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8
The Swans

A tale of Elves and Men from Dol Amroth


~~~

...

Amroth beheld the fading shore
Now low beyond the swell,
And cursed the faithless ship that bore
Him far from Nimrodel.

Of old he was an Elven-king,
A lord of tree and glen,
When golden were the boughs in spring
In fair Lothlorien.

From helm to sea they saw him leap,
As arrow from the string,
And dive into the water deep,
As mew upon the wing.

The wind was in his flowing hair,
The foam about him shone;
Afar they saw him strong and fair
Go riding like a swan.

But from the West has come no word,
And on the Hither Shore
No tidings Elven-folk have heard
Of Amroth evermore.

Part of Legolas's song of Amroth and Nimrodel, "Lothlorien", FOTR

~~~

Long ago, there lived a Lord of the Elves. He loved an Elven maiden, and she

returned his love full well.

In those days, the lands were racked with war, and the maiden said to her love,

"I cannot marry you here, in the midst of war. Let us fare to Elven-Home;

there, in the land of peace, may we wed."

Now the Elven-Lord was a warrior, and ruled over many folk, and loth was he to

leave his people to the chances of war while he departed for the Undying Lands.

However, after many years of pleading and waiting, at last he relented. He

took ship down the River to the Sea, while the maiden and her ladies journeyed

by land through the woods.

The Lord waited in his ship upon the Sea for many weeks, unknowing that she and

her ladies had become lost and mazed among the trees. A storm came up; a

strong wind blew; the ship ran out to Sea. The Elven-Lord saw the land

receding as the ship bore him toward the Straight Road.

He sprang into the water, that he not be parted from his love by the impassable

ocean. The waves and water overwhelmed him, and he was like to drown, but the

Lord of the Sea took pity on him, and transformed him into a swan. Thus he

returned to Middle-Earth. There he found his betrothed with but one maiden

left to her, wandering upon the shore.

The Lord of the Waters, being persuaded by the great love of the Lady for her

Lord, transformed her, also, into a swan. The Elf-Lady's handmaiden begged him

to turn her to a swan, as well.

"For the devotion you show to your Lady," he said, "you may join her every day,

but at night you must put off the swan and return to your native form."

