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The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun, Page 2

J. R. R. Tolkien

and therewithin a philter6 lay

  as pale as water thin and grey

  that spills from stony fountains frore7


  in hollow pools in caverns hoar.8

  He thanked her, trembling, offering gold

  to withered fingers shrunk and old.

  The thanks she took not, nor the fee,

  but laughing croaked: ‘Nay, we shall see!


  Let thanks abide till thanks be earned!

  Such potions oft, men say, have burned

  the heart and brain, or else are nought,

  only cold water dearly bought.

  Such lies you shall not tell of me;


  Till it is earned I’ll have no fee.

  But we shall meet again one day,

  and rich reward then you shall pay,

  what e’er I ask: it may be gold,

  it may be other wealth you hold.’


  In Britain ways are wild and long,

  and woods are dark with danger strong;

  and sound of seas is in the leaves,

  and wonder walks the forest-eaves.

  The way was long, the woods were dark;


  at last the lord beheld the spark

  of living light from window high,

  and knew his halls and towers were nigh.

  At last he slept in weary sleep

  beside his wife, and dreaming deep,


  he walked with children yet unborn

  in gardens fair, until the morn

  came slowly through the windows tall,

  and shadows moved across the wall.

  Then sprang the day with weather fair,


  for windy rain had washed the air,

  and blue and cloudless, clean and high,

  above the hills was arched the sky,

  and foaming in the northern breeze

  beneath the sky there shone the seas.


  Arising then to greet the sun,

  and day with a new thought begun,

  that lord in guise of joy him clad,

  and masked his mind in manner glad;

  his mouth unwonted laughter used


  and words of mirth. He oft had mused,

  walking alone with furrowed brow;

  a feast he bade prepare him now.

  And ‘Itroun mine,’ he said, ‘my life,

  ’tis long that thou hast been my wife.


  Too swiftly by in love do slip

  our gentle years, and as a ship

  returns to port, we soon shall find

  once more that day of spring we mind,

  when we were wed, and bells were rung.


  But still we love, and still are young:

  A merry feast we’ll make this year,

  and there shall come no sigh nor tear;

  and we will feign our love begun

  in joy anew, anew to run


  down happy paths – and yet, maybe,

  we’ll pray that this year we may see

  our heart’s desire more quick draw nigh

  than yet we have seen it, thou and I;

  for virtue is in hope and prayer.’


  So spake he gravely, seeming-fair.

  In Britain’s land across the seas

  the spring is merry in the trees;

  the birds in Britain’s woodlands pair

  when leaves are long and flowers are fair.


  A merry feast that year they made,

  when blossom white on bush was laid;

  there minstrels sang and wine was poured,

  as it were the marriage of a lord.

  A cup of silver wrought he raised


  and smiling on the lady gazed:

  ‘I drink to thee for health and bliss,

  fair love,’ he said, ‘and with this kiss

  the pledge I pass. Come, drink it deep!

  The wine is sweet, the cup is steep!’


  The wine was red, the cup was grey;

  but blended there a potion lay

  as pale as water thin and frore

  in hollow pools of caverns hoar.

  She drank it, laughing with her eyes.


  ‘Aotrou, lord and love,’ she cries,

  ‘all hail and life both long and sweet,

  wherein desire at last to meet!’

  Now days ran on in great delight

  with hope at morn and mirth at night;


  and in the garden of his dream

  the lord would walk, and there would deem

  he saw two children, boy and maid,

  that fair as flowers danced and played

  on lawns of sunlight without hedge


  save a dark shadow at their edge.

  Though spring and summer wear and fade,

  though flowers fall and leaves are laid,

  and winter winds his trumpet loud,

  and snows both fell and forest shroud,


  though roaring seas upon the shore

  go long and white, and neath the door

  the wind cries with houseless voice,

  in fire and song yet men rejoice,

  till as a ship returns to port


  the spring comes back to field and court.

  A song now falls from windows high,

  like silver dropping from the sky,

  soft in the early eve of spring.

  ‘Why do they play? Why do they sing?’


  ‘Light may she lie, our lady fair!

  Too long hath been her cradle bare.

  Yestreve there came as I passed by

  the cry of babes from windows high.

  Twin children, I am told there be.


  Light may they lie and sleep, all three!’

  ‘Would every prayer were answered twice!

  The half or nought must oft suffice

  for humbler men, who wear their knees

  more bare than lords, as oft one sees.’


  ‘Not every lord wins such fair grace.

  Come wish them speed with kinder face!

