Canto VIII

Thus twelve alone there ventured forth
from Nargothrond, and to the North
they turned their silent secret way,
and vanished in the fading day.
No trumpet sounds, no voice there sings,(5)
as robed in mail of cunning rings
now blackened dark with helmets grey
and sombre cloaks they steal away.

Far-journeying Narog's leaping course
they followed 'till they found his source,(10)
the flickering falls, whose freshets sheer
a glimmering goblet glassy-clear
with crystal waters fill that shake
and quiver down from Ivrin's lake,
from Ivrin's mere that mirrors dim(15)
the pallid faces bare and grim
of Shadowy Mountains neath the moon.

Now far beyond the realm immune
from Orc and demon and the dread
of Morgoth's might their ways had led.(20)
In woods o'ershadowed by the heights
they watched and waited many nights,
'till, on a time when hurrying cloud
did moon and constellation shroud,
and winds of autumn's wild beginning(25)
soughed in the boughs, and leaves went spinning
down the dark eddies rustling soft,
they heard a murmur hoarsely waft
from far, a croaking laughter coming;
now louder; now they heard the drumming(30)
of hideous stamping feet that tramp
the weary earth. Then many a lamp
of sullen red they saw draw near,
swinging, and glistening on spear
and scimitar. There hidden nigh(35)
they say a band of Orcs go by
with goblin-faces swart and foul.
Bats were about them, and the owl,
the ghostly forsaken night-bird cried
from trees above. The voices died,(40)
the laughter like clash of stone and steel
passed and faded. At their heel
the Elves and Beren crept more soft
than foxes stealing through a croft
in search of prey. Thus to the camp(45)
lit by flickering fire and lamp
they stole, and counted sitting there
full thirty Orcs in the red flare
of burning wood. Without a sound
they one by one stood silent round,(50)
each in the shadow of a tree;
each slowly, grimly, secretly
bent then his bow and drew the string.

Hark! How they sudden twang and sing
when Felagund lets forth a cry;(55)
and twelve Orcs sudden fall and die.
Then forth they leap casting their bows.
Out their bright swords, and swift their blows!
The stricken Orcs now shriek and yell
as lost things deep in lightless hell.(60)
Battle there is beneath the trees
bitter and swift; but no Orc flees;
there left their lives that wandering band
and stained no more the sorrowing land
with rape and murder. Yet no song(65)
of joy, or triumph over wrong,
the Elves there sang. In peril sore
they were, for never alone to war
so small an Orc-band went, they knew.
Swiftly the raiment off they drew(70)
and cast the corpses in a pit.
This desperate counsel had the wit
of Felagund for them devised:
as Orcs his comrades he disguised.

The poisoned spears, the bows of horn,(75)
the crooked swords their foes had borne
they took; and loathing each him clad
in Angband's raiment foul and sad.
They smeared their hands and faces fair
with pigment dark; the matted hair(80)
all lank and black from goblin head
they shore, and joined it thread by thread
with Elvish skill. As each one leers
at each dismayed, about his ears
he hangs it noisome, shuddering.(85)

Then Felagund a spell did sing
of changing and of shifting shape;
their ears grew hideous, and agape
their mouths did start, and like a fang
each tooth became, as slow he sang.(90)
Their Elvish raiment then they hid,
and one by one behind him slid,
behind a foul and goblin thing
that once was elven-fair and king.

Northward they went; and Orcs they met(95)
who passed, nor did their going let,
but hailed them in greeting; and more bold
they grew as past the long miles rolled.

At length they came with weary feet
beyond Beleriand. They found the fleet(100)
young waters, rippling, silver-pale
of Sirion hurrying through that vale
where Taur-nu-Fuin, Deadly Night,
the trackless forest's pine-clad height,
fall dark forbidding slowly down(105)
upon the east, while westward frown
the northward-bending Mountains grey
and bar the westering light of day.

An isléd hill there stood alone
amid the valley, like a stone(110)
rolled from the distant mountains vast
when giants in tumult hurtled past.
Around its feet the river looped
a stream divided, that had scooped
the hanging edges into caves.(115)
There briefly shuddered Sirion's waves
and ran to other shores more clean.

An elven watchtower had it been,
and strong it was, and still was fair;
but now did grim with menace stare(120)
one way to pale Beleriand,
the other to that mournful land
beyond the valley's northern mouth.
Thence could be glimpsed the fields of drouth,
the dusty dunes, the desert wide;(125)
and further far could be descried
the brooding cloud that hangs and lowers
on Thangorodrim's thunderous towers.

Now in that hill was the abode
of one most evil; and the road(130)
that from Beleriand thither came
he watched with sleepless eyes of flame.
(From the North there led no other way,
save east, where the Gorge of Aglon lay,
and that dark path of hurrying dread(135)
which only in need the Orcs would tread
through Deadly Nightshade's awful gloom
where Taur-nu-Fuin's branches loom;
and Aglon led to Doriath,
and Fëanor's sons watched o'er that path.)(140)

Elves called him Gorthaur, as a god
in after days beneath his rod
bewildered men bowed to him, and made
his ghastly temples in the shade.
Not yet by Men enthralled adored,(145)
now was he Morgoth's mightiest lord,
Master of Wolves, whose shivering howl
for ever echoed in the hills, and foul
enchantments and dark sigaldry
did weave and wield. In glamoury(150)
that necromancer held his hosts
of phantoms and of wandering ghosts,
of misbegotten or spell-wronged
monsters that about him thronged,
working his bidding dark and vile:(155)
the werewolves of the Wizard's Isle.

