11. Day 11: S-Word Play (Theodred, Eomer, Elfhelm, Eothain, Grima, MOC)
"Sword." Theodred thought for a moment. "Crow Feeder."
"Iron arm." Leof.
"Sharp arm." Elfhelm.
"Orc Slayer." Eomer.
"Blood Drinker." Eothain.
"Dull Point." Grima.
Theodred tightened his fist behind his back, frustration mounting. This was their third round at kennings and Grima still did not seem to understand the game at all. Why ever had Grima insisted in remaining at table with them when he always retired early, he could not fathom. He had seen an excellent opportunity, an opening, to become better acquainted with his father's counselor in a more informal setting--an opportunity that he could not afford to miss, more so for its rarity. When kennings had been suggested as entertainment for the night, he had been glad for the suggestion; kennings would have given him some insight into the counselor's mind, insight that he was not likely to glean any other way save prying it out, secretive though the counselor was. But now...
He glanced quickly at Eomer, who shot him a wry smile, bordering on anger.
"Let us try this again," said Theodred, tightly, thinking that now he would have to watch out for Eomer as well. "Point." A pause. What could possibly be the counselor's object in feeding them such useless words? "Traveler's destination."
"Mind funnel." Leof. ("Witty, Leof!" someone cried.)
"Argument's core." Elfhelm.
"Ultimate end." Eomer.
"Blade tip." Eothain.
"Sharp mind." Grima.
A quick survey of the circle revealed that tempers were beginning to thin under the growing conviction that something other than kennings was going on between them, but what? And who would be the first to break? He cast a pointed look at Eomer, which his cousin chose to ignore by taking a rather too long sip from his tankard.
"Mind," he said, bracing himself for the next round, trying to keep his kenning as harmless as possible. "One's inclination."
"Deepest desire." Leof.
"Uncaring proposal." Elfhelm.
"Cunning's birth-place." Eomer.
"Noted concern." Eothain.
What, exactly, had passed there? All eyes fixed on Grima then who was, inadvertently, it seemed to Theodred, smiling.
"Black fox." Grima.
Fox? Black fox? What conceit! Did he think them such dullards?Theodred's eyes went immediately to Eomer, whose frown threatened to leave permanent creases on his face. He glanced around the circle: Disbelief. Thoughtfulness. Anger. Worry. And what was Grima? Smugness, boredom, pretense? What did he think, playing a game where he should be so discovered?
"Fox." And how, exactly, would he play that without feeding more wood to the fire? "Precious fur."
A quick glance at Eomer. "Wily animal." Leof.
A quick glance at himself. "Warm blanket." Elfhelm.
"Cunning dog? Or rather, worm?" Eomer. A straight look at Grima, and Eomer had lost all deniability; he could not plead innocence on the face of such open insult. Curse that temper! For all of Grima's insulting and cowardly ways, at least he had been subtle, a skill that Eomer was far from mastering. What would Grima do now? Theodred fixed his gaze, imploringly, on Eothain, who looked away under his regard. The way this little game would turn now hinged on Eothain's word choices and, judging from his knowledge of their cousin, he was not expecting much restraint. He looked around, taking note of who was around them, who could be hurt if it came to blows. And still Eothain waited; he had understood the look and was, clearly, reluctant to comply.
A frown. "Lovely lady." Thanks, Eothain!"
Grima huddled further into the folds of his dark cloak, pale-faced, but still with that veiled imperiousness that marked his ways. He looked more like a crow than a worm.
"Bristle beard," he said, and sauntered away without further word.
Eomer and Leof exchanged looks. "Barb?"
Eomer did bristle then, and would have gone directly after Grima, had not everyone risen at once, tankards in hand, to answer Grima's toast, "To the King! Long live the King!"
"Aptly named, Eomer," Eothain said, coming closer to where they stood. "He is a black snake--cowardly way to make his escape by shielding himself behind the King." A low whistle. "I have never played a game where everyone's mind was more further from the kennings than this one. What, do you suppose, he wanted from it?" he asked, looking at Grima's figure as it skulked away from the hall.
"He wanted to tell us something, but by Bema, I cannot tell what it is. Surely not to watch out for his cunning!" said Leof.
"He told us to be wary of him," said Elfhelm. "And I hope all of you will listen to the snake's warning."
Eomer looked at his former captain. "When the snake hisses, it is usually too late to move," he said. "All one has left is the hope that someone else will chance to be about with a lucky antidote."
"What do you mean?" asked Eothain.
"He wanted something, no doubt, but I doubt that public humiliation would answer his purpose."
"Why, too tame?"
"Too unlikely, Leof," said Theodred, advancing to clasp Eomer's shoulder. "Eomer is well loved here, and was obviously able to keep up with his game, which tells me that he either wanted to see whom he could provoke, or was--"
"Probing us," Eomer finished for him, a slightly alarmed look on his face. "He could not have predicted how we would react, except perhaps in my case, fool that I am."
"I dare say," said Theodred, running a hand over his beard in annoyance and worry, "he found out more about us than we did about him."
"Not quite," said Eothain. "We know now not to play kennings with him again. He has a wretched sense of humor."
They all failed to see the joke in that.
Note: Kenning is a literary device used in anglo-saxon and norse poetry where a word is substituted by compunds of other words that define it.
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