  Light may she lie, my lady fair;

  long live her lord her joy to share!’

  A manchild and an infant maid


  as fair as flowers in bed were laid.

  Her joy was come, her pain was passed;

  in mirth and ease Itroun at last

  in her fair chamber softly lay

  singing to her babes lullay.


  Glad was her lord, as grave he stood

  beside her bed of carven wood.

  ‘Now full,’ he said, ‘is granted me

  both hope and prayer, and what of thee?

  Is ’t not, fair love, most passing sweet


  the heart’s desire at last to meet?

  Yet if thy heart still longing hold,

  or lightest wish remain untold,

  that will I find and bring to thee,

  though I should ride both land and sea!’


  ‘Aotrou mine,’ she said, ‘’tis sweet

  at last the heart’s desire to meet,

  thus after waiting, after prayer,

  thus after hope and nigh despair.

  I would not have thee run nor ride


  to-day nor ever from my side;

  yet after sickness, after pain,

  oft cometh hunger sharp again.’

  ‘Nay, love, if thirst or hunger strange

  for bird or beast on earth that range,


  for wine, or water from what well

  in any secret fount or dell

  vex thee,’ he smiled, ‘now swift declare!

  If more than gold or jewel rare,

  from greenwood, haply, fallow deer,


  or fowl that swims the shallow mere

  thou cravest, I will bring it thee,

  though I should hunt o’er land and lea.

  No gold nor silk nor jewel bright

  can match my gladness and delight,


  the boy and maiden lily-fair

  that here do lie and thou did’st bear.’

  ‘Aotrou, lord,’ she said, ‘’tis true,

  a longing strong and sharp I knew

  in dream for water cool and clear,


  and venison of the greenwood deer,

  for waters crystal-clear and cold

  and deer no earthly forests hold;

  and still in waking comes unsought

  the foolish wish to vex my thought.


  But I would not have thee run nor ride

  to-day nor ever from my side.’

  In Brittany beyond the seas

  the wind blows ever through the trees;

  in Brittany the forest pale


  marches slow over hill and dale.

  There seldom far the horns were wound,

  and seldom hunted horse and hound.

  The lord his lance of ashwood caught,

  the wine was to his stirrup brought;


  with bow and horn he rode alone,

  and iron smote the fire from stone,

  as his horse bore him o’er the land

  to the green boughs of Broceliande,

  to the green dales where listening deer


  seldom a mortal hunter hear:

  there startling now they stare and stand,

  as his horn winds in Broceliande.

  Beneath the woodland’s hanging eaves

  a white doe startled under leaves;


  strangely she glistered in the sun

  as she leaped forth and turned to run.

  Then reckless after her he spurred;

  dim laughter in the woods he heard,

  but heeded not, a longing strange


  for deer that fair and fearless range

  vexed him, for venison of the beast

  whereon no mortal hunt shall feast,

  for waters crystal-clear and cold

  that never in holy fountain rolled.


  He hunted her from the forest eaves

  into the twilight under leaves;

  the earth was shaken under hoof,

  till the boughs were bent into a roof,

  and the sun was woven in a snare;


  and laughter still was on the air.

  The sun was falling. In the dell

  deep in the forest silence fell.

  No sight nor slot9 of doe he found

  but roots of trees upon the ground,


  and trees like shadows waiting stood

  for night to come upon the wood.

  The sun was lost, all green was grey.

  There twinkled the fountain of the fay,

  before a cave on silver sand,


  under dark boughs in Broceliande.

  Soft was the grass and clear the pool;

  he laved his face in water cool.

  He saw her then, on silver chair

  before her cavern, pale her hair,


  slow was her smile, and white her hand

  beckoning in Broceliande.

  The moonlight falling clear and cold

  her long hair lit; through comb of gold

  she drew each lock, and down it fell


  like the fountain falling in the dell.

  He heard her voice, and it was cold

  as echo from the world of old,

  ere fire was found or iron hewn,

  when young was mountain under moon.


  He heard her voice like water falling

  or wind upon a long shore calling,

  yet sweet the words: ‘We meet again

  here after waiting, after pain!

  Aotrou! Lo! thou hast returned –


  perchance some kindness I have earned?

  What hast thou, lord, to give to me

  whom thou hast come thus far to see?’

  ‘I know thee not, I know thee not,

  nor ever saw thy darkling grot.


  O Corrigan! ’twas not for thee

  I hither came a-hunting free!’

  ‘How darest then, my water wan

  to trouble thus, or look me on?

