In the days of the so-called Long Peace, skirmishes between the servants of the great Enemy and the Elves and Men who fought against him were more frequent than not. Most went unnamed, and those who died in them were not remembered in our histories.
Some skirmishes developed into battles, however, and their stories remain, even if they are not told quite so much as the tales of the five great battles for Beleriand. This is one such: the Battle of Aglon Pass, distinguishable from a border skirmish by the number of great princes who took part, and by the triumph it was for Elves and Men, in those last days of the Long Peace, before the Battle of Sudden Flame ended it forever.
I am Beren, a Man of the House of Bëor. No, not that one — you’ve confused me with my far more famous grandson. I still have both my hands — see? — and though I loved a lady both fearless and beautiful, she was no Elf-maid. In fact, had it not been for this Battle, we might never have met — but I’m getting ahead of myself. All things in their proper order, now!
I was a young man in those days. My beard had only just grown fully in, and I was very proud of it. As the fashion was then, I wore it trimmed neatly to my jaw, and waxed into a particular firm shape. It, and my hair, were a dark reddish-brown. I was vain of both beard and hair, wearing my hair long, Elvish-style, wrapped in a long braid when I travelled or fought.
The rest of me, if I might be so bold to say it now with an old man’s perspective, was just as good to look upon. I was built firm and strong rather than light or lithe. In peak fighting trim, I had no fear for myself in any wilderness. I could master any horse, and sometimes rode Elf-style without saddle, at need. I was expert with the sword, a master of archery, and well-trained in all the hand-to-hand fighting forms that the House of Bëor ever knew.
At this time of my life, I was in service to Aegnor, one of the Elf-lords of Dorthonion, who with his brother Angrod held the lands nearest to the Enemy. They bred fine horses on the plains of Ard-galen, harvested sweet meadow grasses for thatched hay, and round each of their seven outposts, sustained thriving farms, even despite the near-constant attacks of the Enemy’s vile Orcs. I was never far from my home in the hills of Dorthonion, and oft was given leave to go back and see my family.
It was on my way back to Ard-galen from Ladros one fine summer eve that my tale begins. Aegnor's dwelling place was at the base of the hills of Dorthonion, where they sloped down to the plains of Lothlann, hard by the elf-road that ran there all the way from Barad Eithel to the fertile hillsides near Lake Helevorn, dividing as it went into roads that branched off to Himring, to Himlad where Curufin and Celegorm dwelt, and to the fortified villages that dotted the Gap between Himring and Helevorn. The path from Ladros crests at the summit of a mountain before beginning the long journey down via switchback into the wide valley below. At the other end of the valley, invisible to mortal eyes but visible to the Elves, was the Black Gate of Angband and the heights of Thangorodrim.
I stood still for a moment in the faint light of sunset on the crest of the hill, breathing in the fresh mountain air, before stepping forth onto the long road down into the valley. Scanning the horizon, I caught sight of torches borne aloft. Faint and far on the breeze I almost seemed to catch the whisper of mocking voices raised aloud in laughter, uncaring of being heard.
Then indeed did I fly down into the valley, my feet almost stumbling from haste. For it was not as though I had not seen, and indeed, defeated, an Orc-band before, but that this one was far greater than the small roving bands which the Morgoth sent out from his gates to harry and harass, and to take what small spoils they could. This was near an army, and from the howls my ear fancied it could catch, and the way they moved with speed over the land, it was mounted on wolves.
It seemed an eternity before I made it, gasping, down to the plain, and across to the nearby watchtower, surrounded by farmlands and low walls. As soon as I was within Elf-sight, out from the tree-line, I signalled with waving arms and hands, even in the low dusk, and Aegnor himself came out to meet me.
"How many?" he asked as I hurried toward the narrow door of the tower.
"I cannot be sure," I answered, "but a larger number than I have seen before. More than a simple raiding band, it looks to be the better part of an army." I slipped in past him through the door, and he shut it, drawing one of the seven locks upon it. I glanced around, noticing that there were far fewer present than I expected in the tower, which usually housed up to a hundred. Instead there were only a score or so, mostly Elves with a few of my fellow Men in service.
