Still working on this bit.. Here's the picture in the meantime!
This is dedicated with grateful acknowledgment to that greatest of ancient authors,
for demonstrating medieval snarkage in the play Everyman.
(Thanks also to NovusSibyl for an invaluable casting suggestion.)

Click to open a new window with a hi-res version suitable for printing


retold in the vernacular as a dramatic script
(with apologies to Messrs. Tolkien & Shakespeare)

Dramatis Personae & Cast, in order of appearance
[this is how I'd cast them - you're free to supply your own actors, of course.]

    The Human Bard Gower (appearing courtesy of The Rose Playhouse)
        Derek Jacobi (appearing courtesy Henry V)

    Beren Barahirion, Human Warrior
        Christian Bale (appearing courtesy Treasure Island, Little Women)

    Nargothrond Border Patrol Captain
        Hugh Jackman (appearing courtesy Kate & Leopold)

    Steward of Finrod's Household
         Alan Rickman (appearing courtesy Sense and Sensibility)

    Curufin, Son of Feanor
        James Marsters in sly, caustic and vicious mode (courtesy Mutant Enemy)

    Celegorm, Son of Feanor
        James Marsters in suave, charming, and gentlemanly mode (courtesy Mutant Enemy)

    Huan of Valinor
        Special guest appearance as Himself

    Finduilas, Princess of Nargothrond, daughter of Orodreth
        Gelsey Kirkland (appearing courtesy the Baryshnikov Nutcracker telecast)

    Orodreth, Prince of Nargothrond
        Hugh Grant (appearing courtesy Sense and Sensibility)

    Finrod Felagund, King of Nargothrond
        Kenneth Branagh (appearing courtesy Henry V)

    Celebrimbor, Son of Curufin
        Alexis Denisof (appearing courtesy Mutant Enemy)

    Gwindor, a Lord of Nargothrond
        Ioan Gruffudd (appearing courtesy A&E's Horatio Hornblower series)

    Assorted Nargothronders of both Houses: Rangers, Citizens, and Knights

    (Caranthir, Son of Feanor, only appears in conversation; but you may imagine Douglas Fairbanks Jr., courtesy The Prisoner of Zenda, in that role.)


        From Doriath's enchanted gloom
        let now your unfetter'd fancy roam
        to where the silver waters merge
        of Sirion, and the marshy verge
        of Twilight, and beyond
        across the rugged rainswept hills
        to Narog, and to Nargothrond:
                Hither wary Beren draws,
        with blood-won token ever shown
        to the sight, as yet unseen,
        of those who guard, in green
        of forest from enemy -- alone
        he comes into their hands; yet finds
        a gentler grasp and more courteous minds
        than welcomed him in Thingol's halls. . .

    [Outside the Gates of Nargothrond. Enter Beren, escorted by the Rangers, but unbound.]

        Forgive me, sir, but you must leave your weapons with us.
        It isn't permitted to go armed into the presence of the King.

        Of course. Hold on a minute --
    [He hands over his bow, quiver, longsword, shortsword and dagger]

Captain: [relieved]
        Thank you for being so understanding about this. Now if you'll
        just come this way --

        Not done yet.
    [taking assorted dirks from vambraces, leggings, belts and backpack.]

Captain: [staring at the mounting pile]
        Oh...Is there more?

Beren: [working poniards out of cloak hem and hand-guards]

        Is -- is that everything?

Beren: [muffled, struggling out of his armor]
        No, there are still the backups, but you'll have to wait a bit.
    [takes another several pounds of metal from undertunic, sleeves, waistband]
        That should do it.

        Your trustfulness -- astonishes one.

Beren: [shrugs]
        I'm here to ask for help. Weapons not going to be very useful for getting
        that, right? And I seriously doubt there are going to be any Orcs around
        here to worry about.

Captain: [affronted]
        Certainly not!

        Exactly.  But I have to say I'm a bit surprised at your trust, myself.

        ? . . . ?

        Well, you don't know that I am who I say that I am. I could be a minion
        of Morgoth waving Barahir's ring about and claiming to be his heir.
        It -- is not -- an impossible scenario.

        Ah. Well. I do suppose it's -- remotely possible, but --

    [He is saved from the increasing awkwardness by the entrance of the Steward.]

        I'm sorry, but the King is still tied up in meetings and he left strict
        orders not to be disturbed.  If you wouldn't mind waiting until he's
        free, you can make yourself comfortable in the antechambers, and someone
        will fetch you when the council's over.

Beren: [overcome]

        Is there a problem, milord?

Beren: [hoarsely]
        --No. Not a problem. I . . . I wasn't expecting such a civil reception.

        We may be at war, but that is scarcely an excuse for neglecting basic

Captain: [drily]
        --Especially when it's been going on for almost half-a-millenium now.
        It's not as if anything's changed lately.

        Believe me, I'm not complaining, sirs.

        Then, milord, if you'll be so good as to follow us?

    [aside, to the Captain of the Border Patrol]

        --Are you sure?

Captain: [shrugging]
        So he says.


        I know.  --I know.  But mortals don't come back, or so he says -- and
        he should know.


        Now for the mean, whilst under distant shade
        sadly in duteous piety doth pine the maid
        Luthien, waiting for her love (or tidings of),
        the son of Barahir finds ease, and welcome,
        if not from all in Nargothrond, at least from some--

    [The Steward ushers Beren into the royal apartments.]

        Please make yourself comfortable, milord. I only ask -- and please
        take no offenses, 'tis but for form's sake -- that you remain here
        and not wander before the King summons you.

        Not at all. I don't imagine I'd want to trip your security system.

        Precisely. What would you care for, while you wait? A change of garments?
        There's probably time for a hot bath, if you wish -- these councils often
        go far beyond what's planned.

        Er, food, actually.

Steward: [blinks]
        Of course. What sort pleases you best? Manchets? Subtleties? Viands spiced
        and minced--

        -- Hot is fine.

        Just -- hot?

        If it's not too much trouble.

        No, I'm sure the chefs can manage -- hot.

    [The Steward leaves, shaking his head. Beren wanders about, looking at the artworks
    and Really Cool Stuff around the chamber, being careful not to touch anything.

    [Room Service enters with a steaming tray and lays out a complete place setting before
    leaving. Beren looks at the table, looks at the chairs, looks at the state of his clothes.
    Makes a cursory attempt to brush off the assorted rust, mud, blood, and grass stains,
    shrugs, and sets the tray down on the floor instead. Sits down cross-legged and starts
    uncovering dishes.]

    [Enter Curufin, alone, looking around for someone else.]

Curufin: [noticing Beren]
        --Well, well, well, what have we here? Something the dogs dragged in?
        Looks like a wolf's-head to me.

    [Celegorm enters]

Celegorm: [flinging himself down casually into a chair]
        I agree, brother. A thief at best, or possibly a revolutionary. Someone
        with little respect for law and order, I dare say.

Beren: [blandly polite]
        Yeah, that's what they say. Or so I'm told.

Curufin: [sinking gracefully into another chair]
        You're mortal, aren't you?

        Mortal enough, to my enemies.

        I make the jokes around here. --Mortal.

        Go right ahead.

    [He picks out part of the meal and starts eating. Curufin and Celegorm stare. Celegorm
    grins evilly and whistles. Sound of clicking on floor outside. Huan enters.]

        You'd better run -- he hates wolves, and wolf's-heads, outlaw.

    [Beren does not move.  Huan approaches and snuffles him; Beren gives him some of
    the meat from his tray.]

        -- Aren't you a good boy?  Want some more?

    [wags tail]

Beren: [scratching Huan's ears]
        Dogs are great. Big dogs especially. --You don't really think I'd
        be in here without permission, do you? I'm waiting for your King.

        Huan! Get over here.

    [Huan reluctantly leaves Beren and flops down next to Celegorm with a sigh]

        Not our King. Not all of us here owe allegiance to the children of Indis.
        What are you, an emissary from the Kingdom of Beggars? Our hosts had
        better look to the number of spoons they have left when he leaves.

        I've heard there are primitive tribes in some of these ancient forests.

Beren: [between mouthfuls]
        That one was pretty funny.  Not first-rate, but mildly amusing nonetheless.

    [the Sons of Feanor talk as though he has not spoken]

        Yes, don't they rub mud in their hair?  And they're supposed to be short, too.

        But they paint their faces, and I don't see any paint on his face.  Of course,
        it's hard to tell with all that dirt...

        You know, I heard Elves were supposed to be incredibly eloquent, and wise,
        and perceptive on top of that.

        If you're not a barbarian, why are you sitting on the floor eating with
        your fingers instead of a knife?

        Ah, because--

Curufin: [talking over him]
        This is called 'furniture'. That --


        -- is a 'table'.  One sits at it to eat, not next it.  On these
        things called 'chairs'.  They're really quite the rage now in
        civilized society.

        Chairs . . . You know, I think I remember those.  We used to have
        some when I was a kid.  --They burn really well when you can't go
        out to cut wood because there's a horde of Orcs in the way.

        Insolent mortal, do you have any idea whom you're addressing?

        No, but I expect you're going to tell me.

        I am Curufin, formerly of Valinor, and this is my estimable brother, Celegorm.




Curufin: [smugly]
        Ah, you've heard of us, I see?

        Everyone's heard of the Sons of Feanor.

Celegorm: [preening]
        Look at that -- we're renowned even among mortals, brother.

Curufin [suspicious]
        What exactly do you mean, everyone's heard of us?

        Let's just leave it at renowned, okay?


        (-- and leave out the 'psychotic obsessed losers' part . . .)

    [He waves a small piece of meat sneakily behind his back.  Huan gets up
    and starts to come over to him.]

Celegorm: [sternly]
        Huan! Down!


        Whose dog are you, anyway?

        I'm no man's dog -- or Dark Lord's.  --Sir.

        I was not speaking to you.


        You've quite the opinion of yourself, haven't you?

        I know my limitations.

    [The Sons of Feanor scowl, trying to work out if this is supposed
    to be an insult.  Beren tosses the meat to Huan, who catches it.]

    [tail thumps]

Celegorm: [angrily]
        Stop feeding my dog!

        Maybe you should take better care of him.
    [throws another piece to Huan]
        Then he wouldn't be so hungry.  --Would you, boy?

    [loud tail thumps]

        So, I assume all this . . . artistic slovenliness. . . is just an affectation?

Beren: [swallowing]
        Come again?

        Well, you're turning up your nose at the finest venison there.  It isn't
        as if the hounds didn't already get their share at the kill.

        I don't eat meat any more.

Celegorm: [flabbergasted]
        Why ever not?

        I only hunt Orcs these days, and other things that fall into the general
        category of fell. And before you go there, no, I don't eat Orcs. Or wargs,
        or spiders.

        You didn't answer the question.

        Orcs kill anything that moves -- and eat them, too, unless under strict orders
        to bring back prisoners alive.  For one, it's a way of maintaining a difference
        between myself and what I hunt, when -- as you've so kindly pointed out -- in
        terms of civilization I haven't much footing left. For another, I can't
        help but identify with anything hunted by Orcs. It seems wrong, somehow.
        Treacherous, even -- I couldn't begin to tell how often I've been warned of
        a patrol's approach by bird-cries or fleeing deer.

        So now you're equating us with Orcs, no less.

        I never said that.

        But you implied it.  By implication, as it were. Implying that those of us who
        do hunt, and eat what we bring down, are no better than Orcs, and no different.

Beren: [slightly exasperated]
        No.  It's a personal choice.  I don't impose it on anyone else.  I don't expect
        anyone else to have my reasons for it.

Celegorm: [horrified]
        So what do you eat?  Berries and, er, roots?  You're not a farmer, are you?

        Well, before things got too bad, people used to leave stuff out for me, not
        obviously, but the occasional 'forgotten' loaf or cloak or or boots or wheel
        of cheese or leftover . . . leftovers. Not much, but it helped make ends meet.

        I hate to destroy your idealistic illusions, but bread is made from eggs, you
        know.  And eggs are animals.  You do know that, don't you?

        That depends on the bread. Seriously, though -- not all eggs hatch, even in
        the wild.  So far as the intent goes, I'm not trying to destroy a bird, just
        to sustain my own life, though I might end up doing so by accident.  A small
        difference, maybe, but a real one.  I think.

        Well, going by that logic, it isn't just Orcs that eat whatever they can catch.
        Pretty much any animal will hunt and take prey, even beasts that are mostly
        herbivorous, like mice.  I don't see your objection, myself.

        True.  But I'm not an animal, either.

    [Celegorm is fairly certain this is an insult directed at him, but is distracted
    from responding by Huan's willingly being lured away again.]

        No!!! Bad dog!!! Down, Huan!!!

        I can't believe we're arguing moral philosophy with a mortal barbarian.

    [suddenly suspicious again]

        Orodreth? Is that you, playing some kind of bizarre joke?

    [He attempts to dispel illusion; since it is not an illusion, Beren's
    appearance does not change.]

        You spoke in the past tense. What do you do for mealtimes now?

Beren: [becoming more enthusiastic as he goes on]
        Well, there's turnips, there's parsnips, there's feral edibles of all
        kinds around the old homesteads. A lot of the land used to be under
        cultivation.  Cattails, you can prepare them all kinds of ways if you
        know what you're about -- a lot of different kinds of edible marsh grasses,
        in fact.  Then there's pine-nuts in the forest in autumn, hazelnuts,
        -- berries, yes; wild-sunflower and thistles, the roots and heads can be
        steamed and they're really quite good; and there are always mushrooms. --If
        you know what you're about, again, and don't poison yourself. Even in winter
        you can find wood-ears and boil them --

Curufin: [fascinated in spite of himself]

        Those fungus that grow on trees and stick out like ears.

Curufin: [remembering to sneer]
        Impressive.  Quite a lot of work, for an abstract principle.

        I don't say it's easy. But I figure if the Sindarin clans can do it,
        then I can manage it too.

        Oh, so now you're putting yourself on the same level as the Kindred, are you?

        You guys really do have issues, don't you?  What is your problem?  You look
        like you have it pretty good here: you're cousins of the King, right?  You
        don't have to worry about somebody deciding that that reward sounds a whole
        lot better than 'Thanks, gotta run, you didn't see me,' or finding your cave
        full of Orcs waiting to ambush you.  Back off -- it's not like I'm here to
        threaten you, after all.

Curufin: [suspiciously]
        What exactly are you here for?  And who are you anyway? You look sort of
        familiar, but I can't place you.

        I really think that in prudence as well as courtesy the King should hear
        my business first. --Sir.

    [Before things can escalate, Finduilas enters with a parchment in hand.]

        Oh, there you are!  Can I have your autograph, milord?

        ? . . . ?

        --What are you about, cousin?

        Isn't it wonderful?  This is the mortal who saved my uncle at the Dagor

        No, er, that -- that wasn't me, that was my father.

        Oh.  Oh.


        Well, I'd still like your autograph. Can I see the famous ring?  Do you know,
        everyone's speculating on why you've come. We're all madly curious. You must
        tell us!  Oh, if you'd please sign it at the edge, then I can draw your
        picture in the rest. --Huan, go away, you'll smudge it!

    [Beren is overwhelmed; the Sons of Feanor exchange Significant Glances]

        Finduilas, darling, don't humiliate the poor fellow.

    [Finduilas gives him a confused look]

        You can't expect everyone to have had your advantages of upbringing.  I doubt
        very much he's even literate.

        Oh, I'm -- I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to --

Beren: [gently]
        It's all right. I do know my tengwar. And I'll be happy to give you my name,
        though I'm not sure why you'd want it.

    [He takes the pen from her]

Finduilas: [very hesitant]
        Um, it -- it goes the other way round, milord.

        On the other hand, it has been a long time.

    [He changes the pen over and spells out the runes of his name, very carefully.]

        There. Does that look right?

        If your name is Beren, yes.

Beren: [grins]
        Whew.  Shouldn't have boasted before I did it, eh?

    [Finduilas dares to smile.  He doesn't sneer at her. She is encouraged.]

        Is it true that you're here to organize a new Siege of Angband? They're
        saying you're the one that Morgoth was hunting all last year -- no, the
        year before -- and that he fears you more than anyone else in the world!

        Well, I -- I wouldn't say that, necessarily --

    [An Elven-lord enters, to be enthusiastically greeted by Huan]

        Down, boy! --Did you find him, Faelivrin?

Curufin: [grins]

    [She blushes as she points out Beren.]

        That's so cute.

        Oh, stop it.  --Gwin, can you believe it? You were right last winter, when
        you wouldn't believe the reports he'd been killed.

Gwindor: [stammering]
        My lord -- it's -- such an honor. I never -- the stories, the songs,
        the way you always managed to get out of every trap

Beren: [almost as much at a loss for words]
        You're both . . . very kind . . . I think -- I think you make too much --

Gwindor: [enthusiastic]
        -- What's it like, being a legend?

        . . .

Gwindor:  [oblivious]
        A champion of the oppressed -- the Man most hated by the Dark Lord himself!

        Mostly -- tiring.

        I would love to be like you! To think of it -- wreaking vengeance on our Enemy,
        obeying no rules, beholden to none, fearing nothing, alone against impossible
        odds, hunted by implacable foes, with a price on your head worth a king's ransom--

        I said he was an outlaw --

        -- Actually, I never saw myself as an outlaw. I kind of thought of it that I was
        the Law, in Dorthonion. They were transgressors. I punished them. They outnumbered
        me. That didn't make Morgoth rightful lord of Beleriand.

        I really liked the way you would use an Orc-chief's own battle-axe to hew him
        and just leave it there. That was such an insult! -- did you mean it to symbolize
        that their evil deeds would turn against them and destroy them, just as their
        own weapons had?

        Um, no -- that was because axes are really heavy and I didn't need one.
        The less extra weight to slow me down the better. I could always count on
        another axe with the next one.

        Ah, practicality. So -- what was the most exciting part of your career?

Beren: [after a long pause for thought]
        The sky.

        The sky--?

        Yeah, when I was waiting in ambush most of the night, or stuck in a swamp
        waiting for night, the way the branches and reeds would frame the sky was
        . . . it's hard to explain, but . . . it would keep changing, and every change
        would be perfect, and so slow . . . and then all of the sudden a bird would
        fly across, or a shooting star would --

    [gestures vividly]

        and then it would be still again, calm like deep water, but still moving slowly
        all the time, the way a lake moves all the time in different ways under
        the surface.

    [long pause]

Gwindor: [not sure what to make of this at all]
        Oh.  That -- almost sounds Sindarin, really.

    [The Sons of Feanor exchange glances.]

Finduilas: [with a defiant look towards them]
        I think it sounds beautiful.

    [confidentially to Gwindor, emboldened]

        You know, darling, since he wasn't dead after everyone said he must be, then
        perhaps Gelmir's still alive, and if it's true that Lord Beren's going to
        help lead a strike force against Angband, maybe he could rescue him . . . ?

Gwindor: [controlled but clearly exasperated]
        Faelivrin -- you weren't there.  You don't understand. My brother could not
        possibly have survived. --I don't want to talk about it any more.

    [Finduilas looks hurt]

Beren: [serious]
        People do come back from the unlikeliest chances. But I did hear the Dagor
        Bragollach was like no other battle on earth.

Curufin: [wearily]
        Little cousin, reconcile yourself to facts, and do not attempt to raise your
        sweetheart's hopes with well-meant foolishness. He's bones and dust on the Thirsty
        Plain, and none of us will ever see him again this side of the Western Sea.

    [smooth shift to sympathy, at Gwindor's glare]

        --I do apologize, my lord.

Beren: [low voice]
        He's in good company. A lot of my family's out there, too.

    [Gwindor gives him a grateful look.]

Celegorm: [mock outrage]
        You do think well of yourself, don't you?

        That wasn't what I -- Never mind.

        Besides, what if he did somehow survive? That would mean he was a slave in
        Angband, and would you really wish that on anyone you loved?  Even if he did
        somehow escape, he'd be no more than one of those brainwashed wretches that
        tried to assassinate your father and uncle in past days.  He wouldn't be allowed
        to enter the domain, let alone return to live here. --I'm dreadfully sorry,
        children, but it is the truth, and one must not live on delusions.

        Oh, you're hateful!  I wish you'd never come here.

    [To Beren]

        --Not you.

[She storms out.]

Gwindor: [with a stiff and formal nod]

        My lords.

    [to Beren, with a deeper bow]
        My lord.

    [stalks out after Finduilas]

Celegorm: [leans back in his chair, grinning broadly]
        Young love . . . Sickenin', ain't it?

        Oh -- I wouldn't say so.

    [Enter, almost immediately upon his words. the Steward, along with the Ranger captain,
    several more Border Guards, and a number of other warriors of Nargothrond.]

        Sir, it will be just a few more moments. I do apologize, on behalf of King Finrod,
        as I'm sure he would himself, were he here.

        That's -- that's fine. I thought for a moment you'd decided I was
        here on false pretenses and were coming to arrest me.

        Oh no, I'm so sorry. It's only that everyone wanted to see you -- all the
        lot from the Plains, for old time's sake.


    [rises and bows]

        Gentles, I -- I am honored . . .

        The honor is entirely ours.

        Your father used to talk about you.

        It seems like we've known you forever.

        I -- I wish I could offer you something, instead of coming as a beggar.
        But I can't even share refreshments, because I'm afraid what I didn't finish,
        Huan has.

    [Mysteriously on the other side of the room now, Huan grins and thumps his tail.]

        Well, you two didn't finish the wine, did you? That's all the refreshment one
        needs!  Rinse out those bowls, men, we don't need cups.

    [aside, to the Steward, as the rest crowd around to shake Beren's hand]

        --Remember when all we had was our helmets?

        I'd almost succeeded in forgetting that.  What it was like not to remember
        what sleeping in a bed was like, or what hot food tasted like, or -- holy
        stars -- hot water!

        Oh come, you know those were the days!

        Days of hell, you mean.

        Perhaps so.  Perhaps so.  But brightest the stars on the darkest nights.
        --You'll surely drink a toast to the Edain?

        Of course!

Celegorm: [annoyed]
        This party seems to be happening without us, brother.

Curufin: [quietly]
        Let the little people enjoy themselves.

    [Beren is beginning to hyperventilate, barely staying this side of fight-or-flight]

Captain: [noticing]
        Are you all right, milord?

        Sorry.  I haven't been around this many people in weeks.  I haven't been
        around this many people who weren't trying to kill me in years.

        Everyone!  Move back!  Give Lord Beren some breathing space!  More manners,
        less enthusiasm, and we'll all have a more enjoyable time.

Beren: [quietly]

    [The King's entourage enters, bodyguards, petitioners, clerks, and Orodreth
    all trailing along behind Finrod.  Beren resolutely shoulders through the mob.]

