7. Nightingale's Song
Late March, 3015
The floors were almost shouting with the pressure being put on them, creaking with every step. “And around, and around!” The house of Héalmund was filled to bursting with spinning folk, holding each other by the waist, outside arms uplifted. It was the wedding of Héalwine to Meagolwyn, and seemingly most of Edoras was there to celebrate with them. The exuberance of the guests and roaring fire in the hearth more than compensated for the chill of early spring that could be felt outdoors. Frithlíc and his small band of musicians clustered in the corner, both to stay warm as well as to be safely out of the way of the merry dancers in the thatched-roof home. The red-haired young man plied his bow to fiddle with his friend Onthéon on a drum with a small ensemble of others. Together they kept the company in good spirits and in almost constant motion.
“Enough, I pray!” the bride exclaimed, her cheeks flush with happiness. “Let us have a little while for rest and talking and…”
“… and mead!” Her husband, Héalwine, finished the sentence, then, after bowing low, proceeded to scoop up his bride and hold her in his arms. He shuffled slowly past the mead-table, allowing her to pour another draught in their sturdy stoneware cup, and edged their way outside, much to the amusement and cajoling of the assembled company.
“Would the musicians’ company like some refreshment as well?” The golden-haired figure leaned in to the small group clustered near the hearth, her sparkling grey eyes alighting on Frithlíc in particular.
“Lady Éowyn.” The voice came from sturdy Staenwine, who with his friend Ánreath finished out the band with their recorders. “Why yes, but surely we humble folk can retrieve such beverages for ourselves!”
She rolled her eyes in a veiled mixture of merriment and annoyance, then took Frithlíc’s pale hand. “Well, to the mead-table, then! All together!”
The gaggle of fair-haired Rohirric youth made their way to the middle of the room, accepting compliments on their music while tending to their rumbling stomachs by serving themselves healthy servings of mutton stew topped with sharp cheese and bread. Éowyn continued to lead Frithlíc by the hand, out past the table to the outside and a nearby stall where it was possible to talk without shouting. “You have played well tonight,” she said to him, as he took a long draught of the sweet mead. He looked fondly at her as he used his left hand to wipe any remnant of drink off of his beard. Taking the cup in her left hand, she tipped it back, then returned it, daubing at her face with the sleeve of her gown.
“Am I fair enough company for such a lovely bloom of Rohan?" Frithlíc asked, teasingly. "I am of the lowly folk of the Eastfold.” His eyes were full of mischief, but the earnest ring to it could be heard in the question.
Smiling, she tilted her head. “Ah, but from there my father came, tis no lowly station to me!" After quickly glancing sideways, Frithlíc carefully put his cup on the ledge of the nearby horse-stall, then placed his arms around the waist of his beloved. "This should more thoroughly answer your question,” she replied as she leaned in to him, and cupping his head in her hands, she turned his head downward, then gently kissed him first on one, then the other, closed eyelid. They were almost the same height, which made this act more like the steps of a ceremonious dance than an awkward salutation. He raised his head so that their lips could meet, chastely at first, then more intimately while the sounds of the wedding floated out of the house door and dissipated into the night air. After a few moments they parted, their warm breath making little clouds before their faces.
It was at times like this when he really did feel that he was unworthy to be held in such high esteem by the niece of King Théoden, but then she would look at him with her piercing eyes and he knew that what affections she had beyond bow and sword were for him alone.
”So!” She drew nearer to him again, burying her face in his beard, then stepped back, and took his hand again. “You have never told me how you came to be such a fine fiddler. Surely there is a tale to be told!”
Frithlíc looked down at his feet, taking a sudden interest in them that corresponded to a faint blush on his face, barely visible in the dark near the stable. Éowyn took his chin in her hand and raised his head so that she could look him in the eyes.
He looked back at her, realising that if he didn’t say something soon he would never again be found, having drowned in the unrelenting pools of her grey eyes.
“Well!” He took her by the hand after she took his cup, and carrying his instrument at his right side, they walked to a large tree that was down the hill from the horse-stall. The stars were bright above them, a tiny sea of lights reflecting the fires of the homesteads on the plains of Rohan. Frithlíc sat down with his back against the trunk of an oak tree, his long legs outstretched, placing himself between the roots that reached out up from the ground as though to make their acquaintance with the stars and clouds. He motioned to Éowyn, and she sat down beside him, but then, an apparent weariness taking her, laid down, her head in his lap, her legs drawn up underneath her. He handed her his bow and fiddle, which she placed in the lap of her dress, treating them as tenderly as though they were a babe in arms.
“You know how we know that there is to be a musician in the family?” he began, running his freckled fingers through her long hair. She turned her face upward toward him.
“A nightingale appears at the house and remains for awhile,” she replied.
“Yes, that’s it.”