Joyfully she agreed, and for some years the three lived thus, the Lord and his

Lady as swans. By night they slept near the water, the handmaiden as woman

beside her mistress the swan.

~~~

One day, a Prince of the land was out hunting. He became separated from his

fellows, and lost his way. Evening drew nigh, and he wandered deeper into the

woods, where he came upon a lake. He resolved to camp there for the night.

As he lay watching the stars over the water, he saw three swans flying low.

They landed on the shore. Unseen, he watched them preening before sleep. One

of the swans stretched up her wings and flung them back as a cloak, and lo!, it

was a cloak. A lovely maiden stood there, pushing back a covering of swan

plumage. She was clad in naught but a white shift of feathers.

The Prince stared unashamed, entranced by the maidens beauty. They spoke

together, the maiden and the swans, then the maiden and one of the swans

settled down to sleep, while the other swan kept watch. The Prince intended to

stay awake all night, but fell asleep, and woke to the whir of swan-wings as

the three rose up into the dawn sky.

All thought of returning to his home fled his mind. Instead, he hunted for

food, and rested against the coming night.

Night after night, he watched the swans and the elf-maiden. One day, the

weather turned hot. Even the night was sultry. While the maiden slept, she

threw off the feather cloak she used as a coverlet. As the watchful swan

drifted on the lake, the Prince crept up to the maiden and stole away her

swan-cloak.

In the morning, the maiden bewailed her missing cloak. "Someone must have

taken it," she cried. She searched among the trees and bushes, but durst not

go far alone, as the swans could not follow into the wood.

The Prince retreated into the forest, but his conscience smote him, for

bringing distress to such a fair creature. He took counsel with himself, and

determined to return her the cloak with nightfall.

The two swans took it in turn to remain with her, for they feared to leave her

alone with robbers about. Both swans returned at dusk, and kept the maiden

company. The Prince stood up and walked to the shore. The swans raised their

wings and stayed between him and the elf-maiden.

He bowed low before the swans, and held forth the cloak.

"Hast thou stolen my cloak from me?" said the maiden, in the tongue of the

Elves. "Know this, if I am woman all day, once I regain the cloak, I must pay

back the time, and remain swan all night for each day as woman."

"Has some evil enchanter laid a spell on thee?" asked the Prince in the same

tongue, for he was well-tutored. "How may I help thee to break it?"

"Nay, sir," she said, "'tis by my own choice that I am by turns maiden and

bird." Nevertheless, as she looked on the goodly young man, she felt her heart

leap.

"Then may I keep thee company and have speech with thee when thou art woman?"

said the Prince.

Now the Elf-maiden, dearly though she loved her Lady and Lord, longed at times

for the companionship of others. Though she saw the Prince was but of the

Second-born, she assented.

She took back her cloak, and it leaped from her fingers to wrap around her

shoulders. Her body dwindled, the cloak-wings stretched up into swan-wings,

and there before him were the three swans.

They settled for the night, the Man and the swans. In the morning, the swans

again took flight, while the Prince remained on the shore. He wondered if he

would see again the lovely maiden, or if she would forget her promise of

friendship. All day he waited. As the sun was setting, he looked anxiously to

the sky. At last, he saw them drift down from the clouds. They landed, and

the maiden at once threw back the swan-cloak.

They rested before sleep, and each began to learn of the other. Even in

woman-form the maid could speak with the swans, so the Prince heard also the

tale of the Elven-Lord and Lady. The Prince took his turn at the watch in the

night, and at dawn the swans left once more.

After some days, the Prince remembered his lands. With regret, he told the

maiden and the swans that he must needs return to his duties as Lord of his

House. "It would please me if you would visit me in my castle by the sea," he

said. "Have no fear, for it shall be made the law of my land that no one may

harm a swan, nay, not even the smallest swan's feather."

With a heavy heart, he searched his way back to his lands and to his castle and

his duty. He feared that never again would he see the Elf-maiden.

When he was again in his own council chambers, he made good his promise to the

swans, and his heralds proclaimed throughout the land that no person might harm

any swan, no, not the least feather of the smallest swan.

He took up the rule of his lands, and resolved to put out of his mind the

swan-maiden.

The seasons changed, and turned toward the time of storms and cold. One day of

bitter wind and rain, as the Prince sat before his council table, one of the

guards that walked his castle walls came in, saying that in the storm three

swans had landed on the parapet walk.

The Prince laid aside his work in haste, and hurried up to the wall top.

There, indeed, were the three swans. As he greeted them, the short winter day

drew to a close, and before the astonished eyes of his guards, the swan-maiden

became all maiden.

She shivered there on the stone walk in her bare feet and short feather shift,

with the swan-cloak wrapped about her. The Prince threw his own velvet cloak

over hers, and led all three inside.

"Lord Prince," she said, "we have come to beg shelter of thee. Our lake is

frozen, and my Lord and Lady wish not to leave their home to follow the Sun

South."

The Prince agreed eagerly. He allotted to them a fine suite of rooms with

large windows facing the sea, that the swans might come and go as they pleased.



The swans wintered there, and the maiden was most pleased to sleep once again

in a bed instead of on the earth.

The Prince took to calling his council meetings after dusk, for he found not

only that the maiden was wise and well-spoken, but that the counsel of the Swan

Lord was of true value. With the Swan Lord to advise him and the maiden to

interpret, he became known as a Lord of justice and wisdom throughout his land.

When spring came, the three swans took their leave, though the maiden seemed

quite sad. When winter returned, so did the swans. Again, the Prince and the

maiden spent what time they could together.

With the return of spring, Prince and maiden declared their love for each

other.

"Though I am of the Eldar, and thou art of the Second-Born," she said, "I had

rather be thy wife for thy time in Arda than the wife of any other for all

time." The Swan Lord and Swan Lady were grieved that her heart had been given

to a mortal, but delighted in the love of the twain even as in their own. Thus

they gave their consent to the wedding. And so she did off her swan-cloak, and

put it away in a locked chest, and she and the Prince were married.

For many years, the Prince and Princess lived happily. They had children and

grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The Swan Lord and Lady overwintered

with them every year, and were greatly beloved of the Prince's family.

Now though the Prince was of the House of the King of the Western Land, and

thus gifted with age far beyond the span of lesser men, still he began to feel

the weight of the years. His Princess, the erstwhile swan, looked on in

sadness, for she, being of the First-Born, had not been granted a share in the

Gift of Men.

One autumn evening, the Prince and Princess sat in their garden, with all their

family about them. The Princess felt cool, and wished for a wrap against the

night air.

The son of the son of the Prince's heir leaped up and said, "Let me fetch one

for you, Great-Grandmother!" and he ran up to her rooms. He saw, in a corner,

the chest that had always been locked. It was now open, and a luxurious white

feather cloak spilled out. He snatched it up, and carried it down to the

garden.

He came softly up behind the Princess and draped it about her shoulders. With

a cry, she sprang up, but it was too late. Her form melted into the swan's

shape. She turned to her husband. He embraced the swan and wept. The

great-grandson looked on in horror.

When the Prince heard the tale of the unlocked chest, he knew then that the

Lord of the Ocean had determined that his servant's time was almost done. He

knew that his time was short as well.

The Prince lived but one more winter. The swan was his constant companion.

She would sleep beside him on his bed, and fly out but briefly before

returning. The Swan Lady and Lord also spent the winter by his side. As

spring approached, the Prince breathed his last. The swans mourned his

passing, then flew about the castle in farewell. The new Prince buried his

father, and the swans returned to their lake in the woods.

The Prince's House kept the story of their great-grandmother, and from that day

to this, no one may harm a swan, not even its smallest feather.

~~~

Now, when the children of the Prince's House in Dol Amroth see swans flying

overhead, they wave and blow kisses and call, "Great-great! Here we are - look

at us!"

And that's why the sign of the House of Dol Amroth is the Swan.

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