        Grinding Ice, but I thought that session would never end!  Why couldn't you
        just let it go till next season, Finrod?

Finrod: [weary frustration]
        --And then next season it will be the season after, and then the season
        after that. I've gone that route before.  I don't care what inspiration struck
        him, if he's going to drop everything and start working on plans for a giant
        orrery instead of the arbalest, then I first of all want to know about it and
        next I want to know who's lined up to replace him! Some things are more impor--

    [stops dead]

        Beor . . . ?

    [his voice trails off]

Beren: [holding out the ring]
       Sir.  Your Majesty.  My father once was of service to you, and -- this ring I have
       -- as proof -- though I know it isn't conclusive --

    [he falters under the King's stare and falls silent]

Finrod: [ignoring the ring altogether]

        You're Barahir's boy.

    [He grips Beren's shoulders.]

        -- You look just like him.  My home -- is yours.  What do you need?


        To such a kingly welcome as, though well-deserved,
        lost Dorthonion's lord hath scarcely dared whereof to hope,
        Beren now is come, and here in royal rooms, and served
          by Finrod Felagund himself, he finds him rest, and dares to open
        (as only to one other e're before) the hard-defended chamber
        of his inmost thought.
                                Hearing his mind, the Lord of Caves
        wondering greatly, considers all his words, spoken and unspoken,
        deeming him here a sign of fortune, or doom, nor that he raves
        when of his mad and main-wrought quest he tells -- how broken
        never will his given vow and pledged love ere be, while Sun
        and Moon cross 'twixt heaven's stars and the Endless Sea.

    [Finrod's apartments. Beren, somewhat less disheveled, reclines before the
    fireplace watching the flames. Finrod is seated across from him on the floor.
    A carafe is between them; each holds a wineglass. As the camera moves it is
    revealed that Huan, asleep, is serving as backrest for Beren.]



    [Finrod pours. Beren holds up & admires before the light. When he speaks
    his words are slower than usual, but not slurred: exhaustion, not drink,
    has overtaken him.]

        Thanks. --This is amazing stuff. I'd expect I'd be unconscious by now . . .
        I can't remember when I last had wine; it's got to be six or seven years,
        I guess. It's the strangest thing: I can barely move, I couldn't fight now
        to -- hah -- save my life, and -- you know, it doesn't bother me at all.
        My mind is perfectly clear.  I think -- I think this must be what safety
        feels like.  If I ever knew it before, I must have forgotten a long time
        ago . . . Where was I?

        You were explaining why you remained behind when the last contingent
        of refugees departed.

        Oh, right. --You sure this isn't boring you?

    [Finrod shakes his head]

        Okay. --So then Da says, to him, "What did I tell you?" and Old Man
        Galthrin says, "You said Orcs, me lord -- you said nothin' about any Trolls!"
        -- I guess it isn't that funny.  But it was at the point where there was
        practically nothing left for us to defend, and yet the less there was, the
        less we were willing to give it up.  The land itself . . . was getting
        strange . . . along the edges, and farms just . . . disappeared, from time
        to time.  Not burned, just gone, like old ruins.  But the survivors wouldn't
        give up, and we couldn't abandon them.  Finally -- and this had been going on
        for a long time, it didn't just come out of nowhere -- Ma said that Dorthonion
        was dying alive, that the only way to survive was to cut out what hadn't been
        too touched by blight and transplant it somewhere new. And Da said, "But the
        roots aren't dead yet, Em."  And she just looked at him, and -- I knew.

        Did you really think you could save anything by staying?

        Da was no fool. He wished me to go with her because he thought I'd be safer
        that way, but he told me that she'd be safer if I was there to look after her.
        Ma wanted me to stay with him because she figured we'd both be safer looking
        after each other, and she didn't really think they were going to make it. We
        drew lots; I got Da's arrow.

        What did you want?

        Dorthonion healed. -- Not one of the options, though.  That was, hm, two years
        after the Dagor Bragollach? Three? Dunno.

Finrod: [winces]
        I'm sorry.  Do you know if they made it through?

Beren: [shaking his head]
        I've heard rumors now and then. Nothing reliable.  I think  -- I think --
        I'm pretty sure she's dead, regardless.  I -- she only left because of the
        younger children.  Once she'd seen them safe in Brethil -- assuming there's
        anywhere safe in Middle-earth -- I think she would have come back. Or tried
        to.  That was the plan, though she didn't tell Da that.  Seven years, though
        . . . she was one hell of a fighter.  I don't think they took her alive.

        That sounds . . . plausible.  I heard much of Emeldir from your father during
        the War.  He used to say I'd be better served by her, because then I'd have
        wits too, as well as a wielded sword at my command.

        That sounds like Da.


        --When we still had the fort, one of the things I hated worst--? Repacking
        the hedge.  Worse than mudding up the walls in winter. Doesn't matter how much
        you wrap your hands, you still end up looking like you lost a fight with a
        wildcat.  Couple times I tried to pull rank on some of the younger kids: hey,
        I'm the chief's nephew, you're just a couple of thanes, you go shove thorns into
        the barrier, I'll stand guard on the tower. Besides, I'm a better aim. --Actually
        got away with it. Twice, I think.

        Did they report you to her?

        No -- she found them at it and pried the truth out of them. Then she called me out.

        Called you -- out?  As in a duel?

Beren: [nods]
        She said if I was remanding her directives and changing the order of battle, then
        that obviously meant I thought I ought to be in charge of the fort.  And in that
        case she was going to answer the challenge, because she had accepted the charge
        from the Lords of Dorthonion and she wasn't yielding it to Man nor Orc.

        What did you say?

        After "Ma, wait--" and various assorted exclamations of pain?  Let's see --
        "I'm sorry, Hathaldir; I'm sorry, Dagnir; everyone, I'm sorry for failing to
        give you the respect owed by your ruling House." Then I was allowed to stitch
        myself up. I thought she broke my collar-bone, but I could use my arm after
        a week, so it wasn't that bad.

        Weren't you -- angry, with her?

        Oh, yeah. I was furious. After I stopped shaking I went down to yell at her --

Finrod: [incredulous]
        --After you'd just just lost a sword-fight with her?

        Why do you think that's funny? Something else would have come up and we wouldn't
        have gotten it out of the way.  And there she was, doing my work, with her hands
        all torn up from the hawthorn branches. So I just started helping her as best
        I could. And after a bit I asked her why she didn't just make me do it, instead
        of busting my shoulder in front of everybody. And she said, "You can't make
        people do anything, kid. The best you can do is show them how to want it."
        So then I said, "But when you tell people what to do, they do it." And she says,
        "That's because they want to." And I said something stupid, and she came right
        back with, "Well, if they want to not have their heads broken more than they
        want not to do their jobs, then they're still wanting it, right?"


        So then I asked why she didn't make someone else want to do this for her, and
        she just gives me this Look.  And then she said, "You never, ever, ask someone to
        do what you're not willing to accept yourself."  And I was too dumb to stop, and
        I said, "But aren't you too important to do this?" And she points over at the
        gatepost next to us, and she says, "Your grandfather pulled that lodgepole out of
        the forest when the last one was hit by lightning, because it was tall, but not too
        broad, straight, sound but not too heavy, and of a bore with the last one.  That's
        what it is to be chosen leader. Occasional lightning and all. Or Orcs, as the case
        may be."

    [Huan stirs and whines sleepily, setting his head down with a grumble]

        And then about a fortnight after my Da comes home, and my uncle's not with him.

        Did you ever think of going after her?

        I didn't know where to start.  And there were still people who wouldn't -- or
        couldn't, by then -- leave.  I thought -- I thought she'd try to find her way
        back, I left runes and checked all our haunts on my rounds, but . . .

        Why did you leave?

        It wasn't a conscious decision at that point.  I hadn't slept in days, they were
        everywhere beating the woods for me, all my permanent camps were staked out, the
        only thing I could do was keep moving . . . why do the deer move when there's
        famine and the hounds are after them? Aside from natural disinclination -- which
        some people would disallow as a valid motive -- I suppose -- in so far as I was
        capable of any kind of rational judgment -- that I realized that being run to
        earth, cut down and butchered by Orcs wasn't going to serve anyone's purpose but
        Morgoth's.  I think -- I don't think I was completely sane. Not as men mean it.
        There was a clarity to it, but not meaningI was, the world was, they were.
        I was where they were not.  -- Far past the point where any sense of duty or hope

Finrod: [very softly]
        That point you reach when you're so tired that you just want to lie down and stop--
        but the body drags on like a hound on a leash until flesh fails and falls, and then
        the spirit burns to madness until somehow one cannot bear its pangs and staggers
        on again.

Beren: [suddenly alert]
        You . . . do understand . . . ?

        We have no songs that celebrate it. We endured. That's all. You must have heard --
        the legends. The Grinding Ice, the Crossing -- words, for something beyond words.

        'Beyond words' . . . where there are no words for it, there is only -- itself.

Finrod: [lost]
        Think of the worst night of the harshest winter you've ever known: to me that would,
        I judge, be as a brisk morning for you. The Sun is always present, even when we
        cannot see her, and the world is always warmed. But in the Night Without Stars we
        had nothing -- only endless, crushing, devouring cold, until all that is left is
        loathing for one's self, for very life itself . . . when the only light is that of
        other souls . . .

    [Silently Beren props himself forward and fills the King's glass once more.
    Finrod drinks it off in one go.]

        I'm sorry. This is gloomy hospitality.

        More wine?


    [Beren refills both glasses and slides back against Huan.]

    [More brightly:]

        Is it true that the price on your head was equal to that that's been set
        for my cousin Fingon?

    [Beren shrugs]

        That's what they said. Since nobody ever collected on it, it's hard to say
        if that was just talk, or if they would have actually paid out.

        That's rather a signal honor, to be counted the equal of a Noldorin King.

Beren: [manic grin]
        I should have thought of that in Doriath.  That might have impressed
        His Nibs a bit more than -- 'Um, hey, my relatives were heroes.'

Finrod: [troubled]
        He wants you dead, you realize that.

        Oh yeah. -- He said as much. In some detail, too.

    [shakes head]

        Not that I really blame him -- I mean, look at it from their point of view:
        the King's daughter of Doriath shows up one fine evening with this inarticulate
        loser in ripped camouflage and says, "Guess what! I've found my soulmate, Dad!"
        I knew it was a bad idea. And then I tried talking and I should have just
        kept my mouth shut. It was pretty funny, actually, at least if you weren't us.

        You're too harsh on yourself.

        Oh, you weren't there. It was bad. -- It was worse, actually.

        But surely your lineage, your legend, your House's service with my own, all
        would count for something, even with Elu. I've been a friend of his for
        ages -- he's paranoid, but with perfectly good reasons, and he's not blind.

Beren: [shakes head]
        Like I said, it was doomed from the beginning.  And really, his reaction was
        entirely justified, and more than he knew.  Yeah, lords of Dorthonion and
        all -- but that was a long time ago.  I'm not the same person I was.
        See that arch up there? I could get up there, and no one would be able
        to see me until it was too late, because I could cover the doorway without
        offering a target. And if I could, someone else could do it. Even though
        I know I'm safe here, I'm aware of that. Not like I could do anything about
        it just now, but I can't help noticing. But it isn't just that. I couldn't
        talk for months, even after I got to Doriath. I was not . . . entirely sane.
        I -- don't think she told them that.  In fact I'm sure of that.  So, hoo boy,
        it could have been worse. --Cheerful thought, huh?

Finrod: [seriously]
        You'll have to reconcile with him after this is all over, you know.  You can't
        take Luthien back to Dorthonion, and even if you both come here to live, it
        isn't as though you can legitimately cut off all contact with her family, even
        if Luthien's angry enough to do so.  And then there are political connections,
        too. I have to think of them, Beren.

Beren: [deadpan]
        Well, you've already convinced me of the need to apologize and be nice to
        your two noble kinsman, so we can enlist them into going along with the program
        until we get to Thingol's with the jewel, and since the other half of that plan
        hinges on you talking him into being gracious enough to then make a gift of it,
        thereby keeping the Sons of Feanor happy, and not homicidal, (and incidentally
        at the same time delivering the most staggering insult possible to them which
        we won't tell them about, and making up for a couple few centuries of general
        oneryness and rude behavior to Thingol on their part) -- yeah, sure. I can
        probably manage not to mortally offend Tinuviel's father next time. So long
        as you do the talking, I'll do the keeping-quiet.

Finrod: [more serious and admonishing]
        And you will do this, will you not? All of it?

Beren: [still deadpan]
        You don't think I'd be crazy enough to jeopardize my whole life because the
        Sons of Feanor are a pair of arrogant bastards who for some unknown reason took
        an instant disliking to me?


Finrod: [awkwardly]
        I have -- hm -- noticed a certain -- er, how can I put this tactfully? --
        intransigence in your people, over the years.

Beren: [grins]
        --Stubborn as rocks, that's us. Goes with the territory, I guess.

Finrod: [fascinated]
        Really? Do you think that's it? Something to do with geography?

Beren: [confused]
        I don't -- I don't know. Maybe. I was just using a figure of speech.

Finrod: [musing]
        -- Haleth was like that.  Wonderful child, but one had to be careful not
        to agree with her too closely, or she'd take it all wrong.

        I'm not that bad. I don't think. --Hey! You knew Haleth? As in the Haleth?
        Lady Haleth of Brethil?

        Yes, she was having a run-in with Elwe, as it happens.  Or Elu, as he
        calls himself now.  Life's funny like that.

        It makes a little more sense if he's like the rest of the crew, but I never
        understood why she wouldn't take up Lord Caranthir's offer of shelter.

Finrod: [drily]
        Obviously you've never met Caranthir.

        ? . . . ?

        --Let me put it this way: I don't cross him. --Ever.  No, that wasn't the incident
        I was referring to. Why? Because Haleth was an intelligent and perceptive young
        woman and was not fooled by Caranthir's charming ways and words.  Ever wonder why
        they showed up a week late, after the lord of the land was killed, and the heir,
        when they were practically in his backyard?  Caranthir knew them for efficient
        fighters, and wanted them grateful, and leaderless.  And he has not, so far as I
        can tell, the slightest compunction about using mortal Men as a screen for his more
        -- valued, shall we say -- troops. --I don't know that for a fact, of course.
        That's just my reading of the events.  And the way he spits when he hears her name.
        No, I was referring to the -- tenor, of her exchanges with Elu over that unused
        property of his.  It was a rather, er, heated crossfire to be caught in.  A little
        tact might have made a great difference.

Beren: [recognizing the hint]
        There was  . . . not really . . . it was too late for tact by then.  --Doomed
        from the beginning, I'm afraid.  Everything I said made it worse.

        I can probably patch things up.  It still might even be wiser for us to go back and
        talk to Elu and to Melian -- you did say she was more favorably disposed towards
        your suit? -- and try to put this nonsense out of the way.

        Tinuviel said that.  I -- couldn't tell. Maybe. She didn't look like she wanted
        me eviscerated, but I wouldn't say she looked happy. But it doesn't matter.
        I can't go back without it.  I'm sorry.  I can't.

        I'll not press you again on that, then.
        Are you sure you're not related to the Haladin?

Beren: [grins wryly]
        Not as far as I know. --I still can't believe you knew her. Wow. She lived
        almost as long ago as Beor. That's --

Finrod: [worried look]
        Beren -- I knew Beor.


        I know. --I know.

        But do you understand, Beren?  Luthien, whom you charmingly persist in calling, not
        inappropriately, Tinuviel, but which I cannot imagine endeared you further to Elu,
        had already seen Ages before your ancestor was ever born. You think me ancient
        beyond belief -- yet she is even older, though you see no difference in our years.
        Can you begin to comprehend how strange it is to us, to think of one of us finding her
        match in a mortal Man, whose entire life is over and forgotten even, in the passing of
        one of our measures of time?

    [Beren looks at him in distress; Huan grumbles softly in his sleep.]

        Even though, since our Return, time has fled faster even for us, the urgencies
        of war making us care for the coming of winter and the haste of summer, for messages
        and meetings and councils marked by the passing of days, and hours even, and not
        weeks -- still it is not for us as it is for you, and cannot ever be so. How can
        you begin to measure the compass of her thought, who saw the first Sunrise of the
        world, when you have not lived a single twelve-twelvemonths' span?

    [Finrod's expression is sympathetic but urgent, attempting to convey his fears.
     Beren turns away abruptly and stares fiercely into the flames.]

Beren: [low but clear]
        I heard a story . . . long ago, when I was a boy, but it was there everyday
        somehow, always behind the surface . . . about one who came out of darkness,
        to where we lay dull and almost speechless, and gave us words, and thoughts,
        and the knowledge of ourselves, and song.

    [Finrod bows his head and is silent.]

        --So Tinuviel came to me, when I was lost and alone and almost without name, and
        I can no more hold nor measure her than I could measure the stars of the Burning
        Brier, or take the Sickle in my hand, but without her I am blind and deaf and
        dumb, and I could no more live without her light than theirs!

    [stops himself]

        Forgive me -- I spoke without thinking. Again.

Finrod: [very quietly]
        Forgive -- that you have learned so well? --No, Beren, I will not question you
        in this again, nor insult you, nor her through you. I thought I had seen all things,
        known all that mortal or Elven mind might do, and here is a new song that I've
        never heard before -- but that does not make it an ill one. More wine? Or shall
        I take your glass?



        It seems strange -- wrong, somehow. You shouldn't be waiting on me.
        --Sir. Sire. I'm sorry. I do know the right way to behave.

        --Please. I should hope that if I am a good enough host to put you
        at your ease, that I would not then be offended by your informality!
        And this is hardly burdensome service, my friend.

Beren: [with a wry smile]
        -- Friend.

        --If I may presume so much.

Beren: [softly]
        I'd hoped to meet with courtesy. No more than that. With duty, and
        civility at best -- at least a formal welcome, the bare necessities,
        a guide along the beginning of my road. I dared presume no more --
        I'm not my father, nor my uncle, I've done nothing for you or yours.
        I never thought -- to find -- a home.

        Nothing? Beren, you, alone, have done more in your short lifetime than
        many Elves have accomplished in a hundred years. Your efforts against
        Morgoth, tying up so many of his forces, for so long, spreading such
        fear among them and setting such example for the enslaved and oppressed
        -- not for your people alone, though you might not have realized that fact,
        but for every creature friendly to the Light!

    [Beren cannot quite believe this is not mockery. Finrod's expression
     convinces him otherwise.]

        I should give you back your ring, Sire.

        Keep it for your children. The debt I owe your family is beyond measure.

Beren: [raises eyebrows]
        -- Optimist.

Finrod: [earnestly]
        With you here to inspire, to lend your ability and legend to the cause,
        what will we not be able to achieve? We are stultifying here, Barahirion,
        to a degree you might not believe, seeing our rigorous defenses -- but
        that's all we've done since the last engagement ended. Small battles,
        little skirmishes, no one dares to do more. Not us, not Morgoth. But
        little by little, he accomplishes by sheer inertia, and we are defeated
        without a blow, because others fall to him.

    [becoming more agitated]

        Oh, we plan -- we prepare -- but what have we actually done? I can't
        even get a weapons development program to fulfillment, not even after Dagor
        Bragollach -- you'd think that people would see the need, see that he surely
        won't be resting on the successes of his biomechanoids and chemical weapons.
        I shudder to think of what he must be coming up with while we waffle over
        the symbolism and cosmology of warhead shapes, and squander the resources
        set aside on designing the world's largest planetarium!

        Er . . .

Finrod: [in full rant]
        Oh, I know all the arguments -- that a perfect design, in perfection
        of harmony with the heavens, cannot but ensure victory; that the disregard
        of celestial balances is what doomed us before, that tiny inefficiencies
        in the cosmic pattern create massive chaos down the line. Grinding Ice!
        do I ever know them. And know a smokescreen when I see one, too. We lost
        too many, last time. It isn't the people who were there who cannot bear
        to think of renewing the attack: it's the ones left behind. We survivors
        would go back in an instant, and not stand around waiting for him to come
        out, if we had the means.
    [He grips Beren's shoulder]
        We will be rekindled with your presence, and renew the battle, and my
        people will see what they have been blind to all these years in ease and
        hiding, and together we will accomplish such deeds for the Light as Arda
        will never forget.  --But that's for later: you're exhausted. We'll speak
        more when you've rested. --Good night, Huan. Rest well, my friend.

Beren: [thumping Huan's neck]
        Won't Celegorm be upset if he discovers his dog is here?

        Undoubtedly, if he notices. Huan roams most of the time as he pleases.
        He's older than I am, and quite capable of deciding what he should do
        without my say-so.

        But he still belongs to Celegorm . . . ?

        So Celegorm thinks.  Huan's his own dog, so far as I can tell, and does
        pretty much as he thinks best. -- In that he is not unlike a certain Man
        named Balan I once knew, and his descendants. Remind me to tell you about
        the time your many-times-great-grandfather forcibly convinced me that
        accelerated healing is not always an adequate substitute for cautery and stitches.

        What happened?

Finrod: [raising an eyebrow]
        A skirmish, an Orc-scimitar, a long journey still to take, and no time
        for foolishness like rest or medical attention.  I was not entirely sane
        at the time, either.  Are you sure you'll be comfortable? Just on the tile
        like that?

        Oh, yeah. --It's flat. And dry. --And there's no down to fall, either.
        So long as Huan doesn't stand up, I'm good -- and probably even then.
        I don't know about not having my weapons to hand, though.

        Would you be more comfortable with your gear? I can send for it --

Beren: [shrugs]
        I don't want to make trouble.

Finrod: [mildly]
        I am in charge here: it won't be a difficulty.  --It would be a strange
        thing indeed if I could not trust the son of Barahir of the house of Beor
        in my presence armed, or on my doorstep!  I'll fetch your weapons for you.

        No, please -- it's not worth the trouble.  I'll be fine.
        That'd make your two noble kinsmen shake their heads, I bet. I can just imagine
        what they'd say.

        That I give such trust to mortal men, or to your preference for sleeping under arms?

        Both. Either.

        They've forgotten what it was to live in the field -- not that they ever truly
        did without the comforts of home when they could, you'll hear some -- interesting
        -- stories if you listen closely around here -- but they're also annoyed that
        you don't seem to be sufficiently impressed by the Eldar.

        I --
    [bites his lip in frustration]
        Sir, I'm sorry, I mean no insult to Nargothrond, or to your folk.
        It -- it's beyond words here, for one. For another -- I've grown up all my
        life hearing of the greatness of Felagund's court, and now I'm here, and I'm
        amazed.  And for last -- I've hiked here from Doriath. I'm starved as much
        for shelter and kindness as a stray hound for his meat. More than that --
        way beyond my ability to take in right now.

