4. Spin the Bottle
Pulling her wimplegearn closer around herself, the slender figure took a last furtive glance over her shoulder at the light emanating from Meduseld, her breath hanging in frosty clouds before her face. Éowyn ran quietly around the side of the building, back to the thatched roof structure that was the home of the royal steeds of Rohan. She felt her way toward the back of the stables, thankful that she knew the labyrinthine corridors of stalls like the back of her hand, since she had not brought a light with her. The noise of occasional quiet laughter and “Hush, now!” reached her ears, and she knew that she was in the right place. Earlier that evening, during the city-wide celebrations of Wintergamen, the small circle of friends had agreed to meet in the least likely place to be found by adults on this night of revelry: the royal stables. As she rounded the last corner, her eyes mostly adjusted to the dark, she saw a group sitting on the ground. Several were leaning against the walls with the omnipresent hay pushed into little piles, out of the way of the focus of the group: a lone green bottle, standing upright on the floor.
There was a rustle of activity as the group of Rohirric youths noticed the new visitor.
“Ah, Éowyn!” said a voice. She turned. It was her friend, Fréalas, her face illuminated in the light of the small candle that one of the more thoughtful adolescents had thought to bring with him.
“We thought maybe your uncle Théoden was going to make you stay for yet another song!” said Héalwine, scooting to the right to make room for the last guest.
Smiling, Éowyn sat down, looking at the other faces in the flickering light. Well, she thought, the odds are in our favour, with so many boys… she corrected her thought. So many young men here in Edoras. Maybe that bodes well for Fréalas and Meagolwyn and myself… Glancing over at her brother, she saw that he was otherwise busy with the unopened flask of wine that had been liberated from its intended place at the feasting-table in the Golden Hall. A somewhat shaggy-haired youth was, with Éomer’s assistance, trying to use his small knife to pry off the top.
“So, Swaeser," Éowyn spoke, a mischievous gleam in her eye from the mead that she had imbibed not long ago, “I see that the skills of your hands have not been exaggerated!” She tried to suppress her mirth, but all was for naught on this night of festivity. Instead, after a small choke, she laughed out loud, much to the discomfort of the nearby horses, who began moving around and tossing their proud heads back and forth.
Fréalas tilted her head and gave her friend an appraising look. She, too, had been privy to some of the mead that poured freely during the midwinter’s celebrations. Even without the slightly fuzzy sheen to the events before her eyes, she was grateful to see that Éowyn was genuinely happy, her cares and burdens seemingly forgotten for the time being.
A coughing sound came from a quiet figure seated in a dark corner of the stable, and several pairs of eyes swung in that direction.
“I say,” said the voice. “Let’s establish some rules.” The long-limbed body that went with the sounds uncurled from the shadows into the light.
“Frithlíc, must you be so dramatic?” Closing her eyes, Fréalas sighed, audibly. “Rules are fine and good as long as they include one that means I do not have to kiss you.” She leaned over to ascertain how Éomer and Swaeser were doing in their struggle to free the wine from its container.
“Ai! Success!” Swaeser put the newly-opened flask to his lips. “To Wintergamen!” He passed it to Éomer, half-sprawled on the hay, who took a swig, then handed it over pointedly to Fréalas. She took it in her hands and, raising it up, drank as well. After swallowing the fragrant and somewhat illicit red wine, she used the back of her left hand to wipe her mouth, then handed the container over to Éowyn.
“You all are going to take all night!” The plaintive exclamation came from Meagolwyn. “Father will use his strap on me for sure if I am not home before sunrise…I am going to spin.”
The group clustered around the empty bottle as Meagolwyn put her hand on it, and spun. It slowed and stopped, the neck facing Frithlíc. He reddened slightly, then raised up on his knees, hands steadying himself on the stable floor, and leaned in over the glass container. Meagolwyn leaned in as well, closed her eyes, and put her lips to his. Their contact lasted but a moment, then they separated and regained their place in the circle.
There was a silence, interrupted only by the swishing of horses’ tails.
“A bunch of weak-kneed, soft-bellied riders of the Mark you are!” Staenwine said. He was not usually seen without his twin sister, Staentwylas, but she had begged off from the gathering in the barn in order to keep dancing in the Golden Hall. Staenwine took the bottle by the neck, and turned it to the right. After circling around a few times, it stopped in front of Frithlíc, who eyed the bottle, and then his companion, warily.
“None of that!” said Éowyn, who lifted the nearby flask and, after indulging in a couple of swallows, handed it off to Frithlíc and took her turn with the bottle on the ground. It turned to Frithlíc, yet again.
