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An Elegy for Elfhild
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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1
An Elegy for Elfhild

Oft must a king contain his sorrow
guard well his pain, his grief before others,
woe for a loved one lock in his heart.

Long labour out-flowed, life-tide ebbing,
hope to stem that stream had ended,
but still was there chance the child might endure
yet fight a while against fate’s undertow.
Théodwyn stood stern in the doorway
I saw blood on the hand of that brave one,
heavy weighed the harsh battle choice,
a cruel cut was called for now.
The edge trembled that must end that life
but no shiver was seen when she took up the blade.
Young she was yet she did not falter
but walked back towards women’s old struggle.
Cold gripped my heart as she closed the door.

Later the horns were heard in the land
I bade the telling of tidings long hoped for,
throughout the Mark all people must be glad
that Théoden had a son, Théodred his name,
Elfhild the Fair had brought forth a child
though duty’s death this day she earned.

After the bier to the barrow was taken,
after the Riders had ridden in mourning
for the funeral feast, fires were lit,
barrels tapped for beer to flow freely.
Then hall-faced I sat stern at table
as men filled their cups drank mead to her fame.
The Mother of Meduseld, minstrels praised,
Elfhild the Queen, Edoras’s Lady.
But cheerless now the chair at my side,
those were not the songs we sang together.

Once after laughter there was long sleeping
music lingered in the morning time,
sunlight’s river spread on pillow
danced beside me at dawn’s breaking.
Then like children we crept through the house
took no heed to hoarfrost’s fingers;
in the stable steamed warm breathing
as welcome was heard from whickering horses.
Softly then she stroked their noses,
ran her hand over rump and wither,
keen were they to carry her.
Wildly we galloped in golden mist-shroud
wind whipped hair as horses ran
free over fields followed the river
spring’s melt-water milk between willows.
We rode reckless over rolling grassland,
our voices soaring with sun’s rising
sang only the beauty of simbelmynë,
forgot that it faced forever westward.

Loud in Hall the high feast lingered.
As evening darkened, ale unlocked sorrow,
many grew maudlin remembered old losses,
lamented the loved ones long departed.
Silent I sat, stonehearted,
As soon as was seemly, stole out alone.

My footsteps echoed eerie in hallway
bonds of stillness bound the house,
‘til cut by knife of newborn’s wailing.
Whisper was heard of a woman’s grieving,
another now must nurse my heir.
Young she was in weeds of mourning
softly she cried as she cradled my son.
Gently I spoke then, gave her welcome,
hoped by my hearth a home she would find.
Quiet she stood, shy to speak,
silent our eyes met in understanding,
cruel and harsh the hand of fate
that had taken her child to cherish mine.

Abrupt in my heart heat rekindled
anguish flamed as it arrowed through me
fury’s furnace I felt at last;
anger that Gondor’s arts might have saved her,
rage that she died in Rohan that day.
Blind I sought the solace chamber;
wrath waned, her words remembering,
ever proud in praise of the Eorlingas,
such things most fiercely she flung from my mind.
Shame then I felt with sorrow deepening
that bitter I scorned her best of gifts,
her memory marred with meanest of thoughts.

Ah Elfhild, beloved, I beg you forgive me
for Riddermark’s river rocked not my cradle
nor rising woke me to words of our people,
a stranger suckled in the Stoningland.
Love taught me to laugh in my own tongue,
joy in the Horseland’s hooves beating,
revealed to me that richest of word-hoards
the sweetest of songs swelled in my heart.

Pen marks drew no praises from you,
lightly you laughed at lines I had written,
My lord, shall sonnets stem free flowing?
A cage of linnods lock in love?

Tale’s telling you treasured most,
yet in speech-craft strong you were
clever of tongue, counsel-cunning,
you needed no scribe to seek out untruth,
turn your way the word-tricks of others.

Ah, but in secret your skills were most wily
there your tongue shimmered softest and loveliest,
eager together earth-sorrow forgotten
the woes of the world weighed not at all.
Soul-plenty and peace and power we knew,
enjoyed in full measure mirth’s manner of speaking,
for a lingering lifetime love’s sound-weaving heard.

A king alone may curse his fate,
bow down before death’s burden,
greet the greatest of gifts in despair,
mourn that child is cheated of mother,
sorrow that daughter shall see no life,
fear that light can fall into shadow,
grieve that wisdom’s guide is no more,
ache for the passing of all heartsease,
weep for the woman worthiest of all.

Locked again is the language chest
harshest pain now hides the key.
Weak my words, unworthy to tell of her
dreary voiced, I veil her face.
How shall I sing a song to honour her
for Elfhild’s life-giving elegy make?


Author’s note:

Appendix A tells us that Thengel entered the service of the Steward of Gondor as soon as he came to manhood. He remained there a long time and married Morwen of Lossarnach. They had three of their children, including Théoden, before being recalled to Rohan on the death of Fengel. Thengel returned “unwillingly” but “proved a good and wise king, though the speech of Gondor was used in his house, and not all men thought that good”.

* * *

Thanks to Altariel for her inspiring story In a Stone City and other encouragement. Thanks to Stultiloquentia for her ideas on Old English ‘love poetry’.

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