        Do you think I don't know all that?  Don't let it trouble you.  I at least remember
        what it is to sleep in a swamp, in one's armor, grateful for a few inches of water
        to hide in under a burning sky, and kind hands holding one out of it as one's
        wounds are bandaged. Nargothrond is not insulted by your presence, Beor.

Beren: [with a worried look]
        I'm -- I'm not . . .

        I know you are yourself alone, (however confused you might have left some today.)
        I meant it in the general, not the specific sense.

        But -- I've given you you no vow of fealty, sire.

         Ah, the word is still confused in the translation. Funny how such things persist.

        I'm afraid I don't understand . . . ?

        You translate it "vassal", and I am not entirely sure how mortals understand
        the word. As we use it, it is more, and less, and other, than a contract of law,
        or a bargain of power. It means . . . "one in whom one has complete reliance,"
        -- one who can be entrusted with a great work and more, needing no supervision.
        The words are but recognition of what is. Vows will not hold one to duty in the
        end.  And it means, as well, the other half: that the trust is mutual, that the
        duty is given but for duty, and that faith will be kept in turn.

    [he looks away, then meets Beren's eyes]

        Ultimately -- it means, when all else fails, that one may send a vassal to his
        death, but never without good reason. Never from pride, or willful ignorance, or
        carelessness. Never a duty given without regard for the servant's honor. -- Lest
        in turn the liege turn traitor, and the bond be broken.  But you know this already,
        son of Barahir and Emeldir, brother's son of Bregolas, lord of Dorthonion,
        -- whether you name it or not.

    [long pause]

        I hope I will earn this trust, then.

        You will never fail me, my friend.

        Is that your -- your Foresight, sir?

        No. That's merely judgment.  Now take your rest: I must excuse myself for
        preparation of our plans -- which means, unfortunately, as many meetings
        as it does maps!


        In hope most high of endlessly-awaited strife,
        long mused, longtime abetted, longer dreamed of yet,
        King Felagund renews his ancient works, recalls to life
        long-stilled ambitions, to o'erthrow and set
        in one fell stroke great Morgoth's pivot-hold,
        back from its strangling press in sortie bold.
        Like a master-painter he works over his design,
        now adding here a stroke, now there a line,
        now at a sudden inspiration swift-casting off
        and in one grand wide-sweeping unguessed move,
        turns inside out or back to front what was,
        building in space, in time, in Fate unshaped, to cause
        the End long-purposed far beyond the Seas.

        Meanwhile Beren the traveller, rested of travails,
        finding himself a stranger in uncharted realm, though fair,
        essays his own adventures, where for guide hath only tales;
        (but never was there journey yet he feared to dare,
        in the Dark Wood, nor yet the Mountains of Despair.)

    [A solar (or what would be a solar were it not underground)-- that is to say,
     a large, pleasant, brightly lit dining chamber/living room/meeting space off
     the main assembly hall, where some are taking breakfast, some playing quiet music
     some chatting; but there is a nervous undercurrent that manifests in cheerfulness.]

    [Finrod's Steward enters. Beren, accompanying him, halts before continuing and
     checks 'both ways' to be sure that all avenues of ambush are clear, then steps
     quickly through. This gets some Looks. He is washed and dressed in clothes clearly
     not his own, both for quality and fit, and appears less barbaric, though the results
     of getting pine pitch in one's hair are not disguisable. More at odds with the
     tailoring is the fact that he has limited his accouterments to some dozen sidearms,
     belted openly over his garments. The overall effect is rather unique.]

        I'm so sorry we could not fit you better -- anything short enough
        was too narrow across the shoulders, and the alterations were rather hasty.

        Please -- you don't need to keep apologizing, sir.

        You gave us quite a turn, not being there.

        Sorry. I woke up and found I couldn't sleep where I was any more.

        On the floor?

        Under a roof. The arch was more -- familiar.

        Ah. I -- see.

Beren: [smiling]
        You don't. --From above, it's like a tree. The ceiling is too high for a house,
        but too low for the sky. My caves were never chosen for their spaciousness.

    [moving on]
        There is a variety of foodstuffs available which will satisfy your dietary
        requirements, but I fear they are not labeled nor in any way distinguished
        in their arrangement at the buffet --

        Again, I'd rather you didn't worry so much about my needs. I certainly don't.

        Are you sure? I can ask the chefs to make up a list --

Beren: [innocently]
        Or -- I could come forage around in the kitchens, if that would be easier.

        Stars, no!
        You're remarkably cheerful, milord.

Beren: [smiling broadly]
        Well, I've been awake for one-twelfth of the day already, and nobody's tried
        to kill me yet.

        That is, I concur, an excellent reason to be pleased with life.

    [He shows the way to the 'groaning board' which holds is an array of foodstuffs
    so varied and plentiful that Beren cannot even be surprised at it, any more than
    one is surprised at the number of colored leaves in autumn.  He fills a golden
    plate with fruit and pastries and cheeses -- and also fills his sleeves and sash
    with several kinds of flatbreads. The Steward is too polite to say anything, but he
    does notice.]

Steward: [shaking his head]
        It seems that we have run out of glasses already -- I will have to speak to
        the staff.  I'll fetch yours: what would you prefer, Lord Beren? We have
        spring water, well water, rainwater of different hours' vintage; there is
        also juice, in the modern fashion, both corrantine and grape, and this
        harvest's damson, which I personally recommend. There, is as well, watered wine,
        in any combination of wines or waters, in the old Valinorean mode, if you'd
        rather the traditional instead.

        Whatever you have is fine.

        All together--?

        No -- I meant -- whatever was most convenient.  You decide.

        You really don't care at all, milord?

Beren: [encouraging]
        That's right.

        I do understand, young sir -- but I wish that I did not. May it please you,
        choose whichever seat you would: we do not stand on ceremony in the Hall of
        Hours, and everyone is free to take what place the soul desires. I'll return
        with your beverage shortly.  I trust I may presume upon your forbearance
        to delay long enough to chastise the kitcheners for their duties' neglect.

Beren: [graciously]
        You may.

    [The Steward bows and leaves him with a somewhat ironic-rueful expression.
    Beren tries to sit at the table, but cannot get comfortable in the chair: after
    several attempts to reposition it to where he is able to relax, he shakes his head.
    Laughing at himself, he picks up his plate, circling the room until he finds a
    convenient alcove and perches there.  He does not seem to be aware of the stares
    which follow him.]

    [Someone has forgotten a goblet on the ledge, which is made of crystal and
    has for decoration a fully-sculpted version of the emblem on his ring, the two
    gold serpents winding up the stem and the gold wreath encircling the lip of
    the glass, but all the texture is completely covered in the clear shell blown
    around the ornamentation. Beren picks it up and examines it, astonished by the
    fineness of detail and its fragility. The Captain approaches and leans over
    with a most conspiratorial manner.]

Captain: [manic whisper]
        --It's called 'glass'. One drinks from it. We make it out of sand.

    [Beren gives him an alarmed look; he maintains the earnest expression for a long
    moment, then dissolves into snickers, cuffing Beren on the arm.]

        Did he really say that? About furniture?

    [Beren nods, the laughter becoming contagious]

        They've been going around repeating it as though they think it makes them
        sound clever. --What a pair of gits!

Beren: [looks around, then whispers confidentially:]
        Don't tell anyone, but I've forgotten how to use the stuff.  I couldn't find
        a way to make the table-chair thing work.

        What, those things? They're designed that way, so you won't sit there
        and clutter up the area all day. -- No, I don't know.  That's just my theory.
        One of Celebrimbor's early projects -- gorgeous as water, but as comfortable
        as a pile of rocks.

        Less, I thought.

        You didn't think people were sitting on hassocks and rugs and column footings
        over there to be artistic and create an elegant tableau, did you? --Though around
        here one never knows . . .

        There you are, milord. I thought you'd vanished again.

Beren: [soberly]
        No openwork vaulting in here.

Steward: [deadpan]
        I am certain some could be arranged, but probably not before lunchtime,
        I'm afraid. --Is that an empty glass beside you? Let me take that back
        and show them. Here is yours, milord. I brought the damson juice; I trust
        that it meets with your approval.

Beren: [tasting]
        It does.  It's excellent. Thank you.
    [sets the goblet aside and takes out his eating-knife.]
        If you will forgive me, sirs -- I'll eat in your presence, for as Da
        always said, if people will drop by at mealtime they'd best not expect
        me to stop for them -- but I would no less than my folks that you stay,
        and join me if you'd like, for my mother's table never lacked another

    [He offers choice of what's on his plate: they are visibly moved.]

        No, I've ended my fast hours ago. But I thank you, Lord Beren.

    [The Steward only shakes his head.  Beren begins to cut the little
    Lady-apples into halves but halts when an imposingly-regal individual
    approaches them, and his two companions at once come to attention.]

Captain: [salutes]
        Your Highness.

        My lord Barahirion, may I make known to you our good King's brother and
        coordinator of the realm's defenses --

Beren: [putting aside his meal
        -- Prince Orodreth --

        Please -- do not rise.  I've no wish to impose upon you after the rigors of
        your journey! I only wished to say, at outset -- how much -- without delay,
        that is -- that I admire your many valiant efforts in the field and have
        always hoped and prayed for your continued success -- that is, when of course
        report more than insubstantial rumor has arrived, since the course of reliable
        news from out of the North has naturally dwindled in past years -- Not that
        I am blaming you in the least, my lord Beren, far to the contrary -- Rather
        I wanted to express my sorrow for your grievous losses -- and to express
        my gratitude for your own good works, on behalf of all our peoples. -- I also
        -- as a father -- would like to thank you for your kind indulgence to my
        daughter's fancies -- though, in truth, were it not for the exigencies of
        my job I'd have likely been asking for your autograph the other day as well!
        Her fiancee hasn't stopped talking about you these last two days either --
        prepare yourself for much curiosity, my lord. Nargothrond wishes to thank
        our hereditary champion -- not least impressive for the fact of your mortality --

Beren: [as Orodreth appears to be waiting for something, uncertainly:]
        -- You're welcome?

Orodreth: [a touch relieved]
        You do me honor, Lord of Dorthonion.  I trust I'll see you presently in council?

        You know more than I do, I'm afraid, Your Highness.

        Ah. I did not mean to put you on the spot. milord. Now if you'll forgive me,
        I've got to run--

    [Apparently by accident, the Steward half turns to bow in reply and simultaneously
    tread on the Ranger Captain's boot as Orodreth takes off.]

Beren: [staring after Orodreth]
        Was that supposed to make sense? Or am I still asleep? Which I gather from
        his words lasted rather more than one night, and I'm not surprised at all.
        That's gotta have been good for another three years . . .

Captain: [lowered voice]
        He lost his nerve. Left our final position of defense to Morgoth's top commander
        after a battle significant in its utter absence, and fled back to Nargothrond with
        the gates wide open. The only thing he didn't do was wait to give Sauron the grand
        tour of the place.

        You haven't talked to the people who came back from there. It was something
        beyond reason, something which sent everyone there into the same funk as
        the Night of Darkness. I doubt that anyone could have held out longer than
        the Prince did.

        Do you think the King would have neglected to at least tear the place down
        before he left? Not left it standing there for our Enemy to use, and give him
        for free the best terrain in the region! -- All right, I'll stop.

    [to Beren]

        But that's what's behind his apology, lad. After Tol Sirion fell, the Enemy's
        troops were pretty much able to plough through us wherever they wanted, having
        a fine base of operations to work out from, and we were no longer able to
        control them in Beleriand at all.

        Oh. --Ohhh . . .
    [frowning as he begins to understand, and put many things together. Perhaps he would
    ask more, or say something, but Celebrimbor son of Curufin approaches, wearing a
    somewhat distracted expression. (The actual source of his apparent rudeness is as
    much inventorly preoccupation as awareness of his own exalted heritage, but this
    would not be obvious at once to a bystander.)]

        Has any of you lot seen my glass? I think I forgot it over here . . .

    [The Steward hands it to him with a Look.]

        I know, I know, I'm sorry -- I was writing in my tablets and I've only
        got two hands --


        I say, is that the famous Ring?

    [He seizes Beren's wrist and yanks his hand up for a better look, apple and all,
    leaving Beren staring in astonishment at the eating-knife in his right.]

        Ah -- excuse me?

    [The grandson of Feanor looks at him with mild surprise as though not anticipating
    him capable of speech. As the expectant pause extends and the other Elves look at
    him with disapproval, Celebrimbor blushes in realization of his error and clears
    his throat, releasing Beren's arm and bowing formally.]

        I was wondering -- might I examine it more closely, please?
        I've a technical interest in the metal arts.

    [Wordlessly Beren removes the Ring and passes it to him.]

        Amazing, how such a trinket can summon kings to do one's bidding...

    [When done he returns it and is about to leave, but notices the Looks he is
    getting from the Steward and the Captain.]

         Thank you, er, Barahirion.

    [moves away to the far side of the solar and his friends.]

Beren: [amazed]
        It's like I didn't even exist.

        Don't let it trouble you, milord.

        They're all like that -- Shiplords. Unless you can do something for them.

        Actually, Lord Celebrimbor is not the worst.

        It would be very difficult to be worse than his father.

        His uncle is always civil, at least to me.

        That's because you're the one in charge of organizing hunts. Don't flatter
        yourself: Celegorm is not a nice fellow. My men served as beaters for him
        once. Do not ever get between him and the game.  It's always accidental, he
        always apologizes for nearly running you over -- and then he does it again.

        That was Curufin's son? I wouldn't have guessed.

        You had something he wanted.

        There aren't any more of them around here, are there? I've promised to be
        civil to them, and I'd like to be prepared . . .

        No, that's the lot of them. But they have a sizable retinue here.

        In other words, don't assume that anyone you meet is not a partisan of theirs.

    [grim chuckle]

        Heh.  I wonder if the Master-Smith realizes how close he came to having his
        arm stabbed just now?

        Oh no, I wouldn't have struck: there weren't any threat indications from him.
        But it was kind of a dumb thing for him to do. --Are they all that biased
        against us?

        Well, there's Caranthir, but . . .

        --So I've heard.

        Maedhros isn't nearly as bad as the rest, and Maglor is fairly decent too.

        They've still got attitude problems taller than Taniquetil.

        There's no call for blasphemy. And we'd have no cavalry without them.

        True. I am very grateful for the cavalry. I don't think they care much one
        way or the other about mortals, though.


        Oh, and don't forget Amrod-and-Amras. . .

Steward: [drily]
        That, certainly, would be impossible.

        I'm afraid I don't remember my kin speaking anything of them--?

        They probably wouldn't. Hardly anyone ever sees . . . them. -- That is rather
        the point, isn't it?

    [the Steward grimaces. Beren looks from one to the other of them.]

        Oh, go on, tell him. We don't need to worry about impressing The Beoring,
        of all mortals!

Steward: [sighing]
        The story -- and recollect at all times that this is no more than a story --
        is that Amrod was forgotten aboard the stolen ships when Feanor decided to burn
        them. You know of all that miserable affair from your history, I presume? Or
        whilst certainly not not all, at least the general outline?

    [Beren nods.]

        Moreover, your cousins were born at a birth, as I recollect --

    [Beren nods again]

        -- and I never had the slightest trouble telling them apart, milord. Now the
        first we knew of that ship business happened when King Finrod began scouting
        out the reaches of Angband to aid in the strategies of the siege, and sent to
        ask permission of the lords of the North to traverse their lands with surveyors.
        I was received civilly enough, and gave my speech before Lord Amrod, who listened
        and asked questions and then said he'd have to consult with his brother, who
        was out hunting, and would undoubtedly want to speak with me himself on the
        morrow when he got back. So they put me up at the lodge and the next morning
        I asked if I could see Lord Amrod again, because there were a few points I had
        perhaps not laid out as well as I might and wished to clarify.

        "No," their steward replies, "he's Amras today." I was sure I must have
        misunderstood and spent breakfast wondering what I had misheard him say, when
        I was summoned again to the lords' hall, and there was -- so far as I could tell --
        the same individual with whom I'd spoken previously. Yet his manner, his dress,
        his bearing, his voice even, were all different. They introduced me to him as
        Lord Amras, and he insisted that I tell him all my message as I had told his
        brother. I trust I do not flatter myself when I say that I maintained my
        composure throughout, but I must confess that I was not prepared for the
        explanation which I received after from my counterpart in the lords' household,
        under some considerable pressure.

        And which you said you weren't sure you believed, either.

        Do you want to tell the story? --All right, then. Apparently, and this is only
        hearsay, but it fits the evidence, and subsequent reports -- when Amras died on
        board the ship, his soul was unwilling to return to the punishment that awaits
        us who rebelled, and his brother was unwilling to let him drift alone and
        houseless on this Shore. So, being twin and so much the same in flesh and
        spirit, Amrod gave way to his slain sibling and yielded his body to the other's
        will. But Amras, no less without precedent, and grateful for the gift, cedes back
        control in fair measure and with perfect accord, and so they both walk -- or ride
        to hunt, more like -- in Middle-earth.

    [Beren is speechless]

        Now, either this is simply a bizarre joke, which the youngest sons of Feanor
        and their household enjoy perpetrating on their more distant relations, and they
        both live but choose not to appear together before outsiders; or it is the case
        that the youngest son was killed, and his surviving twin went mad and now plays
        his part, which would explain why I could not tell any difference in 'their'
        presences; or -- it is true as I was told.

Captain: [snickers]
        Or -- it's true -- and they're both mad. Equally plausible, eh?

        Don't laugh: it isn't funny, it's horrible and tragic.

        It's horrible and funny, Edrahil. It adds that last little missing touch of
        the surreal to the whole grisly mess.

    [starts laughing again]

        "He's Amras today" --sweet Cuivinen!

Beren: [appalled]
        Can that happen?

    [The Steward raises his eyebrows and shrugs.]

        Dark and powerful spirits have been known to seize the careless and unwary
        Seeker, or exchange recently slain dwellings with a living. But that's uncommon,
        at least among our people, and involuntary. I've never heard of such a willful
        sharing of one home between two Eldar souls -- yet I can't think why it should
        be impossible.

        I think -- I think that's the scariest thing I've ever heard.

        I keep telling myself, every time it comes up, that it's really rather moving
        to think of such devotion and unselfishness and brotherly love. So far it hasn't
        worked very well.

Beren: [still rather shaken]
        That beats every ghost story I know. If my cousins had heard about that when we
        were kids, I would never have slept a night for the nightmares. . . . But you know,
        what would be worse, is if you thought it was normal.

Captain: [blandly]
        Well, actually --

    [The Steward rolls his eyes resignedly; they are broken in upon by the arrival
    of several of 'the lot from the Plains']

        Oh, sound the retreat, here comes the horde!

    [He gestures them down]

        Serried rank, there. Don't crowd our guest.

    [Suddenly tongue-tied, they look at Beren in embarrassment. Seated in the arched
    alcove, flanked by an Elven-lord and an Elven-warrior, with petitioners kneeling
    before him, he looks rather like a primitive image of Orome, though he would never
    guess it himself.]

Ranger: [awkwardly]
        My lord Barahirion --

    [gasps, enthusiastic]

        -- Do you have 'Dark Battle' there?

Beren: [setting his hand on the hilt of his sword, surprised]
        Yes -- How do you know ...?

        Legend, lad, legend -- get used to it.

        Might we see the blade?

Beren: [uncertain, looking to the Captain]
        I've peace-bonded it -- Sir?

        I'll stand warrant.

    [grins at the younger Ranger]

        You're less likely to do accidental damage than some people I could mention here.

    [Beren unlashes the hilt from the scabbard and offers it correctly, hiltwise,
     to the Elven-warrior first, who hefts it, nods, and passes it on to his subordinate.]

Ranger: [awed]
        'Dark Battle' --!

Beren: [plaintively]
        It's just a sword. The balance is good and the span suits my height. There's
        no aura to it that I can tell, no runes woven into it.

        It is Dwarf-work, though. It came from here, like your armor. Beor's eldest son
        chose that blade; the hauberk was a gift to your great-grandfather Boromir when
        the grant of Ladros was made. Prince Aegnor said at the time that he'd gladly
        give even more to anyone willing to take that damp, drizzling wasteland off his
        hands, and that anyone who was going to defend it needed mail that wouldn't rust.

    [Beren shakes his head, amused at his own surprise]

        Excuse me, my lord, but -- why is your scabbard covered in wolf-skin?

        Hides the smell of the metal. Until it's too late. I had a cape to match for
        winter, but that didn't survive the journey, used it for bug-bait . . .

    [shakes his head, trying to forget about that part]

        My favorite story's the time when you challenged that Orc-captain to
        single combat.

    [Beren looks blank]

        The one they called 'The Butcher'? Gorgol, it was?

        Um, no -- I shot him from behind. A lot.

        But there's a song --

        I didn't make it.
        I wouldn't be at all surprised if everything that any of us did was also
        ascribed to me. That happened to Da when he was alive. And everything that
        the hidden resistance efforts did as well, they said was me. --Which was their
        right. I was responsible, after all, being their Lord, for what was done in
        my will, even if not with my explicit orders, and the blame mine to take for it.

        But you did burn down that supply depot, did you not? That command center at Drun?

Beren: [shrugs]
        Fire arrows work great for that.

        Shot from where? There's no cover around Drun, unless the landscape's changed
        considerably in the last twelve-score years.

    [Beren gives him a reproachful look. Innocently:]

        I'm just saying--

        --Did you really wound the Lord of Wolves?

        Oh. That. --Maybe.

    [makes a face. To their expectant looks:]

        When they sent in the wolfpacks initially there was a command group riding
        in the middle and this one guy in black armour who was taller than anyone
        I've ever seen, yourselves included. Black with spikes, of course. But I don't
        know if it was him or one of his minions -- if I was him I'd use a minion, and
        shift into a warg like they say he does. I just don't know: scary-looking-black-iron
        versus recurved, reinforced, yew/horn laminate and a straight-down shot not usually
        much of a contest, but I barely winged him. I swear the air rippled when I loosed
        and it was like shooting into water. So maybe it was Sauron after all.

        The air moved?

Beren: [shrugs]
        I wouldn't believe me either. But I don't usually miss, not when I've got a wide
        angle and an elevated blind to work from.

        No, he could do that. I'm just amazed you weren't obliterated after.

        I was in a stand of oaks.

Guard [to the Ranger, whispering]
        --Did that make sense?

    [the Ranger shrugs. Aloud:]

        My lords, I do not wish to signal any disrespect to the Edain, but I fail to
        see how that could protect one against the Lord of Abominations?

        I -- think the land protected me. The trees --

    [they are more confused]

        --The land?