  For this at least I claim my fee,


  if ever thou wouldst wander free.

  With love thou shalt me here requite,

  for here is long and sweet the night;

  in druery10 dear thou here shalt deal,

  in bliss more deep than mortals feel.’


  ‘I gave no love. My love is wed;

  my wife now lieth in child-bed,

  and I curse the beast that cheated me

  and drew me to this dell to thee.’

  Her smiling ceased, and slow she said:


  ‘Forget thy wife; for thou shalt wed

  anew with me, or stand as stone

  and wither lifeless and alone,

  as stone beside the fountain stand

  forgotten in Broceliande.’


  ‘I will not stand here turned to stone;

  but I will leave thee cold, alone,

  and I will ride to mine own home

  and the waters blest of Christendome.’

  ‘But three days then and thou shalt die;


  in three days on thy bier lie!’

  ‘In three days I shall live at ease,

  and die but when it God doth please

  in eld,11 or in some time to come

  in the brave wars of Christendom.’


  In Britain’s land beyond the waves

  are forests dim and secret caves;

  in Britain’s land the breezes bear

  the sound of bells along the air

  to mingle with the sound of seas


  for ever moving in the trees.

  The wandering way was long and wild;

  and hastening home to wife and child

  at last the hunter heard the knell

  at morning of the sacring-bell;


  escaped from thicket and from fen

  at last he saw the tilth12 of men;

  the hoar and houseless hills he passed,

  and weary at his gates him cast.

  ‘Good steward, if thou love me well,


  bid make my bed! My heart doth swell;

  my limbs are numb with heavy sleep,

  and drowsy poisons in them creep.

  All night, as in a fevered maze,

  I have ridden dark and winding ways.’


  To bed they brought him and to sleep:

  in sunless thickets tangled deep

  he dreamed, and wandering found no more

  the garden green, but on the shore

  the seas were moaning in the wind;


  a face before him leered and grinned:

  ‘Now it is earned, come bring to me

  my fee,’ a voice said, ‘bring my fee!’

  Beside a fountain falling cold

  the Corrigan now shrunk and old


  was sitting singing; in her claw

  a comb of bony teeth he saw,

  with which she raked her tresses grey,

  but in her other hand there

  a phial of glass with water filled


  that from the bitter fountain spilled.

  At eve he waked and murmured: ‘Ringing

  of bells within my ears, and singing,

  a singing is beneath the moon.

  Grieve not my wife! Grieve not Itroun!


  My death is near – but do not tell,

  though I am wounded with a spell!

  But two days more, and then I die –

  and I would have had her sweetly lie

  and sweet arise; and live yet long,


  and see our children hale and strong.’

  His words they little understood,

  but cursed the fevers of the wood,

  and to their lady no word spoke.

  Ere second morn was old she woke,


  and to her women standing near

  gave greeting with a merry cheer:

  ‘Good people, lo! the morn is bright!

  Say, did my lord return ere night,

  and tarries now with hunting worn?’


  ‘Nay, lady, he came not with the morn;

  but ere men candles set on board,

  thou wilt have tidings of thy lord;

  or hear his feet to thee returning,

  ere candles in the eve are burning.’


  Ere the third morn was wide she woke,

  and eager greeted them, and spoke:

  ‘Behold the morn is cold and grey,

  and why is my lord so long away?

  I do not hear his feet returning


  neither at evening nor at morning.’

  ‘We do not know, we cannot say,’

  they answered and they turned away.

  Her gentle babes in swaddling white,

  now seven days had seen the light,


  and she arose and left her bed,

  and called her maidens and she said:

  ‘My lord must soon return. Come, bring

  my fairest raiment, stone on ring,

  and pearl on thread; for him ’twill please


  to see his wife abroad at ease.’

  She looked from window tall and high,

  and felt a breeze go coldly by;

  she saw it pass from tree to tree;

  the clouds were laid from hill to sea.


  She heard no horn and heard no hoof,

  but rain came pattering on the roof;

  in Brittany she heard the waves

  on sounding shore in hollow caves.

  The day wore on till it was old;


  she heard the bells that slowly tolled.

  ‘Good folk, why do they mourning make?

  In tower I hear the slow bells shake,

  and Dirige13 the white priests sing.

  Whom to the churchyard do they bring?’


  ‘A man unhappy here there came

  a while agone. His horse was lame;

  sickness was on him, and he fell

  before our gates, or so they tell.

  Here he was harboured, but to-day


  he died, and passeth now the way