the light
of open day would come again.(175)
Of hunters hunted, slayers slain
they sang, of Gorgol the Butcher hewn,
of ambush in Ladros, fire in Drûn,
of thirty in one battle dead,
of wolves that yelped like curs and fled,(180)
yea, Sauron himself with wound in hand.
Thus one alone filled all that land
with fear and death for Morgoth's folk;
his comrades were the beech and oak
who failed him not, and wary things(185)
with fur and fell and feathered wings
that silent wander, or dwell alone
in hill and wild and waste of stone
watched o'er his ways, his faithful friends.

Yet seldom well and outlaw ends;(190)
and Morgoth was a king more strong
than all the world has since in song
recorded: dark athwart the land
reached out the shadow of his hand,
at each recoil returned again;(195)
two more were sent for one foe slain.
New hope was cowed, all rebels killed;
quenched were the fires, the songs were stilled,
tree felled, heath burned, and through the waste
marched the black host of Orcs in haste.(200)

Almost they closed their ring of steel
round Beren; hard upon his heel
now trod their spies; within their hedge
of all aid shorn, upon the edge
of death at bay he stood aghast(205)
and knew that he must die at last,
or flee the land of Barahir,
his land beloved. Beside the mere
beneath a heap of nameless stones
must crumble those once mighty bones,(210)
forsaken by both son and kin,
bewailed by reeds of Aeluin.

In winter's night the houseless North
he left behind, and stealing forth
the leaguer of his watchful foe(215)
he passed - a shadow on the snow,
a swirl of wind, and he was gone,
the ruin of Dorthonion,
Tarn Aeluin and its water wan,
never again to look upon.(220)
No more shall hidden bowstring sing,
no more his shaven arrows wing,
no more his hunted head shall lie
upon the heath beneath the sky.
The Northern stars, whose silver fire(225)
of old Men named the Burning Briar,
were set behind his back, and shone
o'er land forsaken: he was gone.

Southward he turned, and south away
his long and lonely journey lay,(230)
while ever loomed before his path
the dreadful peaks of Gorgorath.
Never had foot of man most bold
yet trod those mountains steep and cold,
nor climbed upon their sudden brink,(235)
whence, sickened, eyes must turn and shrink
to see their southward cliffs fall sheer
in rocky pinnacle and pier
down into shadows that were laid
before the sun and moon were made.(240)
In valleys woven with deceit
and washed with waters bitter-sweet
dark magic lurked in gulf and glen;
but out away beyond the ken
of mortal sight the eagle's eye(245)
from dizzy towers that pierced the sky
might grey and gleaming see afar,
as sheen on water under star,
Beleriand, Beleriand,
the borders of the Elven-land.(250)