        It never betrayed me the way it betrayed others.

        How could the land betray one?

        It ate people. Farms. Beasts. Cattle strangled in vines in the open field.
        Hillsides disintegrated under a man's heel and pitched him down in the midst
        of his foes where the track had been solid an hour earlier, and no rain.

        But would you not say that was the work of the Enemy?

Beren: [thoughtfully, shaking his head]
        I think the land went mad. I think we drove it crazy, fighting over it, holding
        it so hard and with such hate and fury on both sides, till it savaged all of us
        like a wounded hound unable to tell the difference between friend and foe.

        And why not you?

        I can't explain. Perhaps -- no, I don't know. I tried not to take without making
        thanks, not to damage as I went. I never resented it. That's -- that's why I'm
        alive, though. I was the only one who could skirt through the Nightshade without
        being affected by it. It was depressing, but it only made me sad, not insane.
        There were trees that I knew I didn't dare touch, and others that would tolerate
        me, but I didn't abuse their hospitality, so to speak. And then there were some
        in Dorthonion that welcomed me, that I knew I could sink pegs into to aid my
        climbs and that I'd sleep in without fear of any harm -- times when I swear the
        leaves turned to screen me from Orc-sight, when the roots folded fast about me
        against the wolfpacks and I never feared being trapped in the earth or thought
        to move to hide myself better. Oaks were particularly good to me. And beechgroves
        were always safe.

        But -- you're a mortal, milord.

        So I've been told. But the woods and hills have never threatened me.

        Is that how you were able to carry off so many legendary exploits?

Beren: [clearly still very uncomfortable with that 'legend' bit]
        Part. After my father died I only cared to do as much harm as I might to our
        ancient Enemy. I did things that've been called impossible because no one thought
        they'd be attempted, and didn't guard against me. Then they guarded against what
        I had done, --not what I did next. And since they'd manage to make sure that I had
        nothing else to do, no other responsibilities to look after, no one else to worry
        about, I could put a lot of work into the planning, give the execution free rein.
        It wasn't like there was anything they could do to me, except catch me. And against
        that it's a good idea to have as many psychotic mutants and demon wolves as angry
        with you as possible, because then they're not going to stop and say 'we should
        really take this guy back home for questioning, we'll get double the reward then'--

    [shakes head]

        There was a legend running wildfire given the name 'Beren,' but there was no one
        left to call me by that name . . .


        . . . or to answer.

    [Silently the Royal Guard who is present holder of Dagmor slides forward and
    lays the sword down in front of him on the ledge; Beren gently traces his fingers
    down the flat of the blade.]

        But were you not assisted in your revenge?

Beren: [confused]
        By who?

        By the men of his shield-band, your companions in all fortunes? --Dairuin?
        --Gildor? --Arthad?

    [With each name Beren slowly takes a knife from his bandoleers and places it
    on the stone ledge in front of him next to the sword.]

Guard: [unable to stop asking, but knowing what's coming]

    [click -- a knife]


    [click -- a fifth]


    [click -- the sixth]


Beren: [voice eerily calm]
        I have nothing of his.  He -- died elsewhere, and I -- never found his body.


        No -- I'm wrong.  I take that back.

    [takes up the little eating-knife]

        He told me this was Elvish work, and lucky, when he gave it me at Sun-Return
        the first year I was old enough to hold blade. Since the cut I immediately
        gave myself didn't get infected, the luck seems good. I think there's a rule
        that you have to cut yourself with your first knife, and hide it from your parents...

Captain: [softly]
        It has the rune for keenness in it -- a clean cut rarely festers.

        Your cousin Baragund?

Beren: [sets down two daggers side by side at once]
        With his brother my cousin Belegund, dead one beside the other, halfway back
        to the camp. If the Orc-arrows hadn't been poisoned they might have lived at
        least enough to warn the others, but the patrol kn-- thought to take out the
        sentinels first.

    [sets down another blade]

        Dagnir, almost of an age with me;

    [and one more]

        Hathaldir, who should have gone with the children and the wives, but wouldn't.

    [He then unbuckles the leather straps that held the sheaths about his forearms.]

        That's Ironjaw,

    [lays down another band]

        that's Bellsong,

    [followed by a third]

        and Star. My father's hounds, and mine.

    [A long silence]

        You are the last? Of all Dorthonion's warriors? All your father's household
        at once, save you? All who were at the Dagor Bragollach with us, and their
        sons, but for you alone?

Beren: [incredulous]
        Did you not understand? I thought it was made clear --

Steward: [equally distressed]
        No. And yes. --And no. It is still difficult for us to comprehend the brevity
        of human life, but we accept it -- but ten years is small even in mortal
        reckoning, and the shield-guard of Dorthonion of younger years for the most
        part, and is is beyond my ability to believe that Belegund your kinsman, who
        carried me out of Serech on his shoulders, and shared the last of his water
        with me in that furnace -- is gone from Arda as last year's leaves.

Beren: [hoarsely]
        But in wartime a day is long, and 'sunset may be a dirge where the morning
        was a dance.'

Soldier: [low voice]
        My lord -- we have not known full war these several years, and save the
        Dagor Bragollach and the times immediately following, not since long before then.

Beren: [comprehension arriving in full]
        That is why your Prince apologized to me. --Not to me, to Dorthonion. Our realm
        died -- holding your borders against the North.

    [Silence; no one dares to speak]

        Well. I'm glad -- I saw what we saved.

        My lord, forgive --

Beren: [interrupting]
        --Let it go! --My friends. We never sent to you for aid. We never asked
        for help. It was our duty, as we saw it, and our will, and the song's done
        and over with.

    [he is breathing hard and his fists are clenched on his knees, and they wait
    tensely; then he shakes it off and begins wrapping the collars around his arms
    and replacing the weapons with perfectly steady hands.]

Beren: [pleasantly]
        I'll be pleased to dwell here, when I've done what I came for.

        Will you, my lord?

        Yes. So long as you allow freedom of the woods to -- my House. I know
        I can't live underground all the time.

        I speak with complete confidence of the King's will when I assure you that
        you -- and yours -- will ever be free of Nargothrond.

    [it's clear from this that Beren's mission is no secret to him at least]

        When the nomads come through High Faroth again, it would be interesting
        to hear what they have to say about that notion of the land sensing the
        doings of Men, sir.

        You're right, it really does sound akin to something the Turned Ones would

Ranger: [officiously]
        You shouldn't say 'the Turned,' that's quite rude. Laiquendi is permissible,
        but Lindar is better -- that's what they name themselves, 'the Singers.'

    [the Ranger Captain smiles slightly at a well-learned lesson]

        Er -- who are the nomads, and where is High Faroth?

        The Green Kindred -- some of our people who never followed the Call, even so
        far as these lands. They build nothing, make no permanent shelters, kill no
        living thing for food or sport -- will not even cut live wood -- and their
        only arts music and woven adornment. They're very strange.

    [Beren carefully says nothing. Realizing]

        Forgive me -- that was not what I meant to say --

    [breaks off]

        They're the reason you were born in the North, lad. Your folk came with axes
        and ploughs and the Singers begged our lord to send you elsewhere, or they'd
        not be answerable for what happened after. --I don't think they'd have a problem
        with you, though. They won't stay in the area during Autumn, during hunting season
        but other times they come through what we call the Hills of the Hunters, that
        range of high country above the rivers -- you might have seen them, though the
        rains were pretty dense lately, I don't know how well --

Beren: [enthusiastic]
        I saw those -- they reminded me of home, of the uplands by Aeluin. Beautiful
        country. I'd like to explore it someday.

        We'll have to take you on patrol up there, when this . . . business of yours,
        is over. Introduce you to the tribes and the Eldest Voices.

        I would be much grateful, sir.

    [the shadow is gone between them]

Steward: [sighs]
        Well. I should return to my work.

        Making sure Himself doesn't forget to eat?

    [The Steward nods. His eyes are haunted and his confidence is vanished.]

        Sir. . . My lord Edrahil . . . ?

    [the Steward looks at him gravely]

        Would it please you to keep this?

    [He offers, again correctly point-inward, Belegund's knife]

        My sword-brother, heart-brother, my kinsman is honored in your remembrance
        of him. If it would mean anything to you . . .

    [The Steward takes the knife and bows deeply. He fastens the sheath to his belt
    before replying.]

        You do me honor, Lord of Dorthonion. I'll see you at the King's table, after times.

    [He leaves them]

Beren: [quietly]
        I'm sorry to trouble you all. That wasn't what I came here for.

        We know.  -- You're taking this remarkably calmly.

        I've had five winters, and more, to accustom myself to the fact of our doom.
        None of this is really new, even -- I just never thought about it all at
        once like this.  Some of it I've already faced through, and the rest of
        it -- will come back with nightfall and I'll meet it then. Now -- is

        I remember that being the way of your people, my lord.
        It seems very strange to us.

    [long pause -- not hostile but filled with mutual regret and incomprehension --
     broken by the entrance of Lord Gwindor, sans the Princess, but with a couple of
     other citizens of Nargothrond as Beren once again tries to finish breakfast.]

        Gentles -- my lord Beren --

        -- Where's your better half, lad?  And what about your practice, eh?
        We missed you at the pells.

        They've kept us busy running to the archives and subarchives all night.

    [blushes and goes on self-consciously]

        -- Finduilas is still there, but she wanted me to make sure that Lord
        Beren was being properly looked after.

        Well of course he is! --I imagine your friends were just a little curious
        themselves -- not to mention jealous?

        That too, sir.

        How amazing! I've never seen a mortal before.

    [she turns his chin to better see his face; again Beren is amused rather than
    offended by Elven foibles, fortunately.]

        He looks almost like a person, doesn't he?

Lord: [oblivious to the Looks they are getting from the veterans]
        Indeed he does, my dear. --What news do you bring from Doriath, sir?

        ? . . . ?

Captain: [coldly]
        Someone's been talking rather a bit more than they ought. Now I know it
        wasn't me, and I'm fairly certain it wasn't Edrahil, and I'm reasonably
        sure that His Majesty isn't the one either.

    [narrows his eyes at Gwindor, who somehow manages to look both hangdog and
    stiff-necked at once.]

        Pah, what am I saying? This is Nargothrond. If a whale sneezes in Brithombar
        Harbor, everyone knows about it in the Caves by nightfall -- even if it didn't
        happen. As the King well knows.

Beren: [awkwardly]
        Excuse me, but my business is now the King's, and for him to make public when
        he feels the time is right.  I'm sorry -- no offense meant.

Gwindor: [sudden realization]
        You must have had to cross Dungortheb! Is it as dreadful as rumors
        have it? Can you tell us about your adventures there?

    [relents slightly]
        To tell you about it I would have to remember it, and I will never, ever
        visit that country again.

Lady: [surprised]
        Do mortals also know the Living Memory? I thought not -- or so I'd been
        led to understand.

        I don't know about other mortals. I only know that I am never going there again.

    [awkward silence]

Gwindor: [desperately changing subject]
        So -- my lord, how do you find Nargothrond?

Beren: [relieved]
        Beyond all description. The reports don't do it justice. I've only seen a tiny
        bit of it, of course.

        Is it finer than Thingol's place? I've never been there.

Beren: [tactfully]
        Ah . . .  it's a lot more . . . detailed, than Menegroth.

        But do you find it better?

        Well. I -- That's hard to say, I -- didn't see very much of Menegroth at all.

        But, given what little you've seen of Nargothrond, compared to the little
        you saw of Doriath, which would you say is the superior construction?

Beren: [trapped]
        . . .

        Darling, don't be tiresome. You can't expect him to be able to explain
        such things -- they're not in the mortal understanding.

    [Beren raises his eyebrows; the Rangers look affronted on his behalf.]

Beren: [more patient than sarcastic]
        I did grow up speaking Elvish at home --

Lord: [aside to his companions]
        Well, after a fashion--!

Beren: [ignores this]
        -- it's as much or more my native speech as Taliska.  I don't answer because
        I don't want you to think me ungrateful, is all.  I -- and this is purely a
        matter of my own preferences, not anything to do with which is finer overall,
        or whether I am even fit to make those kind of judgments -- I have to say, that
        I liked what I saw of Menegroth better.  It's like the forest becomes stone
        as you go down into it, not like you're going into a cave really. There are all
        kinds of animals carved into a kind of illusion of life, and then there are
        ones I've never seen and don't recognize. I think maybe they're from Aman, but
        I never got the chance to ask.  So I found Menegroth preferable, for that reason.

        But how could you in any way find the wild woods superior to a work of art
        like our glorious citadel?

    [before Beren can correct him]

        I know, I know, 'preferable.' What's out there that's not in here?
        Explain what's so amazing about the wilderness.

Beren: [unthreatened, accepting challenge]
        All right.

    [thinks for a moment]

        I saw this thing once: pine needles after the winter like a red pelt
        around the roots, patched with sun and snow in spots of white.
        --All of the sudden they leapt up and danced away before my eyes.

Captain: [to self]
        Hah. That's good. --That's very good.

        Did a strong breeze come up and blow them away?


        I think it's a metaphor.

Beren: [encouraging]
        Could be.

        One tree, considered as a paradigm for the passing of the seasons, elided to a
        metaphorical instant?

        Mm . . . 'fraid not.

        'Red pelt' -- is it a fox under the trees?

Beren: [regretfully]
        No, not quite.

        It's a spring fawn called by its mother, correct?

    [Beren nods; the court folk frown, smile, discuss amongst themselves]

        And then one time I saw something else:  a brown leaf on a dry branch
        uncurled itself and spun away on the wind, becoming red and gold
        as it went to join the last year's leaves.

        Oh, it's a time paradox, I'm sure -- about mortality, am I correct?

        No, I think it's like the last one. Some kind of natural phenomenon again.

        Forgive me for rejecting your supposition, but it must be a mortal version
        of that saying about blossoms never returning to their branches.

Lord: [shaking his head]
        I think it's a kind of butterfly. I've seen them whilst out hunting in the
        forest -- they resemble a dead leaf, and then they unfurl their wings and
        reveal such manner of bright colors inside. You must have noticed them, surely.

        But butterflies don't uncurl. --You did say 'uncurl,' not 'unfurl,' did you not?

    [Beren nods again]

        So which is it? An insect? Or an image of the forward rush of Time that
        cannot be turned back in its stream?

Beren: [kindly]
        You're both right. The 'brown leaf' is the shell of the creature whose past
        generations are all dead in the winter, and when spring comes it splits and
        unrolls itself all wet, and when it dries out, it flies down to the forest
        floor looking for food in the new flowers. I don't know what your name for
        them is, but we call them gledewings, because the hidden side of them
        looks like a hot coal. But we also say it's a sign of the gods -- the Hidden
        Fire that moves all Ea, and the Butterfly that Elbereth put into the stars
        to remind us that Life is ever stronger than Death.

Lord: [astonished]
        Indeed! -- wherever did you learn all that?

        In the woods behind my house. --And from my parents.

Gwindor: [sharply]
        I'm not sure why you're so surprised. All his family's been as quick-witted
        as fell-handed.

        We only came here after the Dagor Bragollach. It merely seems as though it's
        been longer, Gwin.

Beren: [who has gone off in a bit of a reverie]
        And then this other time, not in the woods but on the heath, there was a sudden
        rainstorm that blew over, and on the granite outcrop where I was lying, the dip
        in the stone filled with water about as deep as a hide's thickness, and I saw in
        it the sky blue as a field of flax-flowers in the days before the harvest, and
        sun and moon both in the sky together and the Heavenly Arch, all at once.


        I can't even begin to guess.

        Don't you think it's a parable of the deceptiveness of surface appearances?

        No. What does it mean, Lord Beren?

        Huh? -- Oh, no, that's just something that happened. I thought it was
        really great. It kind of made up for the rest of the day.

        Getting rained on?

        Getting shot. I was in too close and I think they cracked a rib.
        One of those 'Things To Remind Yourself: Mithril Stops Arrowheads,
        It Doesn't Stop Momentum.'

    [to her consort]
        I still think there's some deeper meaning in that last one.

    [to Beren]
        It really shouldbe a riddle -- it isn't appropriate to stop at two, you know.

        I'm sorry. I just thought of those now, and somehow the third one never
        made it to the dinner table.

    [to the subsequent odd looks]

        It's a saying--? Which I guess you don't use. I'm afraid I don't know what it
        means, either.

    [catches the Captain's sleeve and draws him down to whisper:]

        Sir, I understand you're set to guard me. Would you please disarm me, or else
        send all these folk away, because I swear I'll savage the next person interrupts
        my meal --

        Everyone! Be off. Get back to work, get to your posts, find some work to do
        or keep the gossip-weave lengthening. Milord is not a spectacle to gawk at.

        [Chagrined, the Ranger and the other veterans leap to attention and hurry away.]

        I say, can he talk to us like that?

Gwindor: [dry voice -- embarrassed by his friends]
        Well, it certainly seems that way. My lord -- I'll see you at Council presently.

    [He drags his companions away]

        Thanks. --Sorry.

    [He sets to in hopes of clearing his plate without other incident]

        I was remiss.

Beren: [between mouthfuls]
        You can talk, I can listen. Am I so much weirder than my ancestors?

        Well, let's see. Old 'Fetters' sent his top commander and an army of wolves
        into North Beleriand because the Orc-bands wouldn't go after you any more, and
        no one, friend or foe, would even try to claim the king's ransom on your head.
        So many stories are told about you that they can't all be true -- only the more
        improbable ones, apparently. And you wonder why people want to come and have a
        look at you? Oh, and you're a veritable child in our reckoning, to top it all.


Beren: [rapidly folding cheese strips into some of the flatbread]
        I must be rather disappointing, then.

        You're not mortal enough. Not to them, who have only rumor and theory of mortal
        ways to guide their fancies, and not to us, who have known your people long and
        in many weathers -- you're too much like one of the Green Kindred for comfort,
        and yet there's no mistaking you for anything but a Man.

    [debates, then continues:]

        Then there's the fact that you scarcely need a guard -- were you not so polite,
        I've no doubt you'd hold your own against the throng. Nothing seems to daunt
        you -- though after your experiences, not so surprising.

Beren: [swallowing]
        Oh, I daunt, all right.

        Well, you don't show it. It's as if you've inherited all the stubbornness of
        all your ancestors, and then some -- and all their courtesy. It's disconcerting.

Beren: [frowns]

        ? . . . ?

Beren: [scraping up the last crumbs from his plate]
        What the King said.

Captain: [wryly]
        He would. He does love the words. --Do you want more?

Beren: [making sure that his extra bread is secure]
        No, I've got provisions. Is there a fountain around, sir?

        There's one by the chronometer.

Beren: [looks blank]


        --I'm afraid that's a word I don't know. 'Time --'?

        'Measurer'. Another of Celebrimbor's Workings. Come on, I'll show you.

    [Beren drops down from the alcove and walks beside the Ranger Captain, not quite
    as though he owns the place, but certainly as quietly as the Elf.]

Captain: [noticing]
        Hm. You wanted to be heard, then, when we took you.

        I wanted not to be shot. I think there's a difference, though I couldn't say what.

        We'll have to find a Sage and ask.

    [A small group of people are seated near the fountain, Celebrimbor among them,
    discussing something that the son of Curufin is demonstrating by means of an
    elaborate diagram in the air. Ignoring the Nargothronders, who drop the discussion
    and stare at him, Beren plunges his hands into the spill and drinks that way.]

Celebrimbor: [piqued at being interrupted]
        Er -- there is a cup there, Barahirion.

Beren: [innocently]
        A what?

    [keeps the straight face for a second, then grins]

        Do you mock me, sir?

        No, my lord -- only myself.

Celebrimbor: [annoyed]
        Where is the purpose in that?

    [Beren shrugs; Celebrimbor snorts and turns away in dismissal]

Captain: [undertone]
        There's another way you differ from your forefathers -- I've not seen that
        subtle and eccentric humor in the Beorings ere now. You must have it of your
        mother's kin?

        No -- the sarcasm and the having-to-have-the-last-word comes from the Hador side.
        You probably just never noticed when Da and Uncle Brego were doing it, because
        they never stopped. I'm not as good as they were; I always give it away.

    [long pause]

        I think -- I think that perhaps there has been more gentle humor at our expense
        across the ages than ever we knew.

Beren: [blandly]
        Why, sir, who would dare to make jest of the Elves?

    [gets a Look]

        See, I wouldn't have done that if you were one of us, on account of not
        wanting my head shoved in the water. Unless it was summer and not raining.

Captain: [bemused]
        Mortal customs . . . how strange, to take delight in being thought less of --
        but I can think of some who'd be improved by it --

    [a small chime sounds]

        That's the summoning -- you should see this, as you slept through the last five.

    [steers Beren towards a large and complex artifact of crystal and metals and lights
    which is in subtle motion -- think Myst & sequels, only more so. A crowd has already
    gathered around it in expectation.]

        What is it?

        It shows the heavens small, in all their moving, and six times a day it calls
        the sixth, so that anyone on this level can hear it. You'll find nothing like
        it elsewhere in the world.

Beren: [a little more loudly than he meant to]
        But what use is it?

    [gets uncomprehending stares from bystanders]

        Don't you always know where the sun is, and the stars, as we do not?

        Well, yes -- but one loses track indoors. And it's helpful for arranging
        meetings, or keeping them to sane durations. It also shows the turnings of the
        year, and the Great Years, and many other motions of the sky.

        I still can't see what we would do with such a thing.

Celebrimbor: [who has come over to see the mortal be impressed]
        But isn't it a necessity in agriculture, to know when the proper times for, oh,
        planting and, and harvesting are? Or when to breed the animals and to feed them?

Beren: [raising his hands helplessly]
        Yes, but -- the world just changes -- outside at least. It comes as it comes.
        You don't need a -- a -- sculpture for it.

        What about for the War? Setting up ambushes for the enemy at the right time, or
        in the field, to coordinate your troops so that you could all strike in unison?

        I'm not qualified to say -- I never took the field that way, except in practices.
        It wouldn't have been very helpful for my work -- too large, for one thing.

Celebrimbor: [sighing]
        It doesn't have to be that large or that ornate. I mean in principle it could
        be a useful thing.

        No, actually, not all that useful. Not without being able to see what the rest
        of the field is doing, both ours and theirs. I can see a lot of disasters
        happening if you assumed that everyone was going to move at once -- and then
        they didn't.

        Would that be possible? I thought scrying was kind of almost useless for
        practical purposes. But if you could see -- or especially talk -- then
        you could actually avoid patrols -- coordinate groups -- warn --

    [breaks off]

Captain: [covering smoothly]
        My lord, what ever became of that project of your grandfather's? Wasn't he
        working on a device that would allow one to both see and hear, and be seen
        and be heard, across great distances?