From Sauron their coming was not hid;
and though beneath the eaves they slid
of the forest's gloomy-hanging boughs,
he saw them afar, and wolves did rouse:(160)
'Go fetch me those sneaking Orcs,' he said,
'that fare thus strangely, as if in dread,
and do not come, as all Orcs use
and are commanded, to bring me news
of all their deeds, to me, Gorthaur.'(165)

From windows stark in Wizard's Tower
his suspicion grew with brooding thought,
waiting, leering, 'till they were brought.
Now ringed about with wolves they stand,
and fear their doom. Alas, the land,(170)
the land of Narog left behind!
Foreboding evil weights their mind,
as downcast, halting, they must go
and cross the stony bridge of woe
to Wizard's Isle, and to the throne(175)
there fashioned of blood-darkened stone.

'Where have ye been? What have ye seen?'

'In Elvenesse; and tears and distress,
the fire blowing and the blood flowing,
these have we seen, there have we been.(180)
Thirty we slew and their bodies threw
in a dark pit. The ravens sit
and the owl cries where our swath lies.'

'Come, tell me true, oh Morgoth's thralls,
what then in Elvenesse befalls?(185)
What of Nargothrond? Who reigneth there?
Into that realm did your feet dare?'

'Only its borders did we dare.
There reigns King Felagund the fair.'

'Then heard ye not that his is gone,(190)
that Celegorm sits his throne upon?'

'That is not true! If he is gone,
then Ordoreth sits his throne upon.'

'Sharp are your ears, swift have they got
tidings of realms ye entered not!(195)
What are your names, oh spearmen bold?
Who is your captain? Ye have not told.'

'Wrath and Hate and warriors ten,
so we are called, and dark our den
under the mountains. Over the waste(200)
we march on an errand of need and hast.
Boldog the captain awaits us there
where fires from under smoke and flare.'

'Boldog, I heard, was lately slain
warring on the borders of that domain(205)
where Robber Thingol and outlaw folk
cringe and crawl beneath elm and oak
in drear Doriath. Heard ye not then
of that pretty fay, of Lúthien?
Her body is fair, very light and fair.(210)
Morgoth would possess her in his lair.
Boldog he sent, but Boldog was slain:
strange ye were not in Bolgod's train.

Fierce is your chief, his frown is grim.
Little Lúthien... what troubles him?(215)
Why laughs he not to think of his lord
crushing a maiden in his hoard,
that foul should be what once was clean,
that dark should be where light has been?

Whom do ye serve, Light or Mirk?(220)
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,(225)
the vain Valar? Repeat your vows,
Orcs of Bauglir! Do not bend your brows.
Death to light, to law, to love;
cursed be moon and stars above;
may darkness everlasting old(230)
that waits outside in surges cold
drown Manwë, Varda and the sun;
may all is hatred be begun
and all in evil ended be
in the moaning of the endless Sea!'(235)

But no true Man nor Elf yet free
would ever speak that blasphemy,
and Beren muttered: 'Doth Gorthaur
now hinder the might of our Master's power?
Him we serve not, nor to him owe(240)
obeisance, and we now would go.'

Then Sauron laughed: 'Patience! Not long
shall ye abide. But first a song
I will sing to you, to ears intent.'
Then his flaming eyes he on them bent,(245)
and darkness black fell round them all.
Only they saw, as through a pall
of eddying smoke those eyes profound
in which their senses choked and drowned.

He chanted a song of Wizardry,(250)
of piercing, opening, of treachery,
revealing, uncovering, betraying.
Then sudden Felagund there swaying
sang in answer a song of staying,
resisting, battling against power,(255)
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.(260)

Backwards and forwards swayed their song,
reeling and foundering, as ever more strong
the chanting swelled, Felagund fought,
and all the magic and might he brought
of Elvenesse into his words.(265)
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.(270)

Then the gloom gathered: darkness growing
in Valinor, the red blood flowing
beside the sea, where the Noldor slew
the Foamriders, and stealing drew
their white ships with their white sails(275)
from lamplit havens. The wind wails.
The wolf howls. The ravens flee.
The ice mutters in the mouths of the sea.
The captives sad in Angband mourn.
Thunder rumbles, the fires burn -(280)
and Finrod fell before the throne.
A vast roar echoes in the halls of stone.
Behold! They are in their own fair shape,
fairskinned, brighteyed. No longer gape
Orclike their mouths; and now they stand(285)
betrayed into the wizard's hand.

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(290)
they lay forgotten, in despair.

Yet not all unavailing were
the spells of Felagund; for he
had spun spells Sauron could not see -
some not yet full-wrought; and Sauron(295)
neither their names nor purpose won.
These much he pondered and bethought,
and in their woeful chains them sought
and threatened all with dreadful death
if one would not with traitor's breath(300)
reveal this knowledge. Wolves should come
and slow devour them one by one
before the other's eyes, and last
should one alone be left aghast,
then in a place of horror hung(305)
with anguish should his limbs be wrung,
in the bowels of the earth be slow
endlessly, cruelly, put to woe
and torment, till he all declared.

Even as he threatened, so it fared.(310)
From time to time in the eyeless dark
two eyes would grow, and they would hark
to frightful cries, and then a sound
of rending, a slavering on the ground,
and blood flowing they would smell.(315)
But none would yield, and none would tell.