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Excerpt from Z Lequidre and the Amazing Grendel Conspiracy, page 26, by Allain Atienza

Z Lequidre and the Amazing Grendel Conspiracy

By Allain Atienza

Page 26

It was the dark man who finally came to fetch them to the great hall. He led them silently through a wide vestibule that ended in an archway. Beyond the archway lay the great hall of Heorot. From where Zorikh stood just outside the arched entrance, he saw what looked like a good-sized ballroom with smooth red stone columns along its length, a dark polished floor and another wider archway that opened into what seemed to be a garden. At the end of the hall opposite the entrance, a raised portion of the floor with small columns at its corners served as a dais on which perched the great lord’s throne.

Two long tables had been placed at both sides of the hall, just before the columns. Clustered about these tables were about two dozen of the grimmest men that Zorikh had ever seen. All the men wore thick, rugged tunics of varying color, and fitting breeches. Swords hung at every hip. With the dust of the trail still on them, most of the men sat at the benches of one table and spoke in low tones, while a few stood around the second table and gathered about a broad-chested man. His golden hair was streaked with silver at his temples and his full beard, also beginning to gray, was forked and braided. He was dressed much like the other men, save for a wide band of gold that circled his brow. He held a map on the table before him. Zorikh knew that this must be Hrothgar.

Bidding Theodora and Zorikh to wait at the entrance, their guide hurried to Hrothgar’s side and spoke something that Zorikh couldn’t hear. The king’s eyes shot from the map to the pair at the archway. He didn’t look very friendly to Zorikh.

“Sigilind of the Mist,” he said, his voice booming over the mutters of the others, who froze and in turn looked at the strangers. “Welcome to Heorot lady. Please join us.” He strode easily to them. Zorikh noted the strength and authority in his gait. This was a man used to leading men, leading warriors. The loyal, ready stares of the sword-thanes testified to this. He stopped at just beyond arm’s length in front of the waiting pair and took them in with his hawk’s stare. Theodora bowed, while Zorikh decided to go for broke and took a knee. The king’s boots were dark and dusty.

“King of the Scyldings,” Theodora said, “I’ve come from my travels to take counsel from you, and hopefully to offer you aid. It has been too long, king, since I’ve come to your hall. I was of some little help to your people those long years ago, and if the fates are kind, I may be so again.”

There was a pause, and Zorkih wondered what was supposed to happen next. He hazarded an upwards glance and discovered to his horror that both Theodora and the king were looking at him expectantly. Holy crap, he thought, I’m pissing off the king. He took a deep breath. “Great King Hrothgar,” he said in his clear actor’s voice, “I am Zorikh Lequidre, companion to the Lady Sigilind, a traveler who’s greatest wish was to see this most renowned hall, and see the great lord of the Scyldings with my own eyes.”

“Rise Zorikh Lequidre,” the king commanded. Zorikh got to his feet, taking a step back so as to not tower over Hrothgar. Although Zorikh stood a good head taller than the lord, Hrothgar was much more powerfully built. Zorikh found his eyes held fast by the king’s piercing blue eyes. “You wear no sword, man of the mist. You are not a warrior? Why would the Lady Sigilind take you as her champion if you cannot protect her?”

Zorikh assumed that Theodora would now jump in on his behalf, but after a few awkward seconds, he realized with a cold creeping in his gut that she intended to remain silent. He was on his own here. Hell, might as well tell the truth. “I own no sword, great king. I protect the lady as well as I can without one, yet I’m no champion of hers, merely a companion. I’m no hard and proven warrior like your thanes, but I can hope to be brave enough when the moment calls for it.”

If his answer pleased Hrothgar at all, he gave no sign of it. He merely nodded and said, “Come into the hall then, travelers of the mist.” They walked behind the king, followed by the watchful eyes of his warriors. He climbed onto the dais and settled himself easily into the throne. “What then, Sigilind? What counsel would you ask from me and what aid can I expect from you against my people’s troubles?”

Zorikh watched with wonder as Theodora drew herself up and seemed to grow taller and more beautiful before his eyes. He heard the stir of warriors behind him and saw Hrothgar himself straighten warily in his throne as the Lady of the Mist let them feel her own uncanny authority. “Hrothgar son of Healfdane,” she began, her voice as strong and clear as Hrothgar’s had been. “Your kingdom is harried again by violent deeds. Once before you thought Grendel was the murderer, the bringer of doom for your people, as you do now, or am I mistaken when I say that you have come from the moors, seeking him?”

“You are not mistaken,” Hrothgar answered.“Twice, during the full moon, he has struck. One man he pulled apart, so strong was his murderous rage that the thane’s mail proved no protection! One man he tore with his teeth, proving that he is the beast that we always thought he was, and rightful we were to exile him from Heorot.”

“Yet he was suspected before of dire deeds and I maintained my faith in him,” said Theodora, “and I was proven to be in the right. I had come to your hall, great king, to ask of his whereabouts, for I suspect that he is in more danger than even your swords and spears can offer. Yet I see now that he has gone into hiding…”

“Proving his guilt!” Hrothgar snapped.

“Even if it were so,” Theodora continued, “I ask for the honor of hunting him myself, and finding evidence of his innocence if I can.”

The king rose from his throne. “And if you are wrong, lady of the mist? What will you do then?”

“If I am wrong, son of Healfdane, then I will most undoubtedly be slain, and I will still have you to avenge me.”

Hrothgar regarded her sternly. Zorikh resisted the urge to shift uncomfortably, and from the stillness he felt behind him, so did Hrothgar’s warriors. Finally the king said, “You have asked me for a boon, Lady Sigilind. Now tell me what aid are you offering to us?’

Sigilind nodded. “Within the week you will be visited by a warrior from across the sea. He will be your people’s salvation. He is a thane of Hygelac of the Geats, a great and worthy man.”

Hrothgar seated himself again. “How is this then, the arrival of Hygelac’s thane, regarded as help from you?” he said, his gaze heavy with doubt.

“I have foreseen his arrival, great king,” Theodora said, “and he will do great deeds in your service, if you will have him. If he cannot defeat the doom that haunts this hall, then I know of no one who can. His name is Beowulf, and I will in turn aid him if I can.”

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