Celebrimbor: [bitter]
        No one was interested. They'd rather ride halfway across the country, never mind
        that it would take days, or sail to the islands, and speak face to face. They
        thought it was pointless and he lost interest. Now, of course, -- but it's too
        late. I don't know what became of his notes, and I was only peripherally involved
        in the Workings. There were some prototypes, but I've not seen them here. I think
        they were forgotten --

    [The Measurer achieves its zenith and the full carillon rings out, interrupting them.
    Constellations appear, the Moon and Sun rise and sail past, flowers open, animals
    and birds come out and make their circuits, ships cross before them, towers rise and
    fly banners, horsemen ride over their bridges, and finally the stars come out once more
    before it all folds away again to its quiescent state, and the satisfied crowd moves off.]

        I'm still not quite happy with that last, but I've not thought of anything better
        to end it with.

Beren: [laughs out loud with delight]
        So that's its use -- it's just beautiful. Like a fountain. --Or a reflection.
        --Or a star.

    [The inventor's expression goes from affront to confusion]

        I assure you, it's more work than that --

Captain: [aside]
        --More work than the stars?

Celebrimbor: [snide]
        -- but even a fountain is useful -- as I think you'd admit?

Beren: [oblivious to the tone]
        Nah, you don't need a fountain -- you could just have the water pour out into
        a bucket. It doesn't need a frame like a hall-door and a throne for the water
        with different levels so it sounds like a real falls almost. Your -- chronometer --
        could you make it be something different each time? Or -- hey, what about this?
        Couldn't you make it show stories, like a tapestry? Only solid, but moving --

Celebrimbor: [sharply, almost savagely]
        -- Do you think yourself our equal in art, for having mastered the brute skills
        of battle and slaughter beyond the usual mortal aptitude for such things?


Beren: [unthreatening, as if to a very angry dog]
        No, my lord. I wouldn't begin to understand what you've done here, in another
        year, or ten.  I only meant to say what I would make -- if I had any skill at all
        for the making of things -- which I have not. Save traps and ambushes. I cannot
        make anything of beauty -- only dream of it.

Celebrimbor: [mollified, a touch embarrassed]
        It isn't anything much. I've got a knack for it . . . I'm sure you could learn
        some skills, if you put your mind to it.

    [dismisses him from consideration again, goes back to his seminar]

Captain: [exasperated]
        I'm sorry. You can scarcely think us very Wise --

    [Beren shrugs it off]

        Would it please you to tour the rest of Nargothrond, or as much
        of it as we'll have time for?

        Might we go to the kennels, sir? I'd most like to see your hounds.

        Of course. I confess that the city often overwhelms me also, and all of us who
        range the woods by preference. The dogs may be importunate, but they'll ask you
        no impolite questions, at least!


        Your pardon, milord -- I spoke too soon. The King summons us to council.

        I heard nothing.

        I would be very troubled if you had. Please -- come this way.


        Little knowing of the ways of the older world
        wherein kings contend with craft and cunning,
        (hailing from a simpler land, a simpler folk
        of speech plainer, of ways hardier, making
        no purpose of the twisted paths of curled
        intrigue, nor seeing need for suchlike works)
        Dorthonion's young scion ventures forth
        onto a field of battle where hidden lurks
        such attack as ne'er might he foreguess.
        -- His skills at secret warfare are all plain:
        the ways of stealth, of hiding, of leading 'stray
        the clamoring foe, the hungry beast, with main
        force to smite, or with speed to flee;
        treason knows he indeed, too well -- still
        e'en there the patterns plain and black
        of heart tormented and body wracked
        ask no unanswerable questions of the soul.
        How indeed shall he prepare, defend, when fire
        out of the ancient Ages past spills wide,
        when words wake fear, and greed calls forth desire--?

    [At the entrance to the throne room -- via one of the smaller side doors, not
    the wide and fancy main entrances, that leads in behind a colonnade -- the Captain
    is about to usher Beren in when he stops suddenly.]

        What's wrong?

Beren: [quickly lashing the peace-strings around his sword-hilt]
        I forgot to safe my blade again. --Do you need to check the knots?


Beren: [shrugs]
        "A stranger, armed, in the King's presence" . . . ?

Captain: [dryly]
        Seeing that it was he who ordered your weapons be returned you, I rather think
        it's all right. But if your scruples insist . . .

    [he gives the hilt an experimental tug]

        Safety's on just fine. Come on --

    [gesturing Beren through. They pass through the colonnade and out across the
    apse-like area of the upper hall, Beren trailing along behind, staring up at the
    carvings and the vaulted ceilings and the way that natural formations have been
    employed as some of the columns. The Captain pauses to wait for him, amused.]

Beren: [awed]
        How long did it take to make all of this?

        Well, so far it's taken about two and a half Great Years. That of course
        includes work on the rest of the place, you understand, not just this hall.

        And your Great Years -- one of them's what, a hundred-forty-four years?

        That's right, twelve-twelvemonths. But it isn't done yet. Never will be,
        I expect. He keeps tinkering with it -- like that bit over there, that's
        new, I don't think it's been there a score yet. Between that and all the
        other projects he's got going, I'm betting it'll be at least another Yen.
        --Maybe longer. Of course, if it was ever done he'd have to start a new
        one, you know.

    [Beren frowns, trying to fit this into his worldview. They reach the central axis
    of the throne room, coming in right along the dais to where a large table has been
    put lengthwise across in front of the throne itself and about which around sixteen
    chairs are set.

    Arrangement of council:

    Inner side of the table, facing into the hall:
    The King is seated at the middle, presiding over a group of counselors, which
    includes his brother Orodreth (to his right), the Steward (on his left, assisting),
    Finduilas (on her father's right), Gwindor (to her right), Guilin his father (at
    table's end), the Commander of Nargothrond's Cavalry (to the Steward's right) with
    the Soldier from the Fens as his aide (right) and an empty chair on the end.

    Outer side:
    To the left of the empty place on the opposite side is Curufin, beside Curufin
    the Master of the Defensive Illusions, then his Aide (to the left across from
    the Steward), another empty place, and three high-ranking Counselors, at least one
    of whom should be cast as female, befitting a Kingdom headed by Galadriel's wisest
    brother. The table is on the lowest and widest tier of the dais, as in the schematic
    below (assume the dais is slightly curved, despite the ASCII.)

    There is also an Honor Guard present, two stationed by the throne, two behind the
    King's chair (they are among the Guards present at the Relief of Serech, as is one
    of the two beside the throne.]

                                      G   ||Thr||   G
                                           --   --

                                            G   G
                                  Gw  Fs  Or  Fi  Ed  CC  Wr
                                Gu                         [Ce]
                                  C1  C2  C3  [B] Ai  Mag  Cu


Finrod: [rising in courtesy]
        My lords -- my lord! Have you enjoyed your rest, and found welcome in my citadel?

        Indeed yes, I've at last seen something truly Elven in my stay here, sir --
        that Measurer that sings and shines.

Finrod: [genuinely pleased]
        It's wonderful, isn't it? --And have you found Nargothrond pleasant, to see
        it waking?

    [there is a touch of Elvish -- or artistic -- vanity when he asks:]

        It's never as fair as Menegroth, but it is beautiful, is it not?

Beren: [solemnly]
        Yeah. It's a nice big place you've got here.

    [The King, appreciating the joke, grins; the Counselors look rather taken aback.]

Finrod: [all business again]
        How well do you ride, Barahirion? Have you much skill with horses? It may
        affect our schedule.

        Well. None with horses -- but a lot with mountain ponies.

Guilin: [dismay]
        -- Ponies.

        Don't laugh, my lord: it's harder than it sounds. They're carnivorous, and prefer the
        flesh of people. Men or Elves, makes no difference, I was told.

First Counselor: [skeptically]

    [Finrod covers a smile with his hand.]

First Guard: [whispering]
        I remember those little hellspawn. We should have sent them to fight the wolves.

Second Guard: [whispering]
        I thought they were wolves.

        Still, you'll want some training both to accustom yourself to the height and
        pacing of the Valinorean breed, and to staying in line with the rest of the
        "alquantar." If I recall correctly, your way was to run like a pack of hounds and
        over whatever or whoever's before you. Effective, very inspirational to keep
        up one's best speed, but not really a good idea with lances. A fortnight should
        do it, I think.

Beren: [jaw drops]
        Sire -- I don't -- I really don't think I could learn to ride with your swan-
        flight in two years, let alone two weeks -- forgive me, but I've never used
        a long-spear from horseback, we always would ride and dismount to fight --
        and I've not ridden in seven, eight years --

Finrod: [dismissing his panic]
        Oh no -- you just need to be able to stay aboard and not crash into anyone
        on the turns. You're not going to take part in charges. It's merely a matter
        of coordination, you already know the basics, and you've got perfect balance.
        You'll do fine.

Beren: [resigned]
        All right.


        I'm going to die. --Or wish that I had, at least.


        Do I get to ask why?

Finrod: [deadpan]
        Certainly not.


        I'm going to tell you in a minute, so why bother?

    [Confused looks from most of the others who aren't used to mortal-style humor.]

        My friends, my good counselors, those among you who have not yet made the
        acquaintance of The Beoring -- may I present to you the son of our people's
        great friend and far renowned in his own right, Beren Barahirion, House Beor,
        rightful Lord of Dorthonion, whose cause is well-known to all present here.

    [Beren bows to the Council, deeply embarrassed by the introduction]

        Beren, sit down, if you please -- when my good kinsman returns from his
        summons I'll conduct a full overview of the plan we've devised, less the
        more technical aspects that won't mean anything to you. In the meantime if
        you'd care to examine the maps, you may get a better feel for what we'll
        be talking about. Oh, and if anyone here has questions regarding the data
        we've been using, now's the time to ask, as our Chief of Intelligence is
        here now as well and his scouts have supplied most of it.

    [Beren gives the Captain a startled look; the Captain innocently gives him his
    best I'm-just-a-simple-Ranger expression. A little nervously Beren goes to the
    empty place at the end of the table, where the chair is already pulled out.]

Curufin: [dryly]
        Don't push it, Beoring.

    [sees Beren's confusion and sighs]

        I've been given to understand that your rustic background and long removal
        from anything slightly resembling civilization account for your uncouth
        behavior and am willing to make admissions -- but my brother is not quite
        as patient as myself.

        ? . . . ?

Curufin: [exasperated]
        That's his place. Anchor seat, next to me, focal point -- ring any bells?

       Oh. Oh, I'm very sorry, I wasn't trying to be rude --

    [goes to empty chair at center, across from Finrod; the Captain pulls it out
    before he can struggle with it and squeezes his shoulder before going over to
    talk shop with his counterparts. The maps on the table are not merely parchment,
    but are "active" with scalar projections and live indicators, like the topograph
    projections in Myst only much prettier. Fascinated, Beren keeps running his finger
    through the intangible array; when the Army Commander and his Aide get up to join
    the discussion on the other side of the table about seasonal cover along the
    watershed, he notices Curufin staring at him.]

Beren: [wry]
        I think this is what you call a "map," right?

Curufin: [a trifle drawn despite himself, almost genuinely playful:]
        That it is. --Ever seen one before?

        Not like this, I haven't.

        Not quite so blasé about us Firstborn and our accomplishments now, hey?

Beren: [doing his darnedest to earn the trust put in him]
        Your son's amazingly skillful, my lord. That -- chronometer of his is truly
        the finest work of craft I've seen. You must be very proud of him.

Curufin: [grimacing, and totally sincere for once]
        He doesn't apply himself. He could do so much more if only he would concentrate
        on his own projects and not try to run all these other mentoring programs at
        the same time. But he's got no focus and people take advantage of him for it.

        Well, it's good of him to take the time to teach, though.

        At the expense of perfecting his own art?

        I thought that's usually how crafts work, whether handcraft or lorecraft.

        Among your folk, perhaps, where there's such a short time limit to accomplish
        both the practice and the transference. Among us it's a sign of mental, even
        moral instability, not to carry a thing to completion.

Beren: [nods]
        I can see how that would work.


        Would it be impertinent to ask you a question, my lord?

        Well, that rather would depend on the question, I should think.

        I've noticed you wear an unsheathed long-knife, unlike anyone else here. Is there
        a reason for it?

        Yes. Angcrist would cut right through anything I tried to keep the blade in.

        Even mithril? It's truly that sharp?

        It is. --I think your kind would call it "magic."

        But isn't that really dangerous? Couldn't you rig some kind of, oh, framework
        around to at least have a barrier so people wouldn't hit it by accident, so
        you wouldn't cut yourself? Like a fire-cage only smaller? I mean, we do have
        that tradition of the Vow of the Unsheathed Sword (though that's more one of
        those things in songs and tales really) but it just seems awfully risky to me.

        I think you're assuming that the same conditions obtain to the Kindred as to
        Mortals, with regards to kinesthesia -- perception of motion -- and physical
        awareness. We are conscious of ourselves, and all earthly things, in a way
        I doubt you can begin to imagine. Neither I nor anyone else is going to brush
        against it in absence of mind.

        So what happens if you trip? It still seems dangerous to me.

        Eldar don't trip. Or do anything by accident -- my lord.

        That must be nice.

    [He is completely sincere, but Curufin gives him a suspicious look anyway]

        And I suspect it's a lot more intimidating that way, too.

Curufin: [guarded approval]
        You're not as dumb as you look, boy.

Beren: [grins]
        That's a good thing, I guess?

    [Once again Curufin has to resist the impulse to join in, not mock, but succeeds
    admirably nonetheless. The King, however, notes Beren's restraint and good will
    with approval, though Beren doesn't notice.]

        Quite. --So, do you think this mad plan has a chance of succeeding, or are you
        just going along with it for lack of better ideas?

        Well, I -- don't know what the plan is yet, so I can't say whether it's mad or
        not, my lord.

        Trust me, it's a mad plan. I've spent the better part of the last half-millenium
        involved in this, as I assume you know, and they don't come any crazier than
        this. If it couldn't be accomplished with thousands upon thousands of troops
        and virtually unlimited support, I seriously doubt that anything less has a
        prayer of succeeding.

        It's all about doing the unexpected. If they think you might do something, then
        your enemies will guard against it. If you've done it before, they'll put twice
        as many guards around to make sure you don't do it again. If you go around the
        other way, they stand there scratching their heads wondering what hit them, and
        then they put guards over there. I've seen it countless times. Seems silly, but
        no one can be everywhere, and if you can't imagine something, you can't imagine
        someone else doing it either.

        Well. You're quite the strategist, aren't you?

Beren: [sighs]

    [Celegorm enters and goes straight to his brother's side]

Celegorm: [aside to Curufin]
        --All of the Hindmost, or Sindar. None of our people are on duty.

Curufin: [low voice]
        Interesting. Most interesting.

        Is something wrong, cousin?

        No, no, everything's fine, old chap. Carry on.

    [takes the place at the end of the table]

        Thank you. If everyone would please be seated . . . ?

    [The knots of individual discussion break up and the council members take their
    original places; the Captain returns to Beren's side of the table and takes up
    station behind his chair. (This makes Beren a bit twitchy because although he
    knows it's an honor, he's not used to having or allowing anyone behind him.)]

        To sum up very quickly for you, the plan is to set out from here and move
        northward (again, very quickly,) with the lightest accoutrements possible and
        in three flights, each slightly staggered from the other, each advanced by
        half-a-day before the next. When we arrive here, we'll kite across the valley
        of the Sirion to ford here, angling back upwards there, and vectoring past
        Tol Sirion altogether to hit Serech higher up here, where the flats are covered
        with shallow water but it's not soft enough to bog us down, splash through to
        the edge of the plain and form one Great Wing to rush straight across -- and
        over -- whatever's before us to Eithel Sirion. I'm sure you and my cousin will
        have a great deal to talk about before we regroup for the infiltration part.
        We'll ride straight through each night and rest by day as we must, and take care
        not to get tangled up in any engagements but leave them in our dust. Or mud,

Beren: [interrupting]
        --Is that possible?


        --Sorry. --Your Majesty.

Finrod: [unfazed]
        I think so.

        I mean, what about the horses?  We can go all day, but they can't, can they?
        Not without us changing mounts, right?

        The Valinorean horse is not like that native to Middle-earth.

Someone: [not loud enough to reveal which of the Council but definitely Noldor]

        [The Captain shoots a got-your-number Look down that end of the table.]

        And when we get there?

        You'll have a bit more to do than staying on then. We've some scaling devices
        to assist us and of course all will be stealthed, but we're still going to have
        to manage the climbing work ourselves along with despatching all sentries and
        resistance we encounter. The goal will be to encounter as little as possible --
        it's a snatch-and-grab operation, not a havoc mission. And we have minimal data
        on the interior of Angband, except for some antiquated descriptions dating back
        to the last successful engagement with Morgoth, which are certainly inaccurate
        and misleading.

Beren: [frowning at the animated displays on the maps]
        So essentially we're sneaking into the Enemy's fortress via the mountains and
        trying to get as close to the target as we can without being noticed, figuring
        out a route as we go, and we don't know what the terrain looks like, only we know
        that it isn't like what it used to be?


        Got it. How are we going to locate the jewel?

        Well, "down" is said to be a good direction, as far as Morgoth is concerned, and
        Lords Celegorm and Curufin have attested that they can perceive within a farther
        distance-range than any other Elf the presence of the Silmarils, so we shouldn't
        have to spend too much time--

Celegorm: [interrupting]
        Wait a minute, wait a minute, what do you mean, "Got it" --? He says "We're running
        blind into the midst of the greatest concentration of enemy forces to be found,"
        and you say, "Got it" --?

Beren: [shrugs]
        It's what I do, my lord.

        Oh, you're the outlaw! --I didn't recognize you, all cleaned up.

Beren: [solemnly]
        Amazing stuff, that hot water, my lord.

    [to the King]

        --The only thing I'm not sure about is how you said everything will be stealthed
        and how we're going to be avoiding most of the trouble along the way. I know what
        I would mean by it, but I was getting the feeling that it meant something different.

        Those are the technical aspects which are not going to require you to do anything
        at all. Each flight will have a full complement of Illusionists and Seers to
        forestall observation and anticipate enemy contact--

        Got it.

Finrod: [to his Commander]
        A question, Lord Commander?

Cavalry Commander:
        Yes. One. Does he have to come with us?

        Yes. No sense in leaving any unnecessary legal loopholes. I enjoy an argument
        as much as Elu does, but priorities have to stay in proper order. Don't worry,
        it'll work out.

        Cousin Finrod, could we go over those technical aspects in rather more detail?
        I confess freely, I'm a simple soul, and I prefer plain hunting and plain dealing,
        as well as plain fighting -- this talk of scribbling back and forth and stealth
        confuses me.

        Certainly. Master of Illusions, would you be so good as to attend and correct me
        if I've ommitted any of the necessary elements in --

Beren: [breaking in]
        Oh there was one other thing -- how are we coming home? Won't they be waiting
        for us?

        Not more than usual, my lord, seeing as that we'll be returning by the way of
        our siblings' holdings in the East, and thence to Doriath.

Beren: [nodding]
        Got it.

    [Finrod, carefully expressionless, sets to an intense technical discussion with the
     Mage and Celegorm over diagrams]

Aide: [to Beren, curious, not trying to be rude]
        Is this how it goes at mortal councils? Interruptions and absence of formality
        and all?

    [Across the table Finduilas gives Beren a sympathetic grimace]

        Um, yeah, except there was usually more table-pounding.



        --I'm sure it's figurative, Father.

        No, it was loud, mostly. After my aunt died things got a little quieter 'cause
        Ma wouldn't put up with beer in the tablecloth or on the floor, but it was literal
        all right.

Curufin: [innocently]
        Care to give us a demonstration, eh?

        Oh, no, I think I'll pass -- I see your drinking-ware is mostly glass, and I hear
        that's fragile stuff.

        Pity. --These cultural survivals from antiquity are always so fascinating.

        All right, how about when we get back? Only we need ox-horn vessels full of beer
        so we can do it properly.

Defense Aide:
        Beer? That's that foul drink you people make out of bread, isn't it?

        Er, not really. It has grain and yeast and water for ingredients, but -- different

First Counselor: [grimly]
        I remember King Finrod tried making some once.

    [Bleak expressions of remembrance on those attending to the discussion]

Beren: [interested]
        Was it any good?

        If by good you mean, "palatable", the answer is a most definite no, my Lord
        Barahirion. If by good you mean "similar to the original pattern", then I cannot
        say, as I was never able to force down enough on our visits to Brethil to make
        any sort of accurate observations as to its flavor.

        Oh, Brethil. The Haladin might be valiant warriors, but they make wretched beer
        -- it's mead, actually. For real ale you have to start with mountain stream
        water and sweet grain from Ladros.

        I have on occasion imbibed both, and -- I fear I could distinguish no
        difference whatsoever, milord.

Cavalry Commander: [impatiently]
        Gentles, is this in any way, shape, form or nebulous parallel relevant to the
        discussion at hand or the matter thereof?

Beren: [deadpan]
        I thought you folks wanted to see how mortals do this council thing. That's
        probably enough. --So what do you want me to do? Am I actually going to be
        riding in the angle?  Which rank? Front or back?

Cavalry Commander: [mincing no words]
        That depends on how horrible you are. I'm saying at the outset, primaries
        or heart, because I want you where you'll bring down the fewest when you fall

        Oh, good. Fewer to step on me, right?

Cavalry Commander: [nods]
        That too. We'll see how you do. --And what the King says.



Celegorm: [calling from background]
        Well, what's your final verdict, brother? Advise me with your shrewd counsel
        -- should we go along with this, or is it suicidal madness?

Curufin: [thoughtfully]
        Everyone here knows I think it's insane. Just for the record. But -- I am
        reminded by the Heir of Dorthonion that the unexpected may well succeed,
        and that daring is usually more than adequate to carry the day against
        an unprepared -- or overprepared -- adversary. And cousin Finrod's plan is
        certainly as daring as it is well-prepared.

        Thank you, cousin.

        If it's any consolation, my lord, the ground is very steep where I grew up, and
        the terrain quite rugged. I'm used to difficult conditions.

Cavalry Commander:
        Scant. I'm not happy at all about letting a mind-deaf mortal near my horses,
        you should know. I'd far rather have you ride pillion as per when we take the
        archers to the front, but you're too coarse-boned for that with the distance
        we have to to cover. If you're rough with them in practice I will find ways
        to make you regret it, though.

        I used to be passable. Long time back I could even do the shooting-from-the-
        saddle thing and get maybe one wolf in three.

Cavalry Commander:

        Really. All right, maybe it was closer to one in four. It was kind of a showing-
        off thing, more than anything else.