He took another drink of his mead, then placed the cup on the ground, and let his hand stray under her hair to massage the top of her neck. I shall never forget this night, he thought, and let a prayer of thanks go up to the stars and those nameless ones behind them.
“And?” Her impatience was feigned, and he knew it, but willingly he continued.
“Well, when I was born, so my parents say, a nightingale landed on our house, and so at that point it was just a matter of waiting for me to grow older and discover what instrument it was that I was supposed to play. There was a man in our settlement who was a wonderful woodcarver, and when I turned seven, I guess it was, they asked him to make a fiddle for me.”
“And you just knew how to play?” The incredulity was apparent in her voice.
“By Oromë’s horn, no!” His laugh echoed down the greensward. “No, no. We were fortunate in our little establishment by the woods, as you know, to have a decent musician about, and he took me under his wing. I studied under good old Gléomund, and with much practice became the fiddler you now know.”
A few moments passed, then Éowyn looked up at him. Frithlíc had ceased his affectionate rubbings at the base of her neck, now seemingly lost in some thought.
“What is it, fair musician of mine?” she asked.
He looked down at her, and she could see the pain behind his gaze.
“This is a night of joy,” he said, shaking his head and beginning again with his soothing ministrations. “I do not wish to burden you with things from the past.”
“But I would know all,” she insisted. “I will not be satisfied until you harbour no secrets from me.”
Looking out across the fields of barley, Frithlíc sighed, then looked down at his golden-haired companion.
“We had another sister, Fréalas and I,” he began. “I was eight years old, and Fréalas was six. Our mother seemed to bear this child as well as she had borne us, and we all were so looking forward to an addition to the Frithmund clan. Our mother is a strong one, and naught seems to wear on her. But then,” here he took a long breath, “our little Íl, the world was too much for her.”
“Íl?” Éowyn said the name into the chilly evening. “Hedgehog?”
Frithlíc chuckled. “Yes. Unlike the two of us, she had dark hair, a full head of it. She was our little Íl, even if only for a very little while.”
They sat in silence, listening to the intermingling sounds wafting down the hill, the neighing of horses and revelry from the wedding festivities.
“She lived only for a few days. After she died, we made a little hillock for her near the woods. Fréalas, especially, she was so sad, being so young. She could not understand why our Íl had left us so soon. And the worst part was, a nightingale had been at our house, from the time our winter-sister had been born. After we buried her in her rocking cradle, we put up a marker of a horse head at the spot.”
He looked down at Éowyn, her eyes closed to the night.
“The strangest thing of all,” he continued, “is that the nightingale would not leave her. He would perch on the horse head, and sing every twilight. It was as though she was supposed to be the true musician of the family, but for whatever reason, that was not to be.”
Frithlíc looked up at the glittering stars, his hand still idly caressing Éowyn’s pale skin.
“That is why she didn’t want to leave our homestead, you know. Fréalas, that is.”
Éowyn reached back and took his hand in hers, and placed it on her face. He felt wetness on his hand, and was startled to realize that she had been weeping.
“She was always so fond of you, Éowyn, and looked forward to spending more time with you up in Edoras. But it broke her heart to leave her little Íl behind. She was afraid that she would be lonely without us nearby, but I told her that the nightingale would be there for her. He would not forsake her, and he would keep watch over her and make sure that she would always have company and music.”
Éowyn clasped his hand tightly, then released it.
“Will you please play me a song?”
In reply, he retrieved his bow and fiddle from Éowyn’s entrusting hands. After gently sitting her upright against the tree, he stood, stretched his arms, and walked a few paces away. Closing his eyes, he began a tune. It was haunting, and melancholy, yet also bespoke of joys of living under the wide sky, and love, and loss. His bow made slow dancing motions across the strings as the melody flowed out across the fields and surrounding hills. When he had finished, he lowered his fiddle to his side. Éowyn stood and walked to him, encircling him with her arms, leaning into his shoulder.
“That was beautiful. What is it named?”
“Dwimmer’s Lament. There are some who can do it better justice sung aloud, but it makes a fine fiddle tune as well.”
The noise of the wedding reached a new pitch and drifted down to the two partygoers. Éowyn and Frithlíc knew that they had been away for longer than they had anticipated, and would be missed soon.
“Shall we return? Héalwine and Maegolwyn will send for the Marshal of the Mark if we are not soon back in the mead hall!” Frithlíc tucked his fiddle under his arm, and took Éowyn by the hand. “Maybe someday you and I will be chasing down our friends from our own wedding feast.” The words were out of his mouth before his mind could comprehend what he said, and he was immediately full of regret.
As they walked past the stable back to the thatched-roof house, Éowyn closed on Frithlíc’s hand more tightly.
“Maybe,” she said quietly. Then they were surrounded by merrymakers and Frithlíc was grabbed by Onthéon to go and play by the fire some more.
Ánreath= solitary, lonely path
Onthéon= to be successful, thrive
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.