"Fingon arrived while you were away, and took most of my men off on some mad chase over the grasslands. Maybe he heard rumours of what was in the wind, even this Orc-army which approaches now," Aegnor said.
"Surely we are in danger here," I returned.
"Not us," he answered, but the farmers on who we depend." He raised his voice to reach all in the room. "It is our plain duty now to gather in all the farmers nearby to this tower. With luck the Orcs will ignore the farms if there is no one present to kill, though they may fire the fields." He began doling out individual orders to each one present, some to go in one direction, some in another, one to Himring to warn Maedhros, one to the roof to set the signal fire ablaze "when the time is right, and no sooner!" he said. Last of all before me he spoke to my dear friend Arachon, sending him back up the mountain to warn Ladros and gather what fighting force he could. Finally then, he turned to me.
"You and I," he said, "will take the hardest part in all this by tracking the Orcs themselves to see where they are headed."
I nodded, and at his dismissal, rushed off to my usual quarters to change my clothes and prepare myself. I strapped on a bow across my chest, my quiver at my back full of arrows, my sword at my side, and several knives, all sharpened battle-blades, in hidden places about my leather jerkin. Fine leather armbands worked by my cousin Andreth joined the rest, and I was ready. We would need to move light and swift, so I did not take a pack, but did fasten a light waterskin to my belt, to be filled at the first water source we came across.
I cast a dark cloak over the whole, pulling the hood up, and descended the stairs again. The hall at the foot of the tower was empty now save for Aegnor waiting for me, also cloaked and hooded to hide his bright hair. He wore his own waterskin and a pouch at his side which I knew to be a gift from the lady Edhellos, and I knew we would not want for food nor need to hunt.
We set off into the full darkness now, with not even the Moon to light our way. First we climbed upward, not on the path, for fear the Orcs would take that way, but straight up the mountain, using the trees as both shelter and a climbing aid at need.
"They are not making for Dorthonion," Aegnor said to me as I ascended the last few steps. He had already turned around and was looking out east to the plains of Lothlann. Immediately below us, the signal fire at that moment blazed up from the roof of the tower, and was soon answered in both directions by the towers to either side.
"Good, that was well done," Aegnor said. "The Orcs now know that we are aware of them, but will consider it no use to attack the tower. It is plainly not their destination either."
"They have fired some of the fields, as you thought," I said, pointing over toward the east.
"In this damp weather we have had lately the fire will not cause much harm," Aegnor said. "But come now, we must watch and see where they go!"
We ran for some time in silence, following the loud voices and torches carried by the Orc-army. They were swift on the backs of their wolves, and even Aegnor could not keep up on foot. Eventually they were out of sight, and we stopped for a brief moment to rest.
"I think I know where they are going," Aegnor said. "If it were Himring, they would've turned off to the east by now, and there is no safe path upwards to Dorthonion but by the road which we guard, so it must be Aglon Pass which guards the borders of Himlad."
He pointed southwards through the trees. "Near here, the mountains narrow and grow steep, and we must come down into the pass behind the Orcs. This will be dangerous for us both."
"I am prepared," I said, adjusting the pack I carried and making ready to leave.
"One more thing," Aegnor said, and went silent, touching his fingers to his brow in a vaguely familiar gesture. His lips moved but no sound emerged. I waited patiently, curious as to what he could be doing.
At last he stirred again. "Very well," he said, "Let us make haste."
"What was that?" I asked, imitating his gesture by bringing my fingers to my own brow.
Aegnor smiled. "I was warning Celegorm to beware of the army. Usually I cannot speak to him from so far away, but I thought I might try it. I would not have them caught unprepared."
"Did it work?" So this was the farspeak of the Elves, something I had heard spoken of but never before witnessed.
"Yes," Aegnor answered. "He replied characteristically -- that is to say, with an abundance of swearing -- and they will be ready by the time the Orcs arrive."