Cavalry Commander:
        Forgive me if I appear skeptical, but that would require use of both hands,
        would it not? What about your reins?

        What about 'em? I knotted the leathers so we wouldn't trip on them.

Cavalry Commander: [clearly unconvinced]

    [His ADC tries to get his attention]


        Sir -- Huan trusts him. And Barahir was always good to the little fiends --
        even though I wanted to beat them, because they Just. Don't. Listen. And
        they're wicked, even if they're not Evil.

Cavalry Commander: [eyeing Beren]

        Not all bad, though -- at least the "not listening" part -- a mind-linked
        rider terrified out of any pretense of rationality on an already-terrified
        steed is a very, very bad combination. And a mountless courier's precious
        little use in a redoubt scenario when the nearest help's Stars-know-where.
        Vicious half-wild mountain ponies having to be head-wrestled at all times,
        at least don't care if they've just lost their own rider, or whether their
        master is having Premonitions of Cosmic Doom, or pick up the images from all
        down the line of things past Elven, let alone equine, contemplation -- they
        just want to get away from the fires and maybe get a few good bites in
        along the way.

Cavalry Commander: [shrewdly]
        I've never heard you talk about the Battle from a personal standpoint.

        Very sorry, sir. I thought I was being impersonally-abstract enough.

        . . . So does that answer all your remaining questions, then? Have I left
        anything out that you can see?

Curufin: [looking at his brother, not at the King]
        I rather think so, myself -- and you?

Celegorm: [answering the other question as well -- We'll go for it]
        Oh yes, absolutely.


        There's just one thing in all this that you're forgetting, kinsman.

    [draws his sword and clangs it down on the table in front of them, declamatory:]

        "Be he friend or foe or demon foul
         of Morgoth Bauglir, be he mortal dark
         that in after days on earth shall dwell,
         shall no law nor love nor league of Gods,
         no might nor mercy, nor moveless fate,
         defend him for ever from the fierce vengeance
         of the sons of Feanor, whoso seize or steal
         or finding keep the fair enchanted
         globes of crystal whoso glory dies not,
         the Silmarils. We have sworn forever!"

    [Dead silence. All are as if in shock at the first overt invocation of the Oath
    in centuries which is now loosed again into the World. Only Finrod is completely
    calm and unaffected by it]

        My lord my cousin, I thought we had settled this matter to honor's
        satisfaction for all concerned.

        How could we possibly have settled it, when it's not even begun? But we
        will settle it.

   [The Sons of Feanor segue back and forth seamlessly between Good Cop/Bad Cop
    and Smart Chap/Simple Chap routines throughout the "debate" -- and shamelessly.]

        Not that this insanity has a hope of success, of course -- but on the off
        chance that whatever whimsical force exists to unbalance the plans and careful
        calculations of thinking Elves is ruling this hour, we want to make our position
        perfectly clear. There can be no compromise on the matter of the Silmarils. Not
        even to temporize, not even temporarily. --If that's what you really intend. Cousin.

        I should think you'd want even one of them out of Morgoth's control, no matter
        who got it, just because of what he did to your father! And it's for a good cause.
        You should be ashamed of yourselves!

        Be quiet, Sparkly, and let the grownups talk.

    [to Gwindor, preemptively:]

        Sit down, pup, and learn to control your temper if you don't want to go
        West early --

    [to Guilin, before the rest of the Council has a chance to get offended]

        I do apologize, good sir, but the role of impetuous youth at High Councils is
        to watch, listen, and learn in respectful silence from those older and wiser
        than they -- or so I've always believed, gentles.

Second Counselor: [evidently has resented the kids' presence at sessions]
        It's good to hear somebody saying that, finally.


        Your comments are offensive, Curufin --

Curufin: [interrupting, coldly:]
        --But correct. The fact that you are offended by them is irrelevant.

Celegorm: [lazy smile]
        After all, it isn't as though you can exactly throw us out now, is it?

    [There is a silence, Finrod expressionless, the rest looking apprehensive but
    generally in agreement]

        Wait, wait -- why not? What exactly do you two do around here, anyway? Except
        help out the King's huntsmen, sort of, when you feel like it?

Steward: [urgent]
        My lord, please.

Captain: [aside-but-loud-enough-to-be-heard-by-everyone]
        --Good question, actually.

Third Counselor:
        Your question, sir, is as rude as it is ridiculous. There are the sacred
        rules of hospitality, that are surely even known to mortals, which forbid
        the refusal of shelter to any guest -- and so much the more when guest is
        also of one blood and family.

Beren: [shakes head]
        No, gentles, I'm sorry but I'm not seeing it at all -- when times got harder,
        we had a lot of people staying with us, and most of them were kin some ways or
        other, and they always were expected to do their own chores and contribute to
        the general running of things. Anyone who wouldn't abide by the house rules
        could just go build their own fort someplace else. Too much at stake to play
        dumb games over how the wood gets stacked or the blankets folded or the dinner
        cooked -- or--

    [glances at Finrod]

        --who stands what watch.

Master of Illusions:
        You do not understand, Edain: after the Battle our losses were so great that
        without their forces joined to ours we would have been sorely pressed to defend
        our borders and to also maintain the city as it requires -- it's not as easy
        as you might imagine -- and their assistance has proven indispensable.

        Oh -- you'd be surprised what turns out not to be indispensable after all, after
        you haven't got it any more.

        I think -- that anything this important -- ought not to be decided in secret.
        Shouldn't the folk of Nargothrond be allowed to at least know what arrangements
        their master is making for the disposition of their future?

Curufin: [silk-smooth]
        I think my elder brother is correct.

        I do not see, my lords, that there is any need to advance the schedule for the
        public hearing --

Second Counselor: [interrupting]
        As a matter of fact that strikes me as an excellent idea. The more minds, the
        more vision and clarity brought to the matter, the more fresh air can only
        sweep through, would you not agree, Sire?

    [All look at the King]

Finrod: [blandly]
        Oh, by all means -- if we're going to have a coup, let us do it properly.

    [He signals to the Guards to go open the main doors and bring anyone who cares to
    come in from the solar and corridors. As the hall fills he rises and goes to stand
    in the center of the lowest tier, but as though he's barely stopping himself from
    pacing; throughout the next part, as the battle for power builds in intensity,
    he becomes increasingly more fey and for longer intervals, like a high-voltage
    line with an intermittent short (which is a rather scary thing to witness, even
    when it's up in the transformers of a high-tension line)--if anyone else were
    operating under halfway normal conditions they would not be crossing him now.]

Beren: [whispering, to the Captain]
        What's His Majesty up to?

    [The Captain shakes his head -- he does not know either. When the assembly hall is
    is mostly full the King claps his hands loudly and addresses the populace at large:]

Finrod: [ploughing straight through and not allowing interruption]
        All right, my people, pay attention! I'll be exceedingly surprised if anyone
        here hasn't some idea of what we've been working on these past hours, but
        listen up and you'll hear it plain, unencumbered by ornament -- or even much
        in the way of organization. If you don't already know, then know this: the
        Man who saved my life in the Dagor Bragollach is dead, but his son lives and
        comes to remind me of my debt to his House -- a debt we all owe to the House
        of Beor, who stood so long at the forefront of our borders against the North.
        He's here seeking aid for what sounds like a quest out of a bard's story, only
        it's the stark truth: to gain permission to wed the princess he loves, and
        who loves him in return, he has been set a task impossible to mortal Men.

    [Beren grows increasingly embarrassed throughout]

        No one here can have forgotten the story of how your King and commanders were
        saved in the darkest hour of the retreat from Ard-galen by mortal valor, when
        had not Barahir of long inheritance of friendship come riding with his shield-
        guard and at great cost of their own blood broken the Orc-leaguer about us and
        delivered us from the Fen of Serech. Few here can have failed to hear of the
        legend of his only son, whose name is terror to the minions of the Dark and
        whose deeds are bitterest gall even to the Necromancer who has galled us so
        these several years.

    [there is a lot of low-level discussion going on in the crowd during this,
    of approving tone]

        But there are limits to what valor alone can accomplish, as alas we know! and
        without our help The Beoring will surely fail, for the condition assigned him
        is to bring back one Silmaril from Morgoth's stronghold. I grant you it's an
        incredibly difficult challenge, and not guaranteed of success, but I've devised
        a plan that makes it at least doable, with minimal likely risk of casualties
        and discovery, which would break Morgoth's teeth in insult and in his repute
        in the eyes of his captains, sowing the chaos which he so loves to sow among
        us his foes, -- and which satisfies honor of all parties, in all points -- or
        would, had not the former Lords of Aglon-and-Himlad suddenly and at very late
        hour discovered cause to balk.

Celegorm: [breaking in as the King pauses to assess the situation on several levels]
        What our kinsman Finrod is leaving out is the following: the princess in question
        is no mortal, but one of our own -- no less than the daughter of Elu Thingol and
        Melian the Maia of Doriath, who instead of responding to such an insolent demand
        with the severity it should have incurred, chose this roundabout, more feelings-
        sparing way of saying -- not in a thousand years. Changes things a bit, doesn't it?

        Moreover, your King attempts to trade upon our honesty and honor by pretending that
        he will arrange a merely formal bartering of jewel and girl and once the exchange
        is done the gem will be returned to our rightful custody. Frankly, since everyone
        knows that no one on this earth will ever give up a Silmaril voluntarily, I'm
        surprised that he's attempting to enlist our support in an outrageous attempt
        to have us cheat ourselves, but then no doubt he thinks us all no more than fools
        and children by comparison to his legendary wisdom -- the wisdom that more than
        halved Nargothrond's fighting force in the execution of his long-thought strategy
        of the Siege!

        Oh, please --!

Finrod: [ignoring them]
        -- My cousins, on the other hand, who have been living here these ten-odd years as
        my guests, are now apparently trying to change their status from guests to hosts,
        and would like to convince you that they'll do a better job of it than I.

        Our concern is solely for the people of Nargothrond.

Captain: [loudly]
        Which people? Yours? -- or us?

Curufin: [patronizing]
        Don't worry -- you'll still have a job.

Captain: [as if changing the subject]
        You know, I remember hearing about a couple of field commanders who insisting
        on carrying a mosaic floor everywhere, to go in their field headquarters. Made
        themselves remarkably popular with their support staff and logistics people,
        not to mention the poor slobs who had to carry the thing.

Beren: [amazed]
        Mosaic? That's stone, right? Little stones? How on earth . . .?

        On panels, and in boxes, with a lot of effort. --Did you bring it back from
        Ard-galen, milords? No? How many lives did it cost, of soldiers and horses too
        tired from hauling it to run when the fires came? That wasn't a small pavilion,
        as I recall. Was it worth the price to impress everyone with how organized and
        successful your House was? Didn't work, you know. You still had to move in here
        and sponge off of us. I'm sure they were really impressed with your care for
        them. Going to look after Nargothrond the same way?

        I'm sure I've no idea why you think we're interested in taking charge here.
        We are the eldest heirs of Finwe, and we don't exactly need any other addition
        to our prestige.

        However -- in the event of incompetence and lack of leadership, failures of
        judgment, absence of vision, even -- dare I say -- abandonment of wisdom,
        we would of course stand ready to ready to supply whatever assistance might
        be required, to the best of our ability.

        And I must say, we've seen Morgoth's mercy of leadership today, or any of the
        rest of it -- except the incompetence. We've heard a great deal about
        responsibility to mortals -- but what about responsibility to Nargothrond?

        After all, it was only their duty after receiving the Grant of Ladros, was it
        not? not to mention your House's generosity in deeding them the northlands in
        the first place. It is not as though the mortals were the only ones to lose kin
        in the late battle against Morgoth.

    [Finrod's expression goes from furious to murderous; Orodreth closes his eyes,
    pained; Guilin frowning nods in agreement; there is a lot of crowd consensus at this.
    Unable to listen any more, Beren jumps up and strides halfway across the dais,
    staring off into the darker apse. Unfortunately, it's hard not to hear.]

        But that is, ultimately, of little concern to us. It's ancient history, so to
        speak. What concerns us -- concerns us all! -- is the Future. What becomes of
        Nargothrond -- of the Noldor -- of all the Kindreds, if Morgoth's ire is roused
        from the past decade's slumber and provoked in such an outrageous manner?

        In one word -- war.

Curufin: [gesturing offhand towards Beren]
        Do you want your children to end up like him? Homeless, kinless, friendless
        beggars living without even the rustic community of our Dark-Elven kindred?
        Savages scarcely to be distinguisted from the beasts of the forest where they
        dwell -- or worse yet, thralls slaving away in Angband as payment for the rash
        presumption of having chosen to defy the Lord of Fetters?

        And don't imagine that he won't retaliate -- there's no possible way old Fetters
        is going to take this one quietly. There will be hell to pay, quite literally,
        after the fact -- and for a long time thereafter. --This is assuming of course
        that the mad plan is even executable, that it won't simply result in the loss of
        all involved -- their lives thrown away in an action with nothing in return.

        Obviously if there were any hope of it succeeding we would certainly be the
        first to offer our support -- but we hold our responsibilities as guests of
        Nargothrond no less sacred than your duty of hospitality extended so freely towards
        ourselves. If the leadership of the realm forgets duty towards you, may you not
        then in good conscience seek good leadership? If your overlord chooses for you
        a path that is wrought of disaster, leading only to destruction, is it not your
        duty to take heed for your families, your lives, your lore? And make no mistake,
        this path leads to destruction.

    [Getting into full demagogue cry here]

        If you have no care for yourselves, consider your children -- your sons dead in
        battle, gone for what might as well be forever, or hurt so badly that they fade
        regardless of the breath remaining in them, your daughters injured in the wrack
        of war, trapped in the mindless wreckage of battle that spares not beauty, the
        flames and the falling walls, your life's work both living and breathed forth in
        art all gone, or ruined past repair! Think on your friends and far kinsmen doomed
        to endless war, the heartbreak of civilizations shattered and lore forgotten, the
        songs silenced, the harpstrings mute forever, the holy words lost for good, the
        fountains running red with blood and black with ash, empty the halls where children
        children sang, no sound but that of innumerable mourners, and afterwards a scattered
        and a broken people, remembering not even their own true names, wandering lost in
        forests of shadow and terror, with neither cirth nor tengwar to bear the memories
        of wisdom to after generations, becoming even as than the Turned Ones, as though
        you had never been anything more -- is this the future that you want? Because it
        certainly isn't the one I'm hoping for!

    [it's clear this is having the desired impact on everyone present, the imagery at
    least, if not the implied politics]

        Because what I hope for, for Nargothrond, which is now my adopted home as it is
        your own, is a future in which the great works you have already accomplished here
        in such short time, with such heroic effort in a land that might have been entirely
        new for all the untamed wilderness that surrounds us, all the beauties you have
        made -- are nothing. That's right -- nothing. --Not because they are destroyed, but
        because they are nothing as compared to what we will create in the days to come!
        I do not wish to insult you by naming you cowards, too ensnared by the webs of
        fear and memory of Darkness to go on -- rather I wish to praise you by naming you
        wise, wise enough to move onward in new directions entirely, free of the shackles
        of hidebound tradition and outworn custom. Let us stand together, friends!

    [he pauses, panting, while general acclaim begins to rise in volume]

        Lord Curufin?

Curufin: [extremely wary, but hopeful -- winning the King's right hand lord over
          would be the coup of the coup, so to speak]

        What would you like to contribute, my Lord Edrahil? I know that your work must
        give you a particular awareness of the value of civilization and the need
        for cooperation in caring for and preserving it.

        I think no reasonable person could disagree with any of the sentiments you've
        so eloquently expressed just now. But, my lord, I cannot tell from your
        words whether you are endeavoring to convey that our King's endeavor will lead
        to war against Morgoth -- which is the state that currently obtains, not peace
        -- or to war against Doriath, stars know why, unless you're planning on starting
        one, -- or to a civil war of your following in Nargothrond against the House
        of Finarfin. --Or all three. In all my years' service in my capacity as Herald
        I never yet heard such a discordant mix of half-lies and half-truths and serpentine
        redoublings of one across the other -- save when we received the occasional
        bribe-and-threaten from across the Leaguer. Would you care to explain in as
        simple language as is possible for you, so that I can render it into plain Sindarin
        for the benefit of everyone else?

    [Curufin looks at his older brother with a You-want-to-take-this? expression]

        War is war. --As you ought to know. The end result's the same -- burnt cities
        and mourning widows -- wherever it happens, or who's involved.

    [This oblique and shameless reference to the Kinslaying shuts Finrod's partisans
    up for the instant, dumbfounded]

Beren: [finally turning to speak]
        --Look, this is crazy. I'll just do like I was originally going to do, and
        infiltrate Angband by myself. I'm not going to start a civil war here!

Celegorm: [dropping the good-will act]
        If you dare to claim what's ours, we will hunt you down to the ends
        of Arda, mortal.

Beren: [shortly]
        You're welcome to try.

    [to Finrod]

        Sir, with your leave I'll take your intent for action and consider the debt
        paid, and leave myself to remove the occasion for trouble in your realm.

        That's not possible, I'm afraid.

        Sure it is. As the party collecting I should be the one to say when it's
        fulfilled, shouldn't I?

        Not for that. --You've never held command in your own right, or ruled over
        your own organization, and there are vast, vast differences.

Beren: [stiffly]
        That may be true, Sire, but I am still as responsible for my own actions.

Finrod: [smiling dangerously, speaking not just to Beren]
        --No, Barahirion, you do not understand. This is not like your Northern
        woodsmen, when your father made suggestion that they abandon their homes and
        holts for the safety of your hall, and they instead thinking, "I cut this
        clearing out with my own hands, and my parents before me, and theirs before
        them, and when fire has burnt or storm has shattered we have rebuilt, and now
        we have laid down our lives to hold it, and surely we can keep on doing so,
        and if not, well then--," chose rather to face the night and perish.  These
        are my thanes, my trusted ones, who have taken my name and my glory to shield
        them, while they dwell in the halls I hewed for them, and have been glad enough
        to own themselves Nargothronders while I asked nothing of them. This -- is our
        hedge of thorns.

    [Sees that Beren understands, sort of. To the Counselors and Commanders:]

        Well, then -- you're supposed to be the wisest of the wise, what do you in
        your vast wisdom say to solve this dilemma? What a choice! between on the one
        side the manifold calls of honor, of duty, of friendship, of all the years of
        service given and accepted from the House of Beor, of my own long service to
        build you a home of safety and repose, of the task of our people to waylay and
        harass the Enemy, all these things, so many reasons for!

    [There is silence from his Chiefs of Staff]

        And what have we on the other side? A pair of freeloaders and the rag-tag of
        their glorious Host, who left us waiting on the wrong side of the Sea just a
        short while back, or have you completely forgotten about that? Are we not still
        the greatest Elven dominion this side? Or are you completely intimidated by the
        Feanor mystique? Or have my cousins cast a glamour over you, that you'd sooner
        be shamed before both Kindreds and the Powers themselves, than lose their favor?

Guilin: [sternly]
        Sire, neither are you nor your House themselves Powers either, and it is ill-
        behooved of you to issue ultimatums and demand loyalty tests as though you
        believed yourself a god. We are not children -- nor mortals -- to be lectured
        so by the son of Finarfin: we, no less than yourself, are Noldor of high degree!

    [There is a lot of loud public agreement to this. Finrod freezes in the middle of
    starting to answer, his expression shocked but filled with comprehension of the
    Pattern. A longish pause.]

Celegorm: [snorting]
        I rather think that says it all, cousin?

Finrod: [ironic smile]
        So this is how the game goes, eh? Winner takes all? Like that game where you
        change all the tiles over at a go, white to black, not contending square by
        square, foot by foot for the mastery but at one fell swoop shifting the play
        of power from opposer to victor? Very well. The board is yours.

    [to the rest of the hall, his face very taut, his voice harsh with control:]

        You -- may do what you please. This set is ended, and you'd best find yourself
        another harper to play for you from this day forth. I -- have no choice. My faith
        has been given, and if I refuse to keep it I might as well have died in Ard-galen.
        King or no king, I hold my life a gift of worth enough that I will repay it at
        whatever cost to myself -- and if you are the sort of people who would feel
        otherwise, receiving such a grant, then I am pleased to part from you!

    [a general outcry, all at once:]

        Finrod, you don't mean what you're saying --

        My lord --

        These are wild words, Sire --

Third Counselor:
        Your Majesty, consider well before you stoop to folly --

Finrod: [interrupts them all]
        What, you will have me here a tame and captive King, to follow when it pleases
        you, and dismiss when it doesn't? You will call me your lord, and pretend to
        obey my rule, and let me work to order your lives when you can't be troubled
        to it yourselves, but when I ask anything of you in return, -- or not in return,
        but merely in duty -- then you will turn deaf ears to me, pretending the
        inconvenient demands haven't been made?


        -- NO, I say --!

    [takes off his crown and slams it down on the floor -- it rolls circularly along
    the dais with a ringing sound. Continues, not shouting, but still quite loud:]

        Let us at least have it plain, gentles, without a false plating of silver
        over casting of lead! If you will not trust me, then you will not trust
        me. No one here may say truthfully that I don't take counsel, that I do not
        consider the well-being of all, or that I haven't ruled you well all these
        centuries. Or why haven't you complained before this day, then? But comes
        a time, in peaceful hall as in field of war, that counsel must cease and
        deeds begin. Since you will not allow my leadership, I cannot allow you to
        claim it.

    [to Beren -- very formally and calmly]

        My lord of Dorthonion, I beg you to accept my apologies for failing in my
        assistance to you. But where one had planned to go, alone, two shall surely
        stand better chance. I cannot pledge any more than this, my own sword and
        strength to your aid, -- though I had hoped at least that I'd rate better than
        nothing for a retinue!

    [looks around the hall, not really seeing any of those present]

        Will none of you come with me, then? For the hope of glory, if nothing else,
        or from vanity, so that Nargothrond will have some tiny crumb of pride left?
        Or are you all cowards now? Did every scrap of moral integrity and courage
        get burnt in the Dagor Bragollach as well? Must I be evicted from the refuge
        I built for you with nothing and with no one to take my part?

    [The Steward rises and moves to stand beside him.]

Steward: [gently]
        Sire -- you had only to ask.

    [Finrod gives him a Look of exasperation and apology, still shaking with fury]

Captain: [as quietly]
        Actually, you didn't.

    [over his shoulder, louder]

        --Lads? For the old songs' sake?

    [The two Rangers who were present the night of Beren's arrival and this morning
    come forward with the Soldier and the Guard, ignoring the "don't be insane"
    remonstrating of friends and colleagues in the crowd.]

        Anyone else? It's no different from any other mission: you'll either be coming
        back or faring-forth -- there aren't any safe times, when arrows miss and axes
        don't cut, you ought to know that by now!

    [The Cavalry Commander's aide rises and shoves back his chair -- his chief gives him
    an angry look, and the Warrior stares down his CO and goes across to stand beside
    the King. He is joined by the three Guards who were at the Fens -- the other turns
    away from his friends' expectant looks. Gwindor jumps up, and is grabbed on the
    one hand by his father and the other by hs fiancee, who assail him silently with
    pleas until he sits down, biting his lip in shame, head bowed.]

        Is that it?

    [The Captain looks around at the volunteers, raises an eyebrow]

        Just like old times, eh, Your Majesty?

    [Finrod gives a short bitter laugh]

        My lord, what arrangements are to be made for the government of the realm?

Finrod: [shrugging]
        I don't know. It isn't my job any more.

        Surely you will not give your city over to these strangers' authority?

Finrod: [offhand]
        No, I don't need to -- Nargothrond seems to have done that for me.

Steward: [giving up on rational persuasion]

        My lord, hear me --

    [He kneels to pick up the crown and remains on one knee as he speaks:]

        Perhaps they have not realized this yet, and perhaps they choose to ignore
        it, but regardless of what has just taken place, you are still as much their
        King as you are mine. You must not leave Nargothrond leaderless, -- for you
        have not that right, any more than these have the right to do what they have
        done, to set aside this burden unconsidered. You must choose in your turn a
        steward for the realm, to hold it in your absence.

    [The King gives him the Look again, but nods heavily and comes to accept it with
    careful graciousness from his hands]

Finrod: [tiredly]
        Very well. --Orodreth, you're next in line, it's yours by right: if and when
        I come back I look to you to make me a full report on what you've accomplished,
        but until then, it's all yours -- Catch!

    [He tosses the crown to his brother]

Orodreth: [catching it and looking at it in dismay]
        What can I possibly say in return? I cannot even thank you without sounding like
        a hypocrite, as though I wished for this -- or as though I'm mocking you.

Finrod: [mild tone]
        You're welcome.

    [There is a pause, in which tension seems to dissipate and people look at each other
    all through the hall, seeming slightly stunned]

Beren: [to self, half aloud]
        I thought I'd already known the worst of fear, and guarded against it.

Finrod: [distantly]
        Well. It's always clear after the fact, isn't it? Weird, isn't it, how one can't
        change it, even forewarned, even prepared, no matter how one tries . . .

        What are you talking about? --Do you mean that nonsense about the dream you had,
        the one that 'Tariel was so worked up about at the housewarming party? You do,
        don't you?

        --Not a dream. --Nothing so clear.


        Well, one good thing's come of all this -- I won't have to shout at people
        for not building my arbalests and not telling me about it.

    [He is a little short of breath when he speaks]

Orodreth: [earnestly, sotto voce]
        Finrod, you cannot mean this. It's -- insane, utterly and absolutely insane.
        It's all very well to honor one's bargains, but not to the point of self-
        destruction and forfeiture of everything one has worked for. With a little
        careful negotiation I'm sure this unfortunate business can be put behind
        us, you can satisfy your honor with some reasonable grant of assistance,
        and we'll figure out a way to placate the Sons of Feanor -- I know you didn't
        anticipate this, but --

        You mean you didn't realize this was a possibility? I thought you were the
        shrewd one, brother. Of course I knew it might happen this way: why do you
        think I grovelled so carefully and consideredly to our cousins all day,
        -- and set only guards that I tr-- that I thought I could trust?

Orodreth: [incredulous]
        Are you telling me that you had thought of this beforehand? That this isn't
        some impulsive gesture of yours, but that you actually planned to go through
        with this mad scheme? You really mean to risk throwing away your life for
        the sake of this mortal bravo and his, might I say upon reflection, extremely
        offensive endeavor? Bad enough that you lavished miruvor on him as though it
        were wine, as though he could appreciate it! I know the Beorings saved your
        life once, but you cannot actually believe that there is a real equation --

Finrod: [quietly but fierce]
        Orodreth -- do you realize what you have just said? -- Because I certainly
        hope that you do not.

    [He stops talking, looking rather pale]

        Don't take that tone with me. You're not Father. Not that you listened to him
        either. He was right to turn back -- if only you'd shown half the sense --

Finrod: [interrupts]
        I didn't make you follow me--

    [checks again, his face drawn]

        Are you going to take all day, Finrod old chap? Could you hurry it up there,
        do you think?

    [Beren, dead white and shaking with fury, stalks over to the Sons of Feanor.
    Apprehensively the Captain and the Steward trail him, ready to restrain him, but
    he just stops a pace away and stares at them for a a long moment.]

        You know what? Orcs don't pretend to be your friends -- they just try to kill
        you. That's the only difference I can see --

    [Curufin's smile falters for an instant. Celegorm reaches down to shove him away,
    but Beren grabs his wrist and they stand there locked, the Elven prince unable
    to pull away without undignified brawling. Curufin looks over at Finrod, warningly:]

Curufin: [half-lifting his knife from its hanger]
        Leash your hound, cousin. --Leash him, before I crop his ears for you!

    [Finrod's chief officers catch hold of Beren's shoulders, but he does not move at
    their urging, still locking stares and arms with Celegorm.]


    [Beren allows the Captain and Steward to draw him back with them, turning away
    as though the Sons of Feanor are not even worthy of his contempt.]

Curufin: [lightly]
        That boy's a wild animal, brother. I'm surprised our cousin isn't afraid to
        have such a beast at his side.

        No doubt the wolf's-head will turn on him in time.

Curufin: [evil smile]
        Barahirion: did your mother perchance wear such warg-hide buskins as yourself?
        Was she a warrior, too? --Or were you just raised by wolves, eh?

    [Beren's companions make sure they're blocking him securely, but Beren only
    glances over his shoulder at the Sons of Feanor, almost bored.]

Beren: [coldly]
        My mother was worth ten of you.

    [looks them up and down and sneers]

        --She could have taken you both.

    [While no doubt more loyal than accurate, this assertion is not exactly the
    response that Curufin was anticipating, and he cannot think of anything to
    say for the moment.]

Captain: [softly]
        My lord -- he isn't worth your time.

Beren: [ignoring him]
        When we come back -- you're going down. My word on it.

        So you do fight against the Eldar, --Elf-Friend.

        I hunt fell things. And I keep my promises.

Finrod: [quietly]
        Beren. To me.

    [At once Beren strides over to the King, wheels and drops to one knee at Finrod's
    left side, rips off the peace-bonds, sets both hands on his sword-hilt, and does
    not move. He knows exactly what statement he's making, and Curufin can't match him
    for sardonic looks. The King lays his hand on Beren's shoulder, ostensibly in
    approval, but he is actually leaning rather heavily on him for support.]


        They are no concern of ours henceforth. Hush! Do not speak your thought.
        Attend me -- as did your father in the Fens.

    [Beren, startled that the King is reading his unvoiced worries, and still more so
    by his first encounter with one of the greatest legends of his people, nevertheless
    says nothing, but rises gracefully, continuing to bear Finrod's weight without
    seeming to do so.]

        --It's only a little dizziness. Stay me for a few minutes more.

    [aloud, to Orodreth]

        Brother, we will not trouble you. All I ask is that you ensure we are not troubled
        in our departing, and that my people are not detained or maltreated prior to our
        leaving, which will be as soon as we can possibly make it.

    [At that moment only Beren knows that Finrod can't see straight, and that he's faking
    being okay to a large extent -- and gives away nothing of the King's weakness by his
    stance or expression.]

Orodreth: [bitterly]
        What makes you think I can ensure anything?

Finrod: [low voice]
        I would not ask, if I did not. The people have accepted you. They require your
        authority now, lest they scatter like doves at the shadow of the hawk. You
        must be there for them. Give them such orders as they can obey, and will take
        honor from obeying. Do not contend openly with these rivals. Let the City have
        rest from strife. That's about all I can give you for advice, except -- Good luck.

        Will you always be walking away from your responsibilities, Finrod? How many
        times does this make? First Mother and Amarie, then Father, then the Host to
        follow this hobby of humans, then haring all over Beleriand setting up a pocket
        empire and not sticking with any part of it long enough to see it through --
        and they laugh at me for running away -- once! Whatever are you going to be
        when you grow up, Finrod?

        What, exactly, would "through" consist of --?

    [stops, shakes head]

        Orodreth, you don't want answers to those questions. I don't do rhetorical well,
        and real answers would take us months, or years. It's late to be bringing all this
        up, and bad timing to set upon me now. I cannot and will not fight with you here,
        under the shadow of the Oath. I'm just asking you, please, to help me prevent
        anyone getting hurt today.

    [holds out free hand to the Prince, who turns away angrily with folded arms]

        Of course I'll do what I can to prevent violence. Of course. But don't expect
        to smile and get away with everything this time. I don't forgive you for
        placing this burden on me -- though why I'm surprised, I don't know.

Finrod: [genuinely confused]
        When have I ever wronged you? By giving you the crown? Should I have given it
        to another? Whom, then?

    [stops suddenly again, sighing]

        --Never mind.

        Running off with your mortal friends again? Off to play soldier now?

Finrod: [refusing to be drawn]
        Yes. --Edrahil, see that the corridor is cleared and the doors all sealed.
        I don't wish to be cut off, unarmed as I am save for yourselves. I'm fairly
        certain all will respect your authority still.

    [The Steward goes quickly out, his hand resting automatically on the hilt of the dirk
    Beren gave him.]

        Finrod, you can't be imagining --

Finrod: [grimly]
        I can imagine anything. I've seen worse. --As have you.


        --Beren. I'm all right. Don't answer me aloud or in gesture. Can you match
        strides with me? And not too fast -- it might come back. Good. Everyone! When
        Edrahil returns we go, and we do not stop until we reach my chambers which have
        been secured to me and mine alone since The Beoring's arrival. There we'll take
        as our base of operations until we depart for good. --Someone get the maps.

    [The Steward reappears in the doorway of the throne room and nods to the King.
    Finrod straightens, shaking off the weakness that has touched him and smiles with
    a somewhat mocking expression.]

        All right, lads, all clear. Form "nernehta" -- only without the shields, of course!

    [Against the hostile watchfulness of the Sons of Feanor across the room and the
    guilty stares of the citizenry, the Ten set themselves into the ancient moving defensive
    formation composed of a doubled wedge, surrounding their King and his liege as they
    sweep rapidly from the scene of the debacle of Nargothrond. On the opposite side of
    the throne room Curufin, Celegorm and their adherents-by-default go the other way;
    Orodreth and the others of the King's family and near-kin remain in stunned disarray.]


        In silence Beren now attends upon the King
        -- sovereign at least of the few yet owning him --
        musing on the grievous claiming of the ring's
        right, and how from one wreck to another grim
        (and more so indeed it seems) he moves,
        that catastrophe doth dog his steps --
        until in time needs must shatter all he loves,
        Tho' wherefore truly and for what past slips
        as punishment or payment kens he not.

    [Back in the royal apartments, where the mood of the antechamber is anything
    but peaceful and conducive to thought, Finrod is exhorting his remaining troops:]

Finrod: [urgent and grim]
        My friends, go and make such farewells as you will, to persons or to places,
        and ready what you must.  What you lack of gear, from use or wear, speak to
        Edrahil of it, and he'll make sure it's taken care of.  Do not engage in
        altercation.  That includes -- conversation, discussion, argument whether voice
        or mindspeech -- or looks! -- as well as any physical hostile contact. Even
        accidental --

    [pointed look at the Ranger Captain]

        -- is strictly to be avoided. I enjoin you, upon your proven loyalty -- obey
        me in this! We cannot afford to have blood spilled this day.  I cannot afford
        to lose one of you.

Captain: [without resentment]
        Shall I bond weapons, then?

        Nay, friend, I trust you -- and will not have any of you defenseless. --Be

        We shall.

    [No one else speaks as they leave, subdued. Finrod looks at the Steward, who has
    not gone with the rest.]

        No farewells?

        Not this side of the Sea, my King.

    [Finrod sighs and nods. Stiffly he leans against the table, his shoulders falling,
    now that there are only the three of them.]

        Holy stars -- I've not been so tired in -- ten years. That took everything
        I had and then some, to keep at bay. It nearly had me a time or two there.
        --But Namo and his House will have no occasion to complain of me today.

Beren: [faintly]
        I don't understand what happened.

Finrod: [ironic]
        I prepared for the wrong treason. I warded against Alqualonde, and I should
        have looked back farther -- to Morgoth's Parole.

    [laughs slightly, shakes head.]

        You are giving up your kingdom.

        I am their lord -- however ungrateful my people seem, I cannot be their lord
        and consign them to civil war and slaughter unawares. Far better this, a wrong
        but a lesser wrong, and in time reparable. I hope.

        But now you are no lord either!

Steward: [ferociously]
        Is he not your lord as well as mine? Or will you too forsake him now?

    [Beren stares at him, shocked, then rips off his sword-belt and slams it down
    on the tiles in front of the King, falling on hands and knees, head bent. Finrod
    gives his Steward a reproachful look.]

        That sword's passed so many times between our Houses that I think we may
        consider it given, Beor. I need no pledges from you, my friend, I know
        what you meant. --Get up, get up!

    [To the Steward:]

        Will you please see to darkening my armor? And Lord Beren's, with your own?
        I need to reconsider what we shall do now, in the time that remains.

     [The Steward nods and leaves the room]

        I mean to be ready to go at sunset, when neither the eyes of dayfarers or of
        nocturnal spies will be on the wing or at their best. Ask for whatever you need
        as well --

Beren: [urgent]
        No. No, look. My original plan will still work. Give me supplies and a map of
        the passes and I'll leave under the cover of darkness and trouble you no more
        This shouldn't be happening.

Finrod: [shaking his head]
        It doesn't matter. It's happened.

        No, I'll leave, and it will be all right.

    [casting around the chamber]

        Where's my stuff? I'll go now, before anyone knows -- they won't even care,
        will they? Unless I come back with it --

    [he starts rummaging frantically in his pack.]

        Where's my gambeson? He said something about mending it -- and the rest of
        my knives -- my armour --

    [not speaking coherently or tracking at all]

        Let me get my cloak -- I was going to sneak in as a thrall anyway --

        Beren, stop.

        No, I can't, I've got to go, this is insane--

Finrod: [catches hold of his arm]
        It's not that simple.  You can't change what's happened --

Beren: [wrenches away -- or tries to]
        --but I can disappear, and then it won't matter -- please, let me go --

    [tries to pull away again. Finrod shoves him against the wall.]

    [effects: reverb and a brief flare of white light. Beren freezes.]

        Beren -- I am not Morgoth: I cannot reshape your will even if I would. All I
        can do is set you in bonds rather than let you run mad to your destruction,
        like any mortal lord -- though you hate me for it after. But I will do so if
        I must -- but I entreat you, son of my friend, do not make me do so!

    [cautiously releases Beren.]

Beren: [hardly audible]

    [he slips down to his knees, bowing his head]

Finrod: [kneeling with him]
        Are you master of yourself, now? You will not try to flee again?

    [Beren, eyes closed, shakes his head, leaning back against the wall. The Steward
    returns, having heard the shouting, and looks on in concern.]

        When I finish we will speak a little. Just -- rest, be calm, and endeavor
        to accept what you cannot understand for the present.

    [Still frowning, Finrod returns to the table and starts retracing lines on the
    diagrams laid out there. Beren is expressionless and silent, but not managing
    to stay calm, it seems.]

Finrod: [gently]
        You're clamouring louder than an army, and I can't seem to shut you out,
        and I cannot work this way.  Can you not still your thoughts even a little?

    [Beren, jaw clenched, nods and tries to stay calm -- outwardly succeeds, at least.
    A short pause: Finrod sighs, sets down maps and goes to kneel by Beren again.]

        Beren. You did not bring about your father's death. --Do you think any mortal
        man could have returned faster than you did -- that if you had only somehow
        pushed yourself harder you could have warned them in time? And do you truly
        think your presence at the attack would have changed anything except the number
        of the dead? Were they not too many for you to fight, after? Did they not take
        care to surround the camp and cut off all avenues of retreat beforehand? You
        could not have sacrificed yourself to guard their escape -- only died with him.

Beren: [self-loathing]
        You weren't there -- I should've--

Finrod: [flinches]
        --I am there now. And I see -- as you cannot -- that with what you were given,
        of strength and knowledge, you could have done no more. Be at peace, my friend:
        you are not the primary agent of disaster in Middle-earth. Leave that blame
        where it belongs -- on Morgoth's doorstep.

Beren: [bleakly]
        My father apologized to me before he sent me off that last time. It wasn't
        like there was any reason for him to, I drew the lot fair and square, he didn't
        pick me in particular -- though he should have, given the situation. Only --
        if I'd been on point instead of the guys, maybe . . .

    [looking at the King]

        Are you all right, sir?

Finrod: [sad smile]
        Only a trifle jealous. I parted ill from my father, and I do not know how or
        when I shall ever be reconciled with him.

    [Beren is quiet, his face expressionless -- outwardly; whatever is unvoiced causes
    Finrod to recoil as at a blow.]

Steward: [softly]
        My King, I would say were he one of us so cruelly held in Memory, to take him
        beside the Falls and let the voice of the waters calm him.

        I would say the same, mortal or not, but with the unsettled situation, I cannot
        dare that.

    [remains frowning in deep thought for a long moment before an idea occurs to him]

        Edrahil -- bring me my harp, if you please.

    [the Steward nods in surprised approval]

        Of course. You'll want it tuned in Stars', correct?

        Yes, thank you.


        No -- wait. There is one still more restful in its accords.  The tuning
        Treelight, if you please.

    [The Steward looks at him oddly]

        It goes against all custom, sire.

        Custom appears to have been banished to the Void this day.  And none of us
        three shall be offended, unless you think it ill done in itself--?

        Never, my lord.

    [He exits, leaving Finrod beside Beren. They do not speak before the Steward
    returns with a small but exquisitely-elegant harp of wood inlaid with gold.
    Finrod plays a run of notes ascending and descending, and frowns.]

        It's a trifle flat.

    [He retunes quickly. This is clearly a small ritual between them of longstanding
    custom; the Steward smiles a little despite his obvious worry. He begins to play,
    at first a rapid piece with much counterpoint and a rather martial air, only
    gradually slowing it down and introducing less abrupt changes of interval and
    harmony, until at last it is at a tempo and modality free of agitation and stress.
    (If you are fortunate enough to have a copy of The Harper's Land by Ann Heyman and
    Alison Kinnaird you will have an inkling of what it should sound like. --For
    equestrians, it is similar to getting a nervous, jigging, high-strung beast down
    to a proper collected-yet-relaxed gait -- not just throwing a switch from one to
    the other.) When the set is finished he continues to block out chords and let
    them ring in a low, continuous background. Beren has slipped farther to lie curled
    up on his side, eyes closed, on the floor.]

Steward: [low voice]
        Does he sleep?

Finrod: [frowning]
        I can't tell. But his pain no longer consumes his thought.

    [looks up at the Steward. Hesitantly:]

        You should not have bespoken him so harshly. My honor is not worth
        such zeal in defense.

Steward: [bitterly]
        I beg you, do not remind me. --We failed them, my King. Did we not?

Finrod: [closing his eyes]

        They were betrayed. And not by our neglect alone.

        You sensed that too?

        He strove to conceal it, but the fact was too much for him. And yet
        there's no anger there, either. --Only for the Enemy that caused it.

        Would we all had such wisdom.


        I think -- I think we have just seen what happens when the Oath encounters
        a mortal soul.

        Not a pleasant sight, indeed. As though not strong wine had mastered him, but
        almost as if he'd taken the flat of a blade, helmless.

Finrod: [anxious look]
        Edrahil, do you think it possible for words to invoke themselves? For a
        Doom to call itself down?

        How so, my lord?

        I don't understand this at all, this business from start to end, coming now
        and seemingly from nowhere. Why should Elwe -- Elu -- suddenly ask for a
        Silmaril of all things? He's never even seen them. And as far as I dare read,
        no one had been speaking of them to suggest it, not Luthien certainly, not
        from his thoughts --

        There is a not-incomprehensible association, perhaps -- in that the Silmarils
        are the most rare and precious of all things in existence, and the daughter of
        Melian and Thingol the most precious of all things to them, and hence the idea
        of one infinitely-valued and inaccessible treasure to be set as price for another?

Finrod: [unconvinced]
        Hm. --I still don't like it. If an impossible quest was what was needed, why not
        ask for Glaurung's tongue to prove him killed? No less inaccessible, and certainly
        more useful than a Silmaril.

        My lord, you're the one with Vision; my talent is for overlooked-but-necessary
        details. Do you think it possible for the Curse to waken itself again?

        I don't know. . . It tastes of Morgoth's will to me, though I can't see how he
        could directly influence any of it. I could spend a dozen years pondering the
        implications of this --

        But we have not twelve years, my King -- nor even ten --

    [breaks off]

        Speak your mind, friend.

        It comes to me that these last ten years have been the most dearly bought of all
        my life, at least, and that I should have spent them in better use.

        I know. --Where did they go, master of my Household? How shall we account for them?
        Two years of grim hornlocked contest, driven back hoof by hoof until the slip
        and rout of Minas Tirith, leaving the winner to bellow and tear across the North
        without bar; five years after of grateful respite, when our Enemy seemed content
        to hold what he'd taken without further onslaught, barring us in turn, testing us
        in small ways that did not cost us much, and we recovered from the Burning or
        so it seemed, so far as that could be. And then after it was done we learned of
        the trials of the far marches, and their silent fall, and we knew why we had had
        so much of peace -- "so much" I say, when it was in truth as an hour, was it not?

    [The Steward nods]

        An hour that slipped by unnoticed, and they were gone from this world. And I
        mourned them, as did you all, and reproached myself, and knew it vain, and set
        my mind to the safeguarding of the West, and the keeping of this City, and the
        inevitable clash that is to come -- and thought to honor them in this way. And
        then the strange news came, in the very days that war kindled anew against my
        kinsman, and I much distracted, of one the Singers said the woods themselves sang
        of, and a name not yet dead under the stars, and I rejoiced with you, and before
        I did anything word came hard upon the first that he was gone, overwhelmed by an
        army of wolves and dark sorcery. And again I mourned, and thought the song of
        Beor was done --

    [as he speaks he rings the lowest string of the harp, twelve times, and then once more]

        until the hour that he came before me, famished, in rags, far past his strength
        -- asking only because what had been demanded of him was beyond any mortal measure
        -- No sword, no spear or bolt I've ever taken has hurt a fraction as much -- not
        the Cold, not the sight of the fires in the East -- only that other Fire, and the
        fall of knowledge that my brothers were gone: for I knew then that Morgoth's lies
        were true, that we should spend their brief lives in lieu of our own, and think no
        more of it than of a faithful hound slain by wolf or boar --

Steward: [anguished]
        No, my King, not so --

Finrod: [ignoring him]
        -- and Nienna witness for me, I knew the same terrible joy-in-sorrow as at the Fens
        of Serech, when the ox-horns sang out of the ash cloud and out of utter destruction
        came our redemption. What price for a King of the Eldar, then? More than a pretty
        trifle, a "thing made by craft," indeed? Time to find out --

Beren: [with tremendous effort, not otherwise moving]
        Gentles . . . I am not asleep . . .

        Your pardon, Beren.

        If you'd prefer . . . I'll retire apart . . . my lords.

        I'm not leaving you alone. I have nothing to say which should be safeguarded
        from your hearing -- neither of you, nor of any other. But if you need silence
        to rest we will converse in silence, though I think it rude to do so before

        That doesn't matter -- I can rest in a hurricane.

    [Slowly he pulls up onto his side and draws up his knees, locking his arms around
    and resting his head on them. He looks sick and more than a little dazed still.]

        But you don't want me hearing -- that --

Finrod: [coolly]
        Do you presume to tell me my own will? If you had been truly asleep you would
        have heard and known it upon waking. If I had not wished you to hear, I would
        not have spoken. You are Edain, not Eldar, Beren: remember that there are many
        things you cannot understand.

        Including what you said. I don't blame you for not understanding what Time is
        to us, how could you? but what --

Finrod: [breaking in]
        --Do you recollect the words of your kinsman Bereg?

Beren: [stiffly]
        We don't talk about him.

        Nevertheless, as with most of the lies of our Enemy, what was said in those days
        had not a little of truth in it. Not always the same, perhaps -- I trust I have
        taken more care than say, Caranthir, for all of my subjects, not simply those my
        nearest kin -- but it might be argued that the Elf-friends have had precious little
        in return for their friendship to us.

Beren: [dismissive]
        That wasn't what I was asking about. I meant, what did you mean about the Oath
        trying to start all this? It's not real, is it? It can't do things, like a person?
        Unless you mean it was what started the War in Middle-earth in the first place,
        because what started this was me getting stuck on the southern border and not
        being able to get around the cordon. Otherwise I'd have gone west to Brethil,
        obviously, not down into Doriath, and none of this would ever have happened --
        You're not saying the Silmarils are doing it somehow? Are you?

        No. Not quite. What do you remember learning about the Night of Darkness, about
        the Jewels and Feanor, about the Doom?

        Um. Huh. "--There was considerable disagreement as to what should be done next.
        Mistakes were made. People got hurt. --Here we are."

Finrod: [covers eyes briefly]
        Ah. --Was I really that reticent?

Beren: [trying very hard not to sound at all critical]
        There was more, but I was pretty young and it didn't make a lot of sense to me
        then. My cousins and I couldn't get it. We figured it had to be something Elven,
        or maybe just Feanor -- the -- with the . . . the Kinslaying. We were just happy
        to play at being mythic heroes battling Morgoth and not worrying about the details.
        Now . . . being older and possibly wiser, I've seen enough of what stress does to
        ordinary people to realize that no, it's not that completely incomprehensible
        after all.


        And yeah, I think that probably a lot got left out, or maybe we just didn't bother
        remembering it, because now that I think about it it took longer for my uncle to
        recap the story of The Business With The Vaharions' Five Sheep, Or Was it Seven,
        And The Rights To The Salmon Pool In Northfell when he got back from sorting that
        all out, and that was probably a bit less complicated in reality than the history
        of the Noldor returning to Middle-earth.

Finrod: [quietly]
        -- Probably.

        But I still don't get it about the Silmarils. This place is full of jewels.
        Are they that different? What kind of magic spell is on them that makes
        people go crazy in their presence? Or even outside it, like you're telling me
        now? How are they different from the things I've seen here today?

Finrod: [remembering, rapt]
        They're like nothing on Arda -- quite literally. All that remains of the
        First Song is in them, the first calling of the world into the Void. They
        sing, you know, like blossoms themselves, they're alive as the Trees from
        which they were taken, they inhabit the shells of Earth as the souls of
        Elves and Men inhabit our bodies, and they shine like all joy and all hope
        together. In a way -- and I know this sounds almost blasphemous -- but they
        were almost more wonderful than the Trees themselves, for being the work of
        hands, of a mere Elf, whose years are to the gods' not as the years of Men
        to ours, but as a butterfly's in the Song of the World. And they are deadly
        -- the Starqueen blessed them so that no heart given to evil may endure them,
        and any that dare to lay hands on them unrightfully will be burned by their
        light as with fire. --And yet Morgoth cannot lay them aside, though they
        torture him, for the glory of them, and the living delight of their song . . .

Beren: [quiet -- in shock]
        I didn't think you wanted the Silmarils.

Finrod: [matter-of-fact]
        I don't. I never have. --What does that tell you?

Beren: [flatly]
        That I should be more terrified than I already am, only I don't think I can be.

        Don't be. It's counter-productive after a certain point. It doesn't change
        the odds any.


        But they have a power over mind and heart that cannot be measured -- they are
        so far beyond any other earthly thing that, next one of them, this

    [touches the Nauglamir at his neck -- think if Lalique had worked at Amarna!]

        would be no more than a strand of such pebbles as your forebears counted precious,
        bright and glittering but nothing of depth and light in them, no mystery to
        hold the spirit enraptured. For them, one might consign the whole world else to
        Darkness everlasting, and keep them for one's self alone, without any thought to
        any other or care for any lesser thing. One has -- and, indeed, two. Who can say
        what mastery they might have, not in imagination but seen in their living selves?

Beren: [sharply]
        Tinuviel's not a thing.

Finrod: [grave]
        Neither are the Silmarils. --But I have no doubt of you. I only warn you, for
        your own reckoning.


        It may well be that all of our people failed at first because it was fated that
        your Kindred should take part in their redemption, and that ere this hour all
        other attempts were useless. It would be a strange thing, if it should fall to
        my hand, and yours, would it not?

Beren: [whispering]
        Sir . . .  why did you come here?

        I think --


        No, I'll not burden you.

Beren: [gently]
        Isn't that what a liege's for?

Finrod: [distant]
        . . . I never wanted a domain, a name of glory and renown as my sister and our
        poor brothers, and our cousins did -- I sought only like our father to save
        what could be saved from the wreckage of that Night, to guard those who gave
        no thought to the future, and could not guard themselves. And I did that, and
        I did it well, as well as might be done, I think I may say without boasting.
        But who can say truly what he does, and whether his motives are unmixed? It
        would take a wiser heart than mine --

        Will they remember what you did for them? When you return, will Nargothrond
        accept you again?

Finrod: [easily]
        Oh, we won't be coming back here. Orodreth can have it -- he'll do well enough.
        I couldn't bear it, and neither could they, if I returned to take up the crown,
        whether I sneered at them more scornfully than Feanor himself, or smiling forgave
        all.  But I'm done with cities, anyway. There are lands to the East you've never
        seen, lands beyond Gelion where the Singers travel, beautiful country of many
        rivers, and mountains beyond that. We don't need strongholds: we did without them
        before, we can do without them again. The nomad tribes manage well enough -- you
        yourself attest to that, needing no roof nor wall -- perhaps we will find the
        scattered ones and bring them together and create something new never before known
        upon Arda, a civilization without a city, mortal and Eldar together and making not
        the old mistakes, but a new music that has never been heard yet --

    [Beren looks rather wide-eyed at this; the Steward enters with the King's armour
    in time to overhear this last and looks quietly horrified. Finrod notices --

        --I'm sorry, Edrahil. You must be so weary of my wanderings and wild fancies --

Steward: [who is fully armed now save for gauntlets and helmet]
        My lord, have I ever complained of them?

    [answers self]

        Indeed, yes, often. Do I miss the delights of the field or the allure of sleeping
        under the stars? Not away from them, no. Would I forgo the right to attend you in
        peace to any lesser member of your household? No more would I yield up my place at
        your right hand beneath your guerdon.

        It won't be like last time, my Herald. No fanfares, no glories, no brave ridings-
        forth this venture.

        -- Or ever again in Middle-earth, it seems. I know.

Finrod: [with gentle regret]
        How should I have managed without your good help, my friend?

Steward: [dryly]
        No doubt as I should have done had my comrades succeeded in persuading me to
        accompany them with the foremost, on the Ships -- that is to say, ill.

    [An Age of shared battles, disasters, expeditions and simple day-in, day-out
    work underlie the smile that follows between them. Regretfully:]

        And now, unfortunately, it falls to me to make the perchance-unwelcome point
        that certain matters needs must be settled, and settled publicly, before we
        depart. It cannot be seen that there is any confusion in the chain of command,
        my king. While it is true that we undertake this errand on Lord Beren's behalf
        and at his behest, it is not and must not appear so that he leads, or that
        you obey him, rather than answer a vassal's just appeal for support. It were
        better he should swear you fealty before all, needless though you think it,
        than that your shield-band be troubled at heart.

    [to Beren]

        I ask your pardon for such chill words, milord.

Beren: [unoffended]
        No, you're right. Certainly there should be nothing left up in the air,
        we don't need any more trouble. Shall I swear now, before you?

Steward: [shakes head]
        Better that all should witness, Heir of Beor.

        All right.

    [Finrod sighs.]

        Will you arm, sire?

Finrod: [quietly]
        --In a little. I need rest, and it will not take long to ready with your help.

    [He begins to play again, not just tonalities, but very quietly, eyes closed,
    leaning his cheek against the soundbox of the harp. Softly and without disturbing
    his playing, the Steward kneels behind him and removes the Nauglamir. When he
    returns from placing it in its casket, he begins to braid back the King's hair --
    evidently it isn't Elvish custom to just rip out any bits that catch in the links
    if it's gotten long enough to snag in one's mail. Beren watches from the hearth,
    forlornly, remembering when he too had people to look after, and to help him.]

    [Little by little the tempo of the music increases, Working in reverse this time,
    not to agitation and haste but to a steady driving pulse like the sea at incoming
    tide, as the King begins to recover. More and more themes enter and are brought
    into harmony despite the complexity. Beren starts, as though almost recognizing
    what he hears, and begins to actively follow the melodies, alertness starting
    to replace his mindblasted expression.]

    [Very quietly -- or at least as quietly as is possible for a Hound larger than most
    ponies -- Huan slinks in along the edge of the door and around the wall to Beren's
    side, dropping down on the floor next him. Head on paws, he too listens to the
    King's music. Just as it seems that there can be no addition to the richness of it,
    Finrod straightens and begins his Song:

        Sing ye stars and storms of the heavens,
            sing ye beasts of earth and sea,
                sing ye eagles of the air,
                 and all growing things!

            I will sing at my rising
                and at my going forth
                    and at my returning

    [The other nine return, singly or by twos, during this time, to set their
    packs down and sit beside them on the floor, listening in silence]

       Sing all works of hands, all arts of the mind
            sing all things shaped and shining
                sing every craft of deed and voice --

            I will sing at my rising
                and at my going forth
                    and at my returning

    [Beren joins in, hesitantly at first, on the last two verses -- much to the amazement
    of the others, both that he knows the song and that his voice is so good.]

       With the mountains and the great seas,
            the deeps of the forest and the deeps of the earth
                and the unfathomable deeps of the sky --

            I will sing at my rising
                and at my going forth
                    and at my returning:
            I will ever sing the Secret Fire,
                the Light Beyond,
                    the Flame Unburning
                        for all my days.

    [by the last stanza all have joined the chorus, impelled by example. When the
    final chord has almost died away the King stops it and sets aside the harp.]

        My friends, my faithful ones -- I ask your forgiveness for rash words spoken
        this day in your presence. I did ill to shame you before you had a chance to
        speak your choice. I would not have anyone come with us who comes out of shame
        and not in freedom -- if anyone here has been compelled thus, be free to go,
        with all my blessing and thanks for your many years of service and hardship,
        from Helcaraxe to the Siege of Angband.

    [No one moves. Finrod looks away for a moment, overcome]

        I too was impelled to go on a quest as well you know, both you who came and you
        who joined us hereafter. It may well be, as it now seems likely, that my destiny
        is to wrest from Morgoth the Light he stole and return it to the world once more
        -- and ever has been so, and for that reason I was driven across the Sea not
        wholly of mine own desiring, though of my own will indeed.  It may be. At any
        rate, we resume at long last what we came here to do, and perhaps through the
        strange workings of Doom we will accomplish what all our agelong warfare has not
        done, in secrecy and seeming folly. There are no guarantees -- but I need not tell
        any who stood upon the fields of Ard-galen so!

    [he smiles wryly, stands and crosses to the room's center, where he picks up Dagmor]

        We are joined in this endeavor by one far from unknown to you, either in his
        person or his race, The Beoring, who makes now his own personal deed of faith
        to lay beside yours. Beren?

    [Beren rises and comes over to kneel at his feet. He is tracking better and appears
    in complete control now, but there should still be a slightly concussed shading to
    his movements and expressions, as compared to his normal mode.]

        Beren, son of Barahir, son of Bregor, in direct line of Balan known as Beor, will
        you exchange faith with me, acclaiming me as your King, to serve with truth in
        word and deed for so long as you shall live, accepting this sword of my hand in
        mark of my faith in you, to wield only against the Darkness beneath the light of
        moon and sun and stars?

        For so long as I live, my King --

    [Finrod places the blade across his outstretched hands and sets his right hand on
    Beren's head in acknowledgment briefly. As Beren rises the others come to take his
    place, the Captain foremost, and kneel before the King]

        What's this? It has been long, since you swore me fealty --

    [looking at the youngest Ranger]

        and not long at all, since you gave me your faith -- you cannot think I have
        any doubt or need at this hour . . . ?

        Doubt, no -- yet perhaps need no less --

    [He offers up his blade to the King, who shakes his head, but takes each warrior's
    oath in turn, after which each goes to stand beside Beren. Finrod, not trying to
    conceal his tears at their gesture, nonetheless raises an eyebrow when the Steward
    kneels at the last.]

Steward: [smiles]
        Shall I ask, then, what I refuse myself?

    [receiving his sword back from Finrod, sheaths it and rises. As Finrod waves his
    two chief lords to the map table, the Steward takes up the King's mail-coat and
    arming doublet and proceeds to help him out of his silken over-robes and into his
    battledress while they speak. There should be no awkwardness: after more than 400
    years of war this isn't something that requires much effort or thought.]

        Those are the only two realistic options that I see -- but give me your opinions.
        Scaling Ered Gorgoroth is out of the question, and it would be folly to go all the
        way round East through milords' brothers' lands, even had we the resources for it.
        Either we must go as we planned originally, with stealth rather than speed, and
        quietly, along Sirion and up through the Fens -- or else work farther to the West
        up through the mountains and down into Angband from the Hithlum side. Your thoughts?

        I agree that East is ruled out no less than Northeast, but to cross the Ered Wethrin
        twice in going and returning is suicide, in my judgment. --Stand straight, the
        shoulderline's still twisted.

        Winter approaches, Sire, and it is ill to be caught in the mountains then, even
        for us. I know The Beoring has endured it, but I think it a grave risk to compound
        what will not be an easy business.

Finrod: [troubled]
        I would say that our best chance should be to traverse this path, along the river
        valley, through the forest screen and stay out of the line-of-sight of Tol Sirion
        for as long as possible. We know that territory well, our Power should defend us
        against its Darkness and if on the return we were forced to take the mountains to
        Mithrim, and thence to the waterways, still the worst of the effort would be behind
        us. But there is Barahirion to consider in that, too -- can I in conscience take
        him so nigh Delduath?

        The Lord of Dorthonion can pass its shadow unscathed, my lord.

        But he's --

Steward: [kneeling to buckle on the King's greaves]
        --mortal. I know. But so he says, and I believe him. And surely with your
        Working it would be safer still for him.

Finrod: [looking over his shoulder]
        Beren? Is that true? That you can venture Tar-na-Fuin in safety?

    [Beren is sitting on the floor with the others, gently stroking Huan's ears and
    feeding the Hound the last of his scavenged bread.]

Beren: [vaguely]
        What? --Yes. For a while at least. At least a year ago I still could.

Finrod: [concerned]
        Beren! You are not yet armed! Prepare yourself -- we have little time, we
        cannot spend another night beneath these stones. Shall I assist you, friend?

        No -- no, I -- I'll do it right now.

    [scrambles up]

        Where's my stuff?

        In the next chamber, on the press -- some of it seemed beyond not only repair
        but usefulness, and I made bold to supply alternatives, but presumed to
        discard nothing -- it's all there for you to decide of.

        Thank you.

    [As he goes towards the inner door the King's Guard and the young Ranger
    intercept him.]

        My lord, we do not wish to insult your competence, but if you would have aid
        in donning your gear and mail, we stand ready to your help.

        I'd not presume --

        Sir, it were our privilege to serve you.

        I --

    [in the background]

        . . . perimeter, and I'll join you in short order.

        Farewells, lord?

Finrod: [shaking head]
        Checking the wards.

Beren: [gives up the useless pride]
        -- would be honored and grateful for the help.

    [As they enter the other room:]

        How do you make the metal not shine? Magic?

Ranger: [confused]
        No, my lord, just -- a Noldorin Working.

        One persuades it not to reflect but absorb and to refract, so that the light
        is not cast out but held within, and such as escapes is scattered dimly, and
        doesn't give off flashes.

    [Obviously this is perfectly reasonable and unmysterious to them]

Beren: [shrugging]
        --Ah. Right.

                     -- Nargothrond, now kingless,
        waits like the calm of birds before the storm:
        not daring to make merry yet, for shame,
        yet fearing to speak of things to come
        lest Truth should happen to force Thought,
        Words breed Deeds, Will become Act.
        Preparations, hasty and diminished,
        with courage to fill what's lacked
        of force of men and of materiel,
        now come to their quick fruition;
        plans made with confidence of weal
        now yield to need's tuition.
                        The several Dooms,
        spun from the earliest hours of time,
        now spiral to a single thread,
        crime mounteth upon crime --
        the Hidden Realm, faithlessly entrusting
        its faith to the faithless, lies bereft.
        Good-byes, private and most painful,
        have been said.  Now all that's left
        is the leaving --


    [Note: everything is very hushed and dim; the scene is almost without words.]

    [At the gates of Nargothrond.  Ten warriors wait around the entrance, some
    standing, some crouching, keeping watch both inwards and outwards to the gray
    autumnal woods. They are equipped in dark battle-dress and heavily armed.
    The number does not include the Steward, and does include Beren, seated against
    one of the two giant stone posts that supports the lintel, head resting on
    his forearms. He is wearing his own old gear, with some of the worst-tattered
    bits replaced in the same Elven winter camo that his companions display.
    They do not speak, though some of them sharpen swords and knives. It is almost
    sunset, but under a sky that is too overcast for more than a hint of gold to
    indicate where She is.]

    [A disturbance within the vestibule: the King appears, striding along. Orodreth
    to his right is talking and attempting to get him to answer, affirm, or at least
    make some ameliorating noise -- but in vain.  Finrod takes his helmet from the
    Steward at his left and buckles it on, ignoring his brother. In their wake Finduilas
    tags along accompanied by Gwindor for moral support, and followed by Huan: all three
    appear extremely worried. Orodreth tries again to gain acknowledgment, then gives up.
    Now that his brother is no longer talking, Finrod turns and embraces him quickly,
    putting a hand to his mouth when he tries to start apologizing again -- Not now.
    The waiting soldiers rise and form ranks, Beren with them. He looks deathly ill; the
    Captain pats his shoulder reassuringly.]

    [Finrod slings on the pack that is waiting for him there. Finduilas rushes up to
    him and clutches his arm; reluctantly he accepts her tearful embrace and finally
    returns his niece's hug. She is completely devastated -- looks apologetically at
    Beren but he does not see her at all, staring right through everything and everyone
    around him. Gwindor looks thoroughly wretched and ashamed. The King goes to each
    gatepost and presses his hands against them in a final warding, then begins a last-
    minute inspection of everyone's gear.]

Captain: [aside to the Steward]
        --How does our lord?

        How do you think?  --But he will not show it before them.

    [He glances aside to within the shadow of the entrance, where Elvensight might
    decry some one -- or ones -- standing hidden from Mortal view.]

        When we return they'll laugh the other sides of their faces -- and without
        teeth, so help me Tulkas!


    [He smiles bitterly]

        You do not think we will return?

        I do not.

Captain: [harshly]
        Have you Seen it, then?

        I have not. --But it is nearing Winter. And a plan that was dangerous when
        conceived with three wings of cavalry is now to be undertaken by twelve.
        --Even if one of said twelve is The Beoring.

Captain: [snorts]
        Well. For my part, I place my trust in the King.

Steward: [taking no umbrage]
        As do I. But I do not think that I, at least, will ever come to Nargothrond
        again. Whether the King carries on with his mad plan to start elsewhere
        anew -- or not.

    [calm, ignoring the other's worried look:]

        It does not matter. He will not need a herald in this venture or banner-bearer
        to go before him this time; but sword and shield he still has call for, and he
        may set mine wherever need requires.

    [Before the Captain can respond, the King finishes up inspecting the rest of the
    company and turns to his Commanders.  They exchange looks. Finrod sets a gauntleted
    hand on Beren's shoulder and holds him with a worried stare until he snaps out of
    his trance. They begin to cross the terraces, ignoring the sentries posted around
    the gates, who likewise affect not to see them.]

    [Huan begins to bay in that sudden, heart-jolting, rip-all-your-nerves-out-of-
    their-sockets way that guard dogs have, only this is not Death-to-trespassers!
    but the miserable Please-please-don't-abandon-me! bark instead.  Beren drops out,
    hurries back and attempts to comfort him, patting his head and letting the Hound
    lean on him for a few moments.  Then he turns again without a second look back
    and double-times it to catch up with the others. In the twilight and muffled in
    cloak and armor, it isn't obvious that one of the twelve companions is not Eldar.]

    [They pick their way North along the river and file out past the hidden sentries and
    guardposts without exchange.  Very shortly they are lost to sight in distance and
    darkness. Slowly, as though going to meet a grim fate, instead of to rejoin the
    world of light and society, the kin of Felagund return indoors, drifting back like
    ghosts. Huan alone remains, looking forlornly out the great gates into the rising mist.]

The Harper's Land, 1983, by Ann Heyman and Alison Kinnaird (well worth the purchase price)
WMA and RA sound clips here:

On to Act IIIā€¦

Notes for Act II
Leithian Script Project TOC