“Oromë’s horn!” he muttered under his breath, but looked up expectantly at the fair face of the golden-haired girl across the circle from him, her cheeks flushed both with the cold of winter and with wine. Again he rose, and meeting her mid-circle, received her perfunctory kiss, then sat down.
So the time went, with shy kisses and colorful jokes. The wine flask went around the circle, its contents slowly shared among the nine youths enjoying the celebrations that commemorated the shortest day of the year.
At one point Éowyn leaned in conspiratorially to Fréalas and said, “I always feel his eyes on me.”
Fréalas, a bit confused, leaned over, almost fell, then grinning as she regained her composure, asked, “Who? When?”
“Gríma.” She said the word distastefully. “He has come as an advisor to my uncle, and I am sure that he means well, but he appears to keep a roving eye on things that should not matter to him.” She smiled, saying, “I am sure that I make too much of this." She sent out a hand to find the flask, and upon reaching it, tipped it back to her lips, draining the last drops.
Yet again it was Fréalas’ turn to spin, the keen eyes of Swaeser, Tóswífan and Staenwine on her, their opportunities for affection more rare given the ratio of boys to girls. She placed her fingers on the stem, and spun. It slowed, then stopped in front of Éowyn. Shrugging, the fifteen year old leaned over, but instead of giving Fréalas a kiss on the cheek, she brushed her lips against those of her friend’s, lingering slightly, then sank back to the ground. Fréalas was startled to taste the somewhat bitter wine combined with the unexpected sweet on her mouth. A shudder ran through her as she closed her eyes, a thousand whirring thoughts turning more slowly than usual through the fog of wine. She sat still, registering the tickling shock of warmth that spread from her lips and yet somehow also covered her skin in goosebumps.
Éowyn giggled, then spun the bottle. It slowed to a stop in front of Frithlíc, who attempted a poor job of disguising his delight at yet another opportunity to kiss her, and she was far less perfunctory in her affections this go round. Feeling braver than usual thanks to the strong wine, he held Éowyn’s face in his hands, gently caressing her cheekbone with his left thumb as they met for another embrace, then parted.
Opening her eyes, Fréalas saw the scene in the stables re-establish itself before her, as the scene grew less hazy despite the dim light. With a bit of a start she noticed that they were three fewer than had begun this game of spin the bottle. Meagolwyn and Héalwine appeared to have found a more private location among the horses of Edoras, and Éomer, who had been at the mead longer than the rest in the group before coming to the stables, had succumbed to sleep. Incomprehensively she viewed her long-time friend, your scyldesweoster, her mind hastily corrected itself, now sitting near her brother, their hands intertwined. Swaeser gave Fréalas a hopeful glance, but seeing that she was lost in her own thoughts, he leaned over and idly began spinning the bottle, brows furrowed.
Fréalas looked down at her hands, her freckle-covered fingers laced in on themselves. Out of recent habit, she pushed up the sleeve on her left arm, ignoring the flush that she felt from the recent kiss that journeyed down into parts of herself that seemed to be as disturbed as the grasses on the plains when bent into waves by the wind. There is your security, she thought, looking at the inside of her elbow at the horse-head that had been painfully inked in by the eldest of the few recently and secretly organized shieldmaidens. With the dangers around us, and the Eorlingas away on our borders, all we can hold faith in is each other. She let the thought mull around for a few moments, sleep almost overtaking her in the dark and soothing fragrance of hay.
Suddenly coming to, she stood up, and hissed at Frithlíc, “Come! It is late! We need to get home.” Her brother gave her a mournful look as he contentedly stroked Éowyn’s hair. Théoden’s niece was leaning against him in a pose of half-sleep, and her new suitor appeared far less than anxious to leave the warm stables and go out into the cold night.
“Fine,” Fréalas whispered. “But when you get caught here…” She looked around the stall and saw Swaeser, now playing dice with the other two unaccompanied, and disappointed, young men. Éomer was now fast asleep, his mouth half-open, the wide-shouldered youth quietly snoring. She shook her head. “Just be quiet upon your return!”
As she gathered her sweater, putting it around her shoulders, she ran her tongue along her lips, tasting the lingering flavour of wine, then bit down on her lower lip, a habit from her childhood. Her brows furrowed, she relived the sensation of soft lips on hers, the sweetness of it somehow far more bitter than any herb she had ever ingested to fight off sickness. Walking quietly out of the stables, a confusing mix of emotions ran through her, her heart beating as fast as those of the horses newly returned from a patrol. She looked forward to spending a few moments outside of their house, lying on her back on this clear, cold night, looking up at the stars making their ancient, showy patterns in the night sky.
Tóswífan= to wander
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.