We crept along again, this time heading down the mountain, wary for any Orc stragglers.
At the bottom of the mountain, the trees thinned out into grassland. It was a dangerous place for an Elf and a Man, alone with an army of enemies nearby, for once we passed the place where a narrow path rose up into the eastern mountains and eventually Himring, we were caught between a steep mountainside on one side and a sheer cliff on the other side of the pass, with little or no cover.
The night was greying and old by the time we made our way through, slipping like shadows over grassland, fording small streams time after time. We stopped to drink and fill our waterskins at one of them and cold clear water never tasted so good as it did on that warm, weary night.
I began to see a flickering orange light in the distance, and Aegnor at the same moment hastened our steps. "Draw your bow!" he whispered to me, and, still walking, I pulled it out and got it ready with an arrow on the string. We rounded a corner, and suddenly our enemy became visible.
So too did the ramparts and towers of Aglon Pass, the great fortress made of stone by Celegorm and Curufin to keep their rich and fertile land of Himlad safe from exactly such armies as the one that now assailed it. At first glance I thought it was afire, but then realised it was not so. Rather fire was being spilled out and down from the ramparts as a defence, onto the Orcs who were working to raise ladders up the walls.
Smoke rose, curling grey in the grey night, and the smell of burning wood and flesh was all too clear. We stood together in the shadows, Aegnor and I, and he touched a hand to his brow again, raising the other as if in greeting. I got my bow ready, in case any of the Orcs spotted us.
"There!" Aegnor said after a few minutes. "I have relayed to Celegorm information about the numbers of Orcs and who their leaders might be, and he informs me that shortly his own forces will emerge from the fort to drive them back. We need to go now if we are not to be caught in their retreat."
I nodded, and still holding my bow, turned to run, when a sudden howl, accompanied by yelling from the Orcs, made it all too clear that we had been spotted. Aegnor swung around swiftly, putting himself against my back and pulling his sword from its sheath. I began shooting as soon as they were in range, and I flatter myself that I took down a fair number before they ever got to us.
When they got too near, I dropped my bow, drew my sword and knives, and prepared to sell my life dearly.
Everything was a whirl of fur and teeth, hair and bone. I ducked to avoid a blade and found myself staring straight into the teeth of a wolf. Plunging my sword into his neck, I yanked his rider from the saddle and sank my knife into his chest while he thrashed and lunged at me. Aegnor was laughing as he fought, his bright hair flying, looking like something wild and fey.
Two alone against a hundred, if they were two such as us, can do well, but ultimately we found ourselves backed up against a cliffside with no retreat. The Orc nearest me sneered as he drew his own knife. Only my smallest one was left to me now, my sword and the other knives lost in the affray along with my bow. I drew it from its hiding place at my back, and prepared to die.
I leaped forward, drawing my arm back ready to stab, and suddenly a bright sword swept the Orc's head from his shoulders. Looking up, I saw a young maiden clad in armour on a fine white horse, and stood stunned, as much by my sudden rescue as by her beauty.
"I had not thought that the Men of Ladros would be so lacking in courtesy," she said with a laugh, startling me out of my shock.
"Forgive me, lady!" I answered. "My thanks to you for saving my life!"
She smiled, and held out a hand. "My horse Bruidal is capable of bearing two, but you must mount quickly, or we'll miss all the fun! My lord Maedhros is already pursuing them far and wide."
Flinging myself onto the horse behind her, I held on steady with one hand at her waist, reaching out where I could with my last knife to distract and dismay any Orcs attacking the mounted fighters. Ahead in the darkness I saw Aegnor's bright hair flying, reflected by the firelight. He too was mounted behind someone, and that someone could be none other than Maedhros, the lord of Himring, tall and fine of feature although scarred, wielding a sword with his left hand, and seemingly guiding the horse with nothing but his knees.
We raced down the valley toward the towers of Aglon Pass, cutting a great swathe through the Orcs as we went. Here and there I saw Men in the battle, but most of those who fought were Elves, fierce and terrible, especially those of the Noldor. The light in their eyes blazed as they slew Orcs and wolves alike, and none brighter than One-Handed Maedhros.
As we approached the tower, a small gate at the bottom, heavily sealed and bolted, was thrown open, and out poured a company of Elves on horseback, followed by a group of small, sturdy folk mounted on rams. I could scarce believe my eyes, for these were Dwarves, who I had never seen before. They were doughty fighters, and set about slaughtering as though they had been born to it.
I raised my eyes from them again as my companion laughed. "See," she said. "It is the twins!" I glanced to where she gestured, and there, like to Maedhros as brothers could be, were two red-haired Elves, fell and fierce, next to the silver-haired Celegorm.
We cantered nearer, the Orcs in full retreat now, and I was just in time to hear Amras say, laughing, "It's almost a full Fëanorian family reunion, all save Maglor and Caranthir!"
"Not a full family reunion, brother," Amrod said soberly. "Not while Father is gone from us. But see, Curufin waves from the tower!"
"He bid me greet you, brother," Celegorm said to Maedhros, "and say that he would have come out to meet you but is somewhat busy."
"He is forgiven, seeing that it is his inventions which have kept your lands safe," Maedhros said smiling, and drew Celegorm into a swift embrace, then gave the same embrace to the twins. "Now, then! To the ends of the earth let us pursue our foes!" He raised his voice to be heard above the battle-din. "War to the Orcs and hatred undying! Forth and pursue, Eldalië! Forth and pursue, Dwarves and Men, our friends!"
Before we set off, I was given a horse and a sword of Elven-make, and my companion found me a bow along with a quiver nearly full of arrows on the battlefield.
"What is your name?" I asked as I bestowed the new weaponry about myself.
She laughed. "I am Túves, daughter of Amlach. And you are?"
I gave her a bold grin. "We are distant kin, Túves. I am Beren son of Belemir, and my mother is your father's cousin Adanel, wise-woman of the House of Marach."
She raised an eyebrow. "I have heard the name Adanel before. But come, let us be off, or we shall lose the game!"
We sped together back through the valley, harrying the Orcs down the Pass toward the open plains of Ard-galen once more. The sun was rising now, light filtering through the trees. Túves' hair shone gold where it escaped from her helm, and her face was even more beautiful by day than it had been by firelight.
She was swift and decisive with her sword, full of grace and power. Her beauty may have stunned me, but it was her strength and her grace that took the very heart from my breast and made it hers alone.
Together, we served as commanders of the rear guard, catching straggling Orcs, dealing out merciful death blows to wounded Orcs and wolves, and giving instructions to the healers who followed from Himring and from Aglon Pass to take the wounded into care. Those who were gravely wounded were taken to Aglon Pass, where Curufin's healers could do their best; those less wounded and able to make the journey were escorted to Himring, there to recover in the clear mountain air.
We arrived back at Aegnor's tower hard upon the heels of the much reduced company, only to witness a large band of Men streaming down the mountainside, coming to our aid, and approaching from the direction of Barad Eithel, another company of Elves, headed by one with long dark braids wrapped with gold thread down his back, one I knew immediately to be our High Prince, Fingon the Valiant.
At the sight of him, Maedhros, now alone on his horse, went flying out to meet him, and the fierce embrace of the cousins was good to see. They came back together, leading the company.
Aegnor and his folk remained behind to guard the way, but I joined myself to the Men of Dorthonion, and Túves did likewise, which surprised me. But Maedhros, Amras, Amrod, and Celegorm held a brief conference with both Fingon and my lord Boromir, who commanded the men of Dorthonion. They then led their own troops, including the Dwarves, along with half of Fingon's, off to the East into the plains of Lothlann, while the rest of Fingon's company, followed by those from Dorthonion, headed West.
"We are drawing them out," Túves explained after a little while, her horse walking next to mine, to my apparent confused look. "If the Orcs turn and see that those who were pursuing them have dropped away, they may take heart, and their leaders may attempt to turn them back. In the confusion of this, we will attack from both sides, taking them in a final pincer move, and then drive them back toward the mountains."
"I understand," I said. "But Prince Fingon and Lord Maedhros must have their timing calculated absolutely perfectly to ensure their success. Neither company can overcome the numbers of the Orcs on its own, for we left behind many wounded and dead."
Túves smiled fiercely at me. "Do not fear!" she said. "You will see!" She spurred her horse, coming up near to Fingon, and I followed, watching her weave through the lines of the company. Her golden hair spilled down her back, shining in the sun, and I thought I had never seen anything so lovely, even among the immortal Elves.
She turned suddenly, catching my eye on her, and then winked boldly at me, before turning back and speaking to Fingon. All at once, he looked back at me, then beckoned with his hand, and I moved forward.
"Little Túves here says you would like to be my standard-bearer," he said, handing me a furled banner on a long pole.
I bowed in the saddle. "It is an honour, my Prince," I answered.
He laughed. "None of that, please. Why do you think I like to escape Barad Eithel so much? Just Fingon, if you will."
"Then, Fingon," I said, "give me my orders."
"We head Westward until the sun is fourteen degrees off the noon, then turn and gallop Northeast. We meet our enemy coming back Southward. We give them a double taste of fear, and drive them screaming back with their tails tucked between their legs." He grinned. "Does that suit you, Man of Dorthonion?"
One could not help but smile back at him, so I did. He somehow managed to combine grim battle-rage with the cheerfulness and joy of a child at play in a way that, in a Man, would have been a warning of sheer madness, but on the face of an immortal Elf, made sense. Orcs were not just enemies to Fingon, but representatives of those who had slain his grandfather, his brother, his uncle, and untold friends, who had tormented his dearest friend and cousin. Slaying them was not enough; his aim was to send a message back to their maker and master.
And send a message we did. At the appointed hour and upon Fingon's signal, I raised his banner high, unfurling it to the wind, where it caught the breeze -- a rayed sun on a blue field, Fingolfin's majestic sigil.
At the sight, all the company shouted with a great shout and wheeled their horses to the North. With Túves at my side, Fingon beside her, and my lord Boromir beside him, our horses raced relentlessly over the golden fields. The Sun shone bright on Ard-galen, with distant rain-clouds hanging over the southern hills. My heart soared like a bird in the air, and despite my lack of sleep, I felt like I could fight a hundred Orcs and win, with Túves beside me.
All too soon, we came upon them, disorganised, dishevelled, half of them still in retreat while the other half sought to go back again. And there in the distance was the company of Maedhros, swords out, advancing on them from one direction as we came from the other. We would meet, and the Orcs would be caught in the middle, and they would die.
The cannier amongst the Orcs saw their fate galloping toward them, and suddenly the army descended from mild chaos into pure riot. Fingon drew his bright sword, and so too did the Fëanorians, and the Orcs fled before us.
We turned riot into rout, headlong advancing over them, trampling some beneath the hooves of our horses. Many of their wolves lay dead in the Pass, and so the vast majority of the Orcs had nowhere to flee. The few captains on their wolves were long lost to the distance, speeding back to Angband so as to save their own sorry skins, at least for another day.
"The day has come!" Fingon cried out with his great voice. "Hear me, Orc-kind, the day has come of your doom!" He was right in among them, Túves at his heels, Maedhros next to her, fighting one-handed with a blade already black with Orc blood. He hung from his white horse, doing feats my eyes could not follow for their speed and ferocity, his smile grim with not a hint of playfulness like Fingon's.
Not that Fingon looked very playful now. He too was in utter earnest, striking clean blows, efficiency itself, ruthless, pitiless.
All that bright day we plied them with death, harrying them on toward Angband. At the edge of the Black Plain that leads to the Great Gate, we let them go at last, and watched as they vanished into the gaping mouth, the maw, that was Morgoth's lair.
"And may their welcome be cold, for their task has failed," Túves murmured, once again beside me. Her helm had been lost in the fray and a half-missed blow from a stray Orc-club drew blood just above her temple. Her hair whipped around her head in the wind, getting caught in her armour, until she sighed and began the lengthy process of untangling it and tying it up. It should have been an unromantic sight, a woman in battered, bloodied armour tying her hair back instead of loosening it to fly free in the wind, but I could not help staring, my senses reeling.
Riding back again, our progress was slow. We picked up battered shields and friends along the way, dealt out final mercy-blows to the wounded Orcs littering the fields, and often walked beside our horses to save their strength.
At last at Aegnor's tower once more, we settled down to a late afternoon camp-making, for the tower was far too small to hold everyone. By common consent, Maedhros and all his company, Lord Boromir and all those from Dorthonion, and also Fingon's soldiers, went hunting, set up tents, prepared cook-fires, and took it in turns to find water from one of the many streams running down the Dorthonion hills. (Naturally, no one drank water that flowed southward from anywhere near Angband.)
Aegnor brought out his stores of beer, and the hunters returned with game by the time the sun was setting in the West, a glorious conflagration of gold that set Túves' hair, now brushed and flowing down her back, alight so that I could scarcely look at her.
Fingon beckoned to me, and I came over, tearing my eyes with reluctance from where she stood laughing with Maedhros and three others, so like to her I could only guess that they were her close family, perhaps her brothers and father.
"You are very easy to read," he said.
I blushed swiftly. "Is it that obvious?"
He tilted his head. "Yes," he said, plainly but not unkindly. "I cannot fault you, Túves is, as mortals and as women go, a fine one. But asking for her hand may not be so easy. Maedhros loves her as his own daughter and will see her wed to none but the best."
"Tell me about her?" I asked. "Why did her family not come to dwell in Dorthonion?"
"Her father Amlach pledged himself to lifelong service with Maedhros, the first Man to do so," Fingon answered. "She and her brothers grew up in Himring, the only children to ever grace its walls. I saw her many times as a child, and even now, when she is by your accounting fully grown, she still seems to me to be that little golden-haired child, begging to ride out and fight with us. Maedhros trained her himself, for she would not be gainsaid. She is stubborn, Beren, stubborn enough to conquer even Maedhros, and she always will have her own way, so if you are the same, you may not be happy together."
I glanced across at her again. "I am stubborn too, but I know when to yield and how to take orders," I said. "And she is plainspoken, merry-hearted, as well as strong and beautiful, so it will be no hardship to live by her rules."
Fingon grinned. "Well, it appears you may match her, if she likes you." The sun was slipping away over the horizon, and all around Elves were tuning their instruments in preparation to play music for dancing. "But there, that's my cue. I must get my harp. Good fortune attend you, Beren son of Belemir!"
"Thank you, Fingon!" I called as he moved away, receiving a wave of his hand in response.
On the low, smooth-cut grass, a large area had been set aside for dancing. To one side a large bonfire burned, and on the other, musicians were taking their places. Fingon, on his way to get his harp, plucked Maedhros by the sleeve, and then whispered in his ear something that made them both smile.
I walked across the field, determined to simply draw her away with me somewhere quiet and speak my heart. But her foot was tapping to the music, and her eyes were trained on me with all the subtlety of a diving hawk. I surrendered to the inevitable.
"Lady, will you dance with me?" She smiled at me, like the sun rising again, and took my hand.
I have no memory of what tune we danced to or how I danced. It could have been an eternity with her body against mine or just a very few moments. It is all lost to sensation, the soft warmth of her in my arms, the heady delights of her eyes resting on me, the sword-calluses on her palms pressed to my matching ones.
When the music ceased, I looked up in surprise to find that the stars were out, blazing across the velvet dark of the sky.
"Come with me," she said, linking her arm with mine, and I followed where she led, into the cool shade under the trees at the base of the mountain. A stream ran leaping and bounding downward, and near it, a large stone lay, half-buried in the earth, big enough for two people to sit upon and gaze out at the stars. She led me there, and we sat. The stone was cool and smooth beneath me, and her eyes were very bright.
For a stunned moment I sat looking across at her, then realised with a start that here and now was my chance to speak. But the words all seemed caught in my throat. "May - may I kiss you, Túves?" I finally managed to stutter out.
She nodded, looking thankfully very much like she could not speak herself, and moved toward me. Our lips met, soft, slow and unutterably sweet. The kiss was brief, broken so that she could move closer to me and immediately kiss me again.
We spent an unknown amount of time exchanging soft kisses this way, while the music and the dancing went on in the grass below and the stars shone bright above. At length I gained the courage to whisper words of love into her ear. I told her how no woman I had ever seen among Elves and Men compared with her, how she had saved my life and won my heart in the same instant, how I could no longer imagine my life without her in it.
"Come with me once more," she answered. "To Himring. Enter the service of Maedhros for a year and prove yourself to me, to my family, and to him, and if you and I are both of the same mind at the end of the year, I will wed you then."
There was only one answer to give. "I will, if Aegnor will release me," I said. "And I will not change my mind, not with you so near every day."
She gave me a dazzling smile, then slipped out of my arms and poked my shoulder. "Go and ask."
Aegnor was not one of those dancing, nor yet playing, although I knew he could play the flute well. He was among the healing tents, paying visits to those of his soldiers who were wounded. Despite our victory, his face was sober, but as I came up to him, Túves holding my hand, he broke into a wide grin.
"Brave Beren, now in love as well as war!" he said, clapping me on the back.
"I regret, my lord, that I must ask to leave your service," I said.
"You wish to marry so soon after meeting?" he asked.
"Not yet," Túves said. "I would ask him to come to Himring and there serve a year with Maedhros before we wed."
Aegnor beckoned to someone behind us, and turning a little, I saw that Maedhros was approaching, Túves' father in tow. "If he agrees, I will release you," Aegnor said.
The Lord of Himring approached, and my mouth went dry. Swallowing, I spoke what I could.
"My lord Maedhros," I began. "And Amlach, father of Túves." I made a slight bow that included them both. "I have a very great favour to ask."
Maedhros smiled. "Ask. For I have heard from both Fingon and Aegnor here of your mighty deeds in this battle."
"I would ask leave to enter your service for the space of one year," I said. And then I turned to Amlach. "For I would be near to your daughter, and if she so agrees at the end of the year, I would wed her then."
Maedhros broke out into sudden laughter, but Amlach glanced at Túves and then back at me. He did not smile. "My only daughter," he said quietly. "Are you worthy of her?"
I gave him what reply I could. "I hope to be."
"Túves," Maedhros said, recovering from his laughter, "what would you think your father would say to this request?"
Túves gathered my hand even closer to herself. "What he always says: 'as it pleases my Lord Maedhros!'"
"And what would you say?"
She laughed. "Very nearly the same! I would say: 'as it pleases me, Lord Maedhros!'"
Amlach shook his head. "I knew this day would come," he muttered.
Maedhros was still smiling. "What then is your pleasure?"
Túves let go of my hand, but only so she could wrap her arm about my waist. "I'd like to keep him, if you please."
"Very well, then!" Maedhros said. "I accept your service, Beren!"
Aegnor stepped forward, his hand on my shoulder. "I release you from my service, Beren son of Belemir, and wish you good fortune."
I could not restrain my joy. Túves' arm was around me, her golden head near mine, and even her father was beginning to smile to himself, much to Maedhros' clear amusement. "You look sad, my lord," I said. "Find yourself a wife, and then come and dance with a heart as light as your heels!"
Túves pulled me toward the dancing green once more, as Amlach and Maedhros simultaneously shook their heads, and Aegnor looked, sudden and sharp, up the mountain in the direction of Ladros.
I wondered for a moment what I had said to cause that particular keen-eyed glance, but then Túves and I were dancing, and the world in all its grandeur and beauty